Born in Wisconsin April 1, 1879, Elmer came with his family to Citrus County as a small child and spent his life at Hernando. He took barren land and created one of the finest orange groves in the county. A remarkable feat! He was a wizard with plants and many considered him the best farmer in the entire county. He lived out his adult life on the land and starting from scratch he left one of the finest orange grove and lakeside estates in the territory.
When the First World War came along, it wrecked the economy of the east side of the county, who were dependent upon the mining industry. The war destroyed the industry and people were left stranded. Hundreds left the county and went north. The ones who stayed were hungry. It was 1918. Elmer and Judge E. C. May who were the best of friends, came up with an idea to grow tomatoes. No one in the county had done so before and no one had any idea on how to go about it, but by trial and error, the first crops grown commercially was a success.
Although Elmer was just a Florida Cracker and looked the part, he was a very enterprising soul. When others thought he would fail Elmer proved them wrong. He decided to go to Washington to market watermelons, leaving his friends scratching their heads and perhaps chuckling under their breath. He returned in a brand new car with his pockets bulging with money. He kept returning to Washington and it was said he became as newsworthy as the president. A two page spread about him was published in the conservative Washington Post. A picture showing him presenting a watermelon to the secretary of agriculture appeared along with an article. Elmer kept finding himself in the newspaper and finally, a full page article showing Elmer “the countryman” presenting the President of the United States a seventy-five pound watermelon was featured. No one was chuckling now. Elmer was proving himself to be quite the businessman.
Elmer was a constable at one point. He went to apprehend someone and was shot point blank in the face. The bullet entered under his eye and lodged at the base of his skull. His life lay on the line for many weeks. In 1903, a year after being shot, the bullet was finally removed by Dr. Smith of Ocala.
He was married to Jan Gutherey when he was a young man. They had two sons together, Walter and Herbert. Jane supported Elbert through his many endeavors, his failures as well as his successes.. On October 3, 1954 her heart gave out and she died in her sleep. Elmer was devastated. After some time he went to visit family out west; his health failing. He was urged to enter a hospital there, but instead Elmer came back home to his empty house. A short time later on May, 18, 1956, Elmer passed away. They are buried at The Van Ness Family Cemetery in Inverness.
After his death, Judge E. C. May said “Ralph Elmer Van Ness is dead and another leader who helped to make Florida great has gone to his reward.” A Citrus County Pioneer Contributed Greatly To Economy of This Section read the headlines.
Source: Ocala Star Banner...Article by Judge E. C. May; Find A Grave
Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers
This Page Created August 4, 2011
Copyrighted © 2011- Linda Flowers
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