(June 25, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) Mason G. Smoak in a June 25 memorial service was remembered as one of the state’s brightest young agricultural leaders.

Smoak, 33, died in a June 20 plane crash. Mason Smoak, along with his cousin, John Smoak III, operated Smoak Groves, Inc., Lake Placid, Fla., which grew fresh and processed citrus.

Mason Smoak was piloting a two-seater Piper cub airplane with Dave Maehr, a University of Kentucky associate professor studying black bears, who also perished, when the plane crashed at Placid Lakes airport.

Ray Royce, vice president of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, a regional citrus trade group that Smoak headed, said Smoak was an experienced pilot who loved flying and would often give friends rides. Royce said Smoak had been involved with bear research with his friend for years and in 2005 won a Disney environmental award for his bear project.

Federal Aviation Agency and National Transportation Safety Board investigators weren’t sure what caused the crash, Royce said.

Royce said Smoak was well known throughout Florida’s produce industry.

“He (Mason Smoak) will be sorely missed as a parent, husband and a son,” Royce said. “We have lost a really good guy. He was so well-liked and respected. He had a wide set of friends from university vice presidents to the guys that work for him. It speaks volumes that two congressmen took time off to come to his funeral.”

Ron Hamel, executive vice president and general manager of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association Inc., LaBelle, Fla., said Smoak was part of the industry’s new set of leaders.

“We all certainly feel we lost a real, good and balanced young leader to help guide that next generation coming up in the industry,” Hamel said.

Smoak, part of a family that owns a large diversified agribusiness operation that includes citrus, cattle, timber and real estate, is survived by his wife, Tracee P., sons, Mason Gabelein “Gabe” and Seth “Landon,” daughter, Lauren Elizabeth “Ellie,” parents, Edward and Anne Smoak, brother Edward Smoak Jr., and grandfather, J.L. Chase.

Instead of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be made to the Mason G. Smoak Scholarship Fund at Heartland National Bank, 600 U.S. 27 North, Lake Placid, FL 33852.

Florida citrus grower dies in plane crash
Mason Smoak