Founded on December 3, 1978, in Temple Terrace, Florida, the Tampa Bay Rare Fruit Council is a not-for-profit service and education-oriented organization.

By Verna L Dickey

At the June 8,2008, meeting of the Rare Fruit Council of Tampa Bay, Judson Newcombe was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation and given a lifetime membership in the Council. As he accepted his recognition, he recounted this information about the history of the Council

He moved to Tampa from Illinois in 1910 and wanted to grow rare fruit trees but didn’t know who to contact. One of his students at USF told him about Bill Lester, a teacher at Greco Junior High School in Tampa, who was also interested in rare fruit. He contacted Bill and they decided to fly to Miami and attend a meeting of the Rare Fruit Council in Miami.

Judson and Bill decided to start a Rare Fruit Council in Tampa and advertised for a meeting on December 3, 1978, in the Community Room of the Tampa Federal Savings and Loan building on 56th Street in Temple Terrace (which is no longer there). The following people attended that first meeting with Judson:

  • Modesto Arencibia from Tampa
  • Bob and Theresa Heath from Tampa
  • Fay and Bemis Gordon from Brooksville
  • Joe and Jane Constantine from Tampa
  • Jim and Kathee Mercer from Clearwater
  • Walter and Helen Ellis from Tampa
  • Bill and Nancy Lester from Tampa

The second meeting was held at the Constantine’s home in Lake LeClare and the Council met there for the first 2-3 years. After that, meetings were held at the Hillsborough County Extension in Seffner. Then a house was purchased in Thonotosassa where they met for several more years. Then meetings were held at USF until about 2 years ago when they were moved to the Tampa Garden Center on Bayshore Boulevard where they are presently

Judson said he watched the Rare Fruit Council grow like watching a child grow up, until it evolved into standing on its own.

(P. Judson Newcombe has a Ph.D. in Communications and taught at Northwestern University in Illinois before coming to teach at University of South Florida In Tampa. He retired 15 years ago and lives in Tampa.)

Our membership today includes amateurs and professionals, novices and long-term gardeners, young and the not-so young. We meet at the McLoughlin Center at Christ the King Catholic Church on Dale Mabry in Tampa. And following tradition, we continue to learn from each other and encourage members to share their experiences, knowledge, and enthusiasm about growing exotic rare fruit edibles.

Over the past 30 years the roster of speakers we have hosted looks like the “Who’s Who” of Florida horticulture. We have enjoyed hearing Chris Rollins, Director of the Fruit & Spice Park in Homestead; Gene Joyner of Unbelievable Acres Botanic Garden in West Palm Beach; Don Chafin (Going Bananas) of Homestead; Gardening Author Monica Brandies; Florida books author Lewis Maxwell; UF strawberry breeder Dr. Craig Chandler; and many others. Speakers have come from as far away as Brunei and as close as our own members. (To see who we had as speakers and when, see Meeting History tab.)