As a part of Farm City Week Marion County Extension honors individuals from our Community for their contributions to Agriculture. Since its inception in 2003 Marion County has recognized thirty-four men and women for their place in Marion County’s agricultural history. Once again, it’s the time of year we request input from the community to identify the folks that have contributed so much! Here is a little background on two of last year’s inductees and how they influenced Marion County.
This past year the County recognized two deserving individuals with a variety of contributions to our diverse agriculture community. I want to share a bit of history of these two recipients, Jerry Arthur and Lugusta “Gus” Gray.
The Hall of Fame began when in 2003 Jerry Arthur went to the Marion County Board of County Commissioners (MCBCC) with an idea to recognize David Ballie, Jr., and Marion Roche in what turned out to be the inaugural class of inductees. The MCBCC was receptive to the idea and referred Mr. Arthur to the county administrator. Jerry had originally wanted to name the newly renovated covered arena at the Livestock Pavilion after the gentlemen, but an alternate plan was developed, and the Marion County Agricultural Hall of Fame was conceived.
Please visit the Ag Hall of Fame website to see how David Baillie and Marion Roche and other inductees have influenced the agricultural history of Marion County.
Raised on a chicken farm Jerry was a member of FFA and for more than 40 years he worked in the spreader and agriculture products business fertilizing, adding nutrients, and providing pest control. He now delivers molasses and runs a small cow-calf operation. He served on the Southeastern Livestock Fair (SEYF) board for many years and in his youth, he even showed there and was part of local, state, and national judging teams. He has been a friend of agriculture, a valued resource and leader to many in the ag. industry in the county. He founded Friends of the SEYF, serves on the
North Marion FFA Alumni board as co-treasurer, and has spent countless hours raising money for youth programs. He is a member of the Marion County Farm Bureau and Marion County Cattlemen’s Association along with their state organization counterparts. He has dedicated his life to making the industry better.
Our second recipient in this past class was Mr. Gray. The 1991 book, They Call Me Gus, the life of Lugusta “Gus” Gray’s. A gifted storyteller of more than 50 years in which he recounts his life spent with world-class thoroughbreds at Fred W. Hooper’s farm and Donald Dizney’s Double Diamond Farm. Some of the most legendary racehorses and stallions were handled by Gray including Hall of Fame racehorse Florida-bred Susan’s Girl and Florida stallions Precisionist and Tri-jet.
Gray was the first person from Florida to win a Godolphin Award, a national thoroughbred industry employee award for lifelong dedication to the breeding of thoroughbreds. He is the only person to have been awarded all Florida Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club honors as a breeder, a trainer and for community service. He is the first black American to produce a day’s sales topper at the Ocala Breeders Sales Company in the 1980s.
A dedicated community leader, he continues to inspire at-risk youth to work hard, speaks at community centers about the history of the industry and to advocate for his 147-year-old historic church built on what once was the Bonnie Heath Farm. He spent countless Fridays on the porch at Fred Hooper’s farm in the 1960s and 1970s where he regaled tourists and passersby with stories of famed thoroughbreds and industry personalities. He continues to breed his own horses and to work on foal watch. He sees no need to retire from the work that he loves. Gray has the very last producing broodmare of the Hooper band that was literally the last horse foaled on the old farm. Her dam was in foal when Hooper passed away at 102 in 2000. He believes her latest colt could be the future Kentucky Derby winner he has been dreaming over for more than 50 years.
Please visit the Hall of Fame site to see the previous inductees. This year’s nominations are due by July 9, 2021. Please see this site for the application and help us recognize those who have contributed to Florida Agriculture. http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/marion/agriculture/agriculture-hall-of-fame/.