By J. Scott Angle
They’ve long been local 4-H legends. Now they’ve been inducted as Florida 4-H Hall of Famers: Judy Raymond of Polk County and Carl and Dee Dee Grooms of Hillsborough County are among this year’s inductees.
UF/IFAS Extension Polk County Director Nicole Walker and 4-H agent Shreemoyee Ghosh nominated Raymond with compelling support letters from several 4-H parents, including those of SarahGrace O’Leary.
SarahGrace spent so much time with Raymond’s Home Grown Club that one day when she was about 12 years old, she asked Raymond, “Will you be my grandma?”
Raymond didn’t casually answer yes. She grandmothered all the way: going to birthday parties, driving to the movies, inviting SarahGrace over for snacks—all the things “real” grandmas do. And in SarahGrace’s case, it would mean nurturing a child so shy that she’d cry when she had to say her name publicly.
It took years, but SarahGrace went from fear of saying her name before an audience to confidently delivering a speech at her high school graduation.
Between 4-Hers like SarahGrace who adopted Raymond as their grandmother, and the children of Raymond’s own children, about 20 youths knew Raymond as “Grandma Judy.”
Raymond still drives members around in the type of vehicle she has always bought for its capacity to carry 4-Hers. She’s on her fourth Ford Club Wagon in 35 years of volunteering.
The Grooms family cemented their status as 4-H legends in a moment of crisis for Hillsborough County 4-H. A local farmer who had volunteered his field for a U-pick fundraiser had to back out at the last minute.
Hillsborough 4-H Foundation leader Betty Jo Tompkins turned to Carl and Dee Dee with a request—can we send a few hundred people to your farm to pick your bushes clean and keep for 4-H the money they spend for the berries? Just one time.
To Carl and Dee Dee, berries are business. But they’re also service. When Dee Dee took that call from Betty Jo, they were 25 years into a 4-H friendship that began with Betty Jo’s club gleaning the Fancy Farms fields to supply food banks and other charities with berries. And, after all, it was just one time.
Betty Jo called again the next year. And the next. And the next. Sixteen annual calls later, they have raised $100,000 raised for 4-H.
This year Betty Jo surprised them by “crashing” the event where the Grooms family was being honored with the 2022 Outstanding Project of the Year Award from the Hillsborough County Soil and Water Conservation District. She announced that Carl and Dee Dee’s next ceremony would be the 4-H Hall of Fame induction in Gainesville.
The Grooms family’s generosity has paid for a lot of residential summer camp scholarships and 4-H University scholarships, trips to Tallahassee for 4-H Legislature, as well as trips to state, regional and national judging events.
4-H programs in Hillsborough and Polk counties are strong because of volunteers like Judy, Carl and Dee Dee who give decades of time to it.
J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).