How Friends of Dudley Farm Began
History of the Citizen Support Organization
By Don L. Davis
The story really starts with the assignment by a State of Florida Livestock Inspector, Buck Mitchell, to test area cattle herds for Brucellosis. One of his stops was Dudley Farm where he met Myrtle Dudley in the early- 1980s. He found her to be very difficult and distrustful of anyone from the state. He was able to convince her that regardless of whether the State of Florida should be able to tell her what she could and could not do, he wanted to help. She allowed him to perform the test that year and the following years but she always took him up on his original "offer to help" and usually had a couple of chores for Mitchell when he came by on official business. Most of the time it was "hanging a gate" or "fixing a pump" but Mitchell also recalled an occasion when she asked him to "castrate her tomcat" to keep the tomcat from marking her furniture. Mitchell talked his way out of that chore.
As they became friends she explained that she wanted to preserve the farm and asked him how it could best be accomplished. Mitchell suggested she give it to the state with conditions on how it would be preserved as a living farm. The next time he came by she had donated the original land and buildings and sold the balance to the State of Florida subject to her conditions for future use.
Myrtle passed away in 1996 and Mitchell kept watching and waiting for the State of Florida to convert the farm to a park. When nothing happened he became an activist, going to Tallahassee to see politicians he knew and his friends knew, such as Department of Agriculture Secretary, Charles Bronson, Senator Charles Williams, and Representative Allen Boyd. They promised to work on funding and put him in touch with the head of the park service, Fran Mainella. She suggested that Mitchell organize a group to support the park under the recently enacted Citizens Support Organization regulation.
Mitchell had been holding an annual bar-b-que at the farm on Myrtle's birthday and he expanded it to include potential supporters and local politicians. I had used footage filmed at Dudley Farm and footage from Myrtle's interviews in my video, Newberry; The Early Years. Because of the video and because I knew Mitchell, he invited me to the bar-b-que. I might have been invited anyway because I think he invited everyone he knew. It was a diverse group including old Newberry names such as Barry and Getzen, as well as politicians and community leaders. I specifically remember how out of place the Gainesville Police Chief looked in his dress uniform. A speaker from Tallahassee talked about the State's plans to convert the farm into a park and explained that we could organize as a Citizen's Support Organization if we wanted to help.
After the bar-b-que, there were additional meetings to gather support, including the one Betty Wood read about in the Gilchrist County Journal. She asked her neighbor, Buck Mitchell, about the purpose of the meeting, attended, and was soon recruited to become the treasurer of the CSO. Likewise, Mitchell recruited Dorothy Carter to be the secretary of the CSO. He knew that she had been a force behind the Levy County 4-H and wanted someone with her background to keep the records.
Mitchell also knew the park's first ranger, Sally Morrison, who was working part time at the park and living at the site. Mitchell went to school with Sally and another early board member who was doing contract work for the park, Jerry Hudson. They were all graduates of Lake Wales High School where the school mascot was a Highlander. This group of Highlanders was instrumental in putting together the first board of directors.
Mitchell and Hudson were founding board members. Sally Morrison recruited Al and Mardi Krause. She knew AI Krause from his work mapping and surveying the caves on the Dudley property. Mardi Krause had been to the farm many times and had become the official photographer for the park on a volunteer basis. Sally also recruited Ed and Karen Sherwood who lived next door. Mitchell recruited me, Betty Wood, and Dorothy and-Eugene Carter. We held the organizational meeting on a weekday after work so everyone could attend.
It was in the early fall 1995 and the air was crisp. We sat on logs and lawn chairs around a fire between the pump house and the cane grinding shed. Except for Sally Morrison, Mardi Krause, and Eugene Carter, we all became board members. Buck Mitchell was elected as our first President, Dorothy Carter as Secretary and Betty Wood as treasurer. Al Krause and I were elected vice presidents. This was the easy part of the evening. We then moved on to the task of writing the bylaws. The park service had provided an example, so rather than go over all the basics, we spent most of the evening working out the details of the timing of the annual meeting, selected to be held prior to Cane Day, and defining the membership classes.
Al Krause agreed to take on the monumental task of converting the notes to legal form, filing for corporate status with the State of Florida, and filing for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service. He did a wonderful job and was rewarded by being moved up to President the following year. I took over the reins from AI Krause and filled the role of President for four years. In 2003 Nancy McIntosh was elected President.
In 2004 the initial organization was formed and all the board members interviewed recalled numerous battles in the early days. We fought to preserve the artifacts, get funding, buy additional land, build the infrastructure, and secure the staff needed to handle park visitors. In addition, we often fought to define the role of Friends of Dudley Farm as a Citizens Support Organization. Today life as a board member seems tame to many who were there for those early battles. Things are running smoothly at the park and with the Friends of Dudley Farm Citizens Support Organization. Mitchell said at the start of his interview that he is "tickled that the board kept it going so well". It was a sentiment echoed by all the original board members and I am sure all the members of Friends of Dudley Farm are also "tickled" that things at the farm and within the CSO are going so well.