By Madison Waldo
Who was he?
We all know Ben Hill Griffin as the name on the stadium where the Florida Gators play, but who was this celebrated figure behind that name?
Ben Hill Griffin Jr., from Frostproof, was a major figure in the Florida citrus and cattle industries. He began his business after studying agriculture for three years at UF, leaving the university before graduating with a degree. A 10-acre wedding gift from his father eventually morphed into a 281,000-acre empire.
In addition to being a widely known figure in the citrus industry, Griffin had several other business ventures. His interests included a packing house, a canned juice operation, a fertilizer plant and more. In 1979, he was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.
He became a millionaire in 1962 when his groves survived a freeze that destroyed over a million orange trees. Because of the freeze, the price of orange juice rose, putting him on the path to be one of the richest men in America. Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $390 million, listing him in the top 300 richest Americans of the time.
He served 12 years in the Florida Legislature, where he represented Polk County for 8 years in the House and 4 years in the Senate. In 1974, he made an unsuccessful run for governor.
A year before his death, he donated $10 million to UF for athletic scholarships and a new academic research building at the Health Science Center. In turn, UF named the stadium after Griffin. This brought his total monetary contributions to UF to a whopping $19 million.
His impact didn’t stop there. He helped to expand facilities at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center. Today, CREC employs 250 people and is also home to the scientific research staff of the Florida Department of Citrus. It is the largest facility in the world devoted to a single commodity, citrus. A building on its Lake Alfred campus is named after Griffin.
In 1989 he said, “I can look back and see where I went into this business or that business, and I was able to start at a higher notch because of the knowledge I gained at the university.”
What you won’t find on the side of the stadium is his title of junior. Griffin wanted to make sure the naming honored his entire family, those who came before him and those who will come after him.
Special thanks to the CREC Librarian, Jennifer Dawson, for providing archived materials for this story.