(June 11, 10:35 a.m.) Robert E. “Roy” Parke, the man many called Florida’s strawberry king and founder of Parkesdale Farms, Dover, Fla., is being remembered as a driving force in the state’s strawberry deal.

Parke died of a heart attack June 5. He was 87.

He founded R.E. Parke & Sons in 1957 with money from a G.I. Bill of Rights loan. Parkesdale Packing & Cooling Inc. is the sales arm of Parkesdale Farms, which celebrated its 50th year in 2007. The operation has more than 500 acres of berries and vegetables.

Parke was the first inductee into the Florida Strawberry Hall of Fame in 1983 and was a vocal proponent of the state’s blossoming strawberry deal.

“The whole industry owes Roy Parke a debt of gratitude for all the contributions he has given over his lifetime,” said fellow grower Carl Grooms, president of Fancy Farms, Plant City, Fla. “He basically single-handedly promoted the strawberry industry in Florida more so than any other entity has for all of his life. There isn’t a grower in this industry who doesn’t know him.”

Grooms spoke about Parke’s legacy to the strawberry industry during a June 9 service in which mourners were asked to wear red.

Parke was renowned for being the first grower to run sprinkler irrigation over his berries to prevent them from freezing during January and February, the height of the state’s strawberry window.

“The other farmers thought he was crazy,” Grooms said. “Turns out, he wasn’t. He was sort of like an industry icon or a legend. His roadside strawberry stand is phenomenal. It’s like a historical monument here, so many people have visited it.”

Parke, who was also the first to export berries and ship them by air, worked to keep the strawberry industry alive through the Florida Strawberry Festival. When Plant City organizers wanted to change the giant yearly festival’s name to a community fair, Parke, a longtime festival president and board member, was instrumental in keeping strawberries in the name, Groom said.

Parke is survived by his wife; five children; 11 grandchildren; eight great grandchildren; and a brother.

Family members active in the business are owners Robert H. “Bobby” and Peggy Parke, son and daughter-in-law; granddaughter Kristen Hitchcock, treasurer; grandson Matt Parke, secretary and farm manager, and his wife Jennifer Parke, office worker.

Cheryl Meeks, daughter, and her husband Jim Meeks and son Jimmy Meeks, run the Parke’s retail operation; Colleen Fulton, daughter, and her husband Terry Fulton, run a separate greenhouse operation; son Gary Parke and his wife, Terri Parke, operate a separate hydroponics berry and vegetable operation.

Donations in Roy Parke's name can be made to the Florida Strawberry Festival agriculture scholarship fund, Drawer 1869, Plant City, 33564, and to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church building fund, 1107 Charlie Griffin Rd., Plant City, 33566.

Many strawberry-shaped items adorn Parke’s home, which features bright red carpeting. He has a strawberry-shaped pool and was pictured in a National Enquirer article sitting in a bathtub filled with berries. The article’s headline was “Berried Alive! Strawberry King Fills House With the Fruits of His Labor.”

Florida strawberry leader Roy Parke dies
Roy Parke, the first inductee into the Florida Strawberry Hall of Fame in 1983, died June 5 at age 87.