‘Still the Queen of Florida Citrus’ 

Brenda Eubanks Burnette Named 2024 Citrus Achievement Award Winner


photos provided by BRENDA EUBANKS BURNETTE

Every year, Citrus Industry Magazine names a Citrus Achievement Award winner, which recognizes those who have made significant impacts within the Florida citrus industry or beyond. This year, Brenda Eubanks Burnette received the honor. 

Burnette has been closely involved with the Florida citrus industry for nearly 45 years, but she got her start in the industry almost by chance. It all began when she decided to compete for Florida Citrus Queen in order to win scholarship money. While she didn’t win the crown that year, she came back again in 1981 and won. 

This kicked off a whirlwind year of traveling and helping represent the citrus industry around the country, and even around the world. She was even chosen to go to Japan, where her appearance helped boost citrus sales. Of course, Burnette’s involvement with the citrus industry didn’t end there, and her reign as Florida Citrus Queen was just the beginning. 

“I ended up being offered a job as the consumer spokesperson for the Department of Citrus a few months later, and I was with them for three or four years,” says Burnette. “Then, from ’88 through ’94, I worked at the Florida Citrus Showcase.”

Burnette left the Florida Citrus Showcase after her son was born, but her involvement didn’t end there. She continued to volunteer there for years, and helped keep the showcase’s Florida Citrus Hall of Fame alive when the showcase went under in 2008.

“The Florida Citrus Showcase was not doing well and we really thought it was going to be going under. So before that happened, we bought the name and everything from Florida Citrus Showcase and we partnered with Florida Southern College to create an endowment in order to create an engaged learning program where we would have fellowship students that would help us to scan and digitize information that was in the Florida Citrus Archive.”

In addition to helping save the hall of fame, Burnette was also instrumental in bringing back the Florida Citrus Queen pageant, now known as Miss Florida Citrus. 

“I resurrected the Miss Florida Citrus program in 2015 when we had our 50th anniversary for the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame,” she explains. “I brought back some of the former citrus queens to come celebrate that anniversary. And from that, I was asked if I would start the pageant back up. And I said, ‘Absolutely, I’d love to do that,’ because that was how I got into the industry, and that was my way of giving back.”

So the Miss Florida Citrus program was officially reborn. Now part of the Miss America program, it recently celebrated its centennial. 

These achievements alone make it clear why Burnette is well deserving of this achievement award, but they’re far from her only contributions. Burnette is also a major force for preserving Florida citrus history. For example, she has helped create oral history interviews with people in the industry to help preserve their knowledge and legacy. She has also done significant work around citrus crate labels, and has worked with Jerry Chicone to release two books about citrus crate labels, with help from collector Jim Ellis. She’s also a major force behind the Citrus Crate Label Trail, which traces citrus industry history throughout four counties in the state. 

Mandy Hancock Jarrett, Miss Florida Citrus 1991, was the one who nominated Burnette. 

“When I first saw the call for nominees for the award and saw the requirements, I thought, ‘Wow!’ Every bullet point was Brenda. I’ve known her for over 30 years, and she’s such an advocate for the citrus industry. She’s normally the one behind the scenes, and I thought it was her turn to be recognized for all her efforts. She lives, breathes, and eats the Florida citrus industry. It’s so close to her heart and whatever she does she tries to promote it and she’s just a wonderful advocate, so I was happy to nominate her and even happier she was recognized,” reflects Jarrett. 

Matt Joyner, EVP/COE of Florida Citrus Mutual, agrees with this sentiment.

“It’s hard to think of anyone more deserving of recognition for the time and effort they have poured into the Florida citrus industry than Brenda Eubanks Burnette. I said it at the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs and I’ll say it again, Brenda was crowned Florida Citrus Queen back in 1981 and without a doubt she is still the Queen of Florida citrus today. Her efforts to preserve the heritage and tell the story of Florida’s citrus growers will ensure the legacy and impact of Florida’s iconic industry lives on for generations to come. It’s only fitting that the woman who makes sure our industry’s icons are honored is finally honored herself,” he says. 

But for Burnette, the real reward is the work itself.

“It’s really been a blessing for me. I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, and not just help the industry but see things really grow and become something we never imagined,” she said. “More than anything, I just want to give a thank you to the industry as a whole, because it’s made my life.”

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