Hastings, Florida. A Long Way From Iwo Jima.
by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)
Hastings Florida Potato Growers Building
My friend Howard Hunter was born and raised in Espanola, a little village near Bunnell in Flagler County.
His father was a pioneer Florida Cracker county commissioner who sold much of the original land to Marineland back in the 1930's. This marine attraction with dolphins and other sea life was created on the ocean by an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune and his friend, Count Ilya Tolstoy, a Russian.
Howard served in the Navy in World War Two. He had some unpleasant experiences at Iwo Jima as an explosives demolition specialist. He was glad to make it back to his Florida home after the war. One of his first jobs was as a construction worker on the bridge across the intracoastal waterway from St. Augustine to Vilano Beach.
After the bridge was completed, Howard went into the potato farming business in Hastings, a small town west of St. Augustine that was known, and may still be known, as the potato capitol of Florida.
Howard leased hundreds of acres of land and planted potatoes. He had dozens of laborers, trucks, and other equipment and made a lot of money his very first year in the business.
It looked like the American dream was about to come true for Howard.
He took his earnings and put every dime in ordering new potato seeds for the next year's planting. When the ship came into Jacksonville with his seeds, Howard went up to collect them but was told that a blight had infested his seeds and they could not be offloaded from the ship.
He had no insurance, no savings, no government bailout. He was broke. From potato tycoon to potato pauper in one short year.
Howard moved to Orlando and soon had a job with a firm doing construction materials testing at Kennedy Space Center during the years leading up to the moon landing.
He was smart and learned a lot about construction materials: concrete, steel, soils. He kept moving up the ladder and became chief construction materials technician during the construction of Walt Disney World in Orlando. He also worked at Epcot Center and Universal Studios making sure materials were certified and used properly.
Howard retired and lived quietly in Espanola until he passed away in 2010.
The photo above is of the potato growers building in Hastings.