By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Golfers competing in the April 21 Sunripe Golf Classic helped the produce industry generate $110,000 for migrant worker student education.

Tournament proceeds support the Sunripe Migrant Scholarship Fund endowment at the Tampa, Fla.-based University of South Florida?s College of Education.

The support of 138 golfers at the Arnold Palmer-designed Legacy Golf Club benefit -- in its eighth year -- along with other industry contributions increased the tournament?s financial support for the scholarships to nearly $1.2 million over the eight-year period.

"It's appropriate we play this tournament at the Legacy golf course, because that?s what you have created along with the Heller, Collier and Esformes families," Billy Heller, chief executive officer of event sponsor Palmetto-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., told the golfers.

In memorial of the victims of the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre, Heller called for a moment of silence before play began.

"We've had some tragedy this week," he said. "The effort of providing college experience to those who might not otherwise afford it came to mind this week when I was looking at the faces of those whose lives who were horribly and needlessly taken at Virginia Tech."

By helping disadvantaged students obtain an education, Heller said the industry is providing strength to the country's culture.

Colleen Kennedy, dean of the college, said participants helped turn the migrant scholarship effort into one of the college's largest scholarships.

"So many of the kids would not be able to attend school if not for the Sunripe scholarship," she said. "The money makes a world of difference to them."

Some of the students who have received the scholarship have become teachers.

Lexaun Curtis, one of the scholarship's recipients, told attendees the money has helped her achieve her goal of becoming a teacher.

Curtis, who teaches in a low-income school near Tampa, said young people from her hometown of Pahokee weren't expected to go to college.

"None of my success would have been possible had it not been for the Sunripe scholarship," she said. "It has been one of the most positive experiences in my life."

Tom Page, East Coast procurement manager for the Lakeland office of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu Inc. and vice president of the Southeast Produce Council, has participated in the tournament since 2001. He said the benefit attracts a large turnout every year.

"It generates more money every year," Page said. "It's kind of snowballing."

Owners of the companies that market Sunripe-branded tomatoes and vegetables pay for all of the yearly tournament's costs. All of the contributions fund the scholarships, Heller said.

These companies, which share common ownership, market under the Sunripe brand: Pacific Tomato, Immokalee-based Pacific Collier Fresh Co., and Tracy, Calif.-based Pacific Triple E Produce Corp.

Heller Bros. Packing Corp., a Winter Garden citrus marketer, also supported the benefit.