Honoring the life and work of Jan G. Valk
The citrus industry recently lost a wonderful family man and lover of groves. Jan G. Valk, 60, passed away on February 18, 2014 at his home in Winter Haven while surrounded by his loving family: his wife of 39 years, Julie Valk, his son Jan, and his daughter Mieke. Valk was recently honored at the Harvest Celebration, Polk County Farm Bureau’s annual fundraiser. His son Jan, who shares his father’s namesake, accepted the award of recognition.
Both Valk and his wife Julie were born and raised in Polk County. He spent most of his youth helping his grandfather tend citrus groves. In his senior year at Winter Haven High School, he met Julie and the couple started dating; Valk also helped Julie’s father with his caretaking business. Upon graduating from Winter Haven High School and after marrying Julie, Valk decided to turn his passion for citrus groves into an education and lifelong career.
He began attending Florida Southern College and received his bachelor’s degree in agriculture, when the citrus program was just in its infancy. He graduated from FSC in 1978 and took his knowledge and love of agriculture to work for W.R. Grace Fertilizer in Ft. Pierce. Later, W.R. Grace Fertilizer transferred Valk to their facility in Homestead to work with vegetable farmers, but he didn’t enjoy it very much—not as much as citrus—according to his wife Julie. “Every time we were headed back to Winter Haven,” she recalls, “and Jan saw the orange groves, he would smile and say, ‘We’re home’!” Shortly after, Valk took a job with Polk County Fertilizer and moved back to Winter Haven, where his daughter was born in 1979.
In 1982, Valk went to work for John F. Smoak & Sons in Lake Placid as manager of Fruit Harvesting. His son Jan was born in 1988. Soon after, he took a job with Lykes in Lake Placid as the general manager of Fruit Procurement and Harvesting. During his employment with Lykes, he traveled around the world to countries such as Japan, Canada, and Brazil to improve and implement new innovations in citrus. After that, he went to work for Consolidated Citrus Limited Partnership as the fresh fruit manager. But then in 2002, Valk came to Cutrale Citrus Juices, where he spent 12 years providing exceptional service as the general manager of Fruit Procurement. The Valk family happily resided in Lake Placid for 30 years and had just moved back to Polk County in 2012, shortly before his untimely passing.
Valk equally loved to play in the outdoors as much as he loved to work in them. He and his wife often took trips to Boca Grande and the Keys. He loved fishing, but it brought him more joy when his family caught the fish instead of him. Valk was also an avid hunter and had a great appreciation for firearms. Valk served as Dean Evans’ (Fruit Buyer at Cutrale) boss for the entire 12 years he worked there, and Evans fondly recalls, “Jan liked to work hard and play hard. We attended a few sporting clay shoots and hunting trips together. He was a really great boss and a fun guy to be around.”
Valk worked up until January of this year; he just loved being outside and in the groves. It was obvious he was truly dedicated to citrus and agriculture. His memorial service was held at McKay Gardens in Lake Alfred, Florida. He will be sorely missed by his family, co-workers, and everyone in the citrus and agriculture industry.
story by JULIE GMITTER