“F” is for Florida – Part 2, The Phoenix (10/27/2023)

A number of states, notably Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina, established FFA camps in the 1920s. Several other states followed suit in the 1930s. To learn more about the early FFA camps see the History of FFA Camps in the May 8, 2021 Friday Footnote or read Recounting the Legacy: The History and Use of FFA Camps for Leadership and Recreation in the Journal of Agricultural Education. In the 1980s Florida mounted a campaign to build an FFA camp known as the FFA Leadership Training Center. This Footnote documents that effort and how even an arsonist could not stop the Florida FFA.

Planning for the FFA Leadership Training Center

In the early 1980s the Florida FFA Foundation announced plans to build a retreat-training center for FFA members. The International Minerals and Chemicals Company had donated 126 acres of land near Lakeland, Florida for the Center. See the announcement in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The Tampa Times, June 24, 1981

Fundraising – Hire-An-Aggie

Where did the money come from to build the Florida FFA Leadership Training Center? The money came from a variety of sources, but one source was the FFA members themselves. FFA members from across the state participated in the “Hire-An-Aggie” campaign which is described in the article below. See Figure 2.

Figure 2. The Orlando Sentinel, November 18, 1982

More Fundraising – Move’em on, Head’em up, Rawhide

The theme music for the television show Rawhide could have been adopted by the Deland FFA members. To celebrate the cattle roundup heritage of the past in Florida several FFA chapters in the Deland area sponsored a Fall Roundup (See Figure 3). In addition to a big barbecue there were nine events to test the horsemanship and stock-handling abilities of the FFA members. Some of the events included steer saddling and the sack sled race (See Figure 4) Tickets were sold with part of the proceeds going to help fund the construction of the FFA leadership training facility.

Figure 3. Article about the 1983 Fall Roundup. The Orlando Sentinel, October 5, 1983

Figure 4. Images from the 1984 Fall Roundup. The Orlando Sentinel, October 16, 1984

FFA Center Plans Approved

Building an FFA Center doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and funds must be secured. While the FFA members raised money ($190,000 over five years), agricultural businesses also donated. The Florida Farm Bureau and their insurance affiliate donated $225,000 toward the camp. There were other donors also.

In 1985 the Polk County Zoning Board approved the plans for the Center, See Figure 5.

Figure 5. The Tampa Tribune. April 11, 1985

The Ribbon Cutting

In conjunction with the state FFA convention in June of 1989 there was a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly constructed FFA Leadership Training Center. See Figure 6.

Figure 6. The Orlando Sentinel, June 15, 1989

Fire Destroys the FFA Center

On January 4, 1990 an arsonist burned down the FFA center. The Center had been open for only six months. Floyd Bodiford attempted to burn the FFA center down on January 2 but was stopped by a security guard/caretaker. He returned two nights later and was successful. Bodiford drove a stolen pickup truck to the FFA Center, rammed the caretaker’s 1984 Chevrolet truck into the building and lit some papers inside the pickup. He then placed a 20 pound propane tank under a wooden stairwell, opened the valve and lit the escaping gas.

According to The Tampa Tribune (October 11, 1990, p. 5) “Bodiford had delusions he owned the property and that it was being used as a drug lab and a ‘whorehouse.’” Mental health experts said that Bodiford suffered from paranoia schizophrenia and had a history of mental illness. His defense lawyers contended that he was insane. At his trial he was found guilty by reason of insanity.

It is somewhat ironic that the mailing address for the FFA Leadership Training Center is 5000 Firetower Rd, Haines City, FL 33844.


Figure 7. The Naples Daily News.  January 5, 1990

FFA Determined to Rebuild

A widely used phrase is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This describes the reaction of the FFA to the burning of their Center. The Center was insured but more than that was needed to rebuild. And the decision was made to raise more money to build more buildings at the center. See Figure 8.

Figure 8. The Tampa Tribune, April 30, 1990

FFA Set to Rebuild

It took about a year to raise money and start construction again on the FFA Center. An update on the plans were revealed at the state FFA convention in the summer of 1991. See Figure 9.

Figure 9. The Tampa Tribune, June 9, 1991

Like the Phoenix

The FFA Center was rebuilt and plans were to reopen it on June 11, 1992. FFA members from Lake Gibson Senior High School helped install an irrigation system and planted some palm trees. See Figure 10.

Figure 10. The Tampa Tribune, May 11, 1992

The Big Day Arrives

A special Grand Reopening occurred in June of 1992. See Figure 11.

Figure 11. The Tampa Tribune, June 12, 1992

Concluding Remarks

As I worked on the Florida Footnote published last week, I kept running across references to fundraising activities for the FFA Center, that it was built, and then discovered it was burned down by an arsonist, and then was rebuilt. I thought what a great lesson in persistence and determination. My favorite quote is:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” U.S. President Calvin Coolidge.

So I decided a second Florida Footnote was needed to document the persistence and determination of the Florida FFA members and supporters.

To learn more about the Florida FFA Leadership Training Center and see photographs of the facility you should visit their website – http://www.flaltc.org/