DADE CITY — Pastor Randy Huckabee of First Baptist Church Dade City is not your typical small-town preacher.
Huckabee, who moved to Dade City about five months ago, enjoys trapping alligators, a hobby he developed while living in Okeechobee.
He has a stuffed alligator in his church office. The alligator, a birthday gift from a member of his Okeechobee congregation, is posed upright holding a Bible, as if preaching to the faithful.
A sportsman and big-game hunter, Huckabee became enamored with trapping alligators through an Okeechobee church member who is a nuisance alligator trapper.
Huckabee followed church member Rick Lightsey on an alligator-trapping adventure in July 2000 and became a regular partner with Lightsey trapping alligators.
“Lightsey would say, ‘I volunteered to take the pastor one time and I haven’t been able to get rid of him,’ ” Huckabee said, laughing.
Eleven years ago on Huckabee’s birthday, Lightsey asked Huckabee to come to a dive site in the Okeechobee waterways. Lightsey was monitoring the water as divers inspected the locks.
“If an alligator got too close, then we’d have to remove the alligator because we didn’t want it to take a bite out of one of the divers,” Huckabee said.
The gator in Huckabee’s office got too close.
“When I got there, he had already had to shoot the gator because he got too close to the divers,” he recalled. Lightsey presented the alligator as a birthday present, offering to skin it or mount it.
“I said I know how I want him,” Huckabee said. “I want him mounted and I want him preachin.’ Lo and behold, he turned out pretty good.”
It should come as no surprise that Huckabee is a Florida Gators fan — not just because he traps gators but because his son and daughter-in-law attended the university. He says he can even biblically support that God is a Gators fan.
“In the beginning, God made the heavens, and you look up in the heavens and they’re blue,” he said. “The first form of light He made was the sun and you look at any sundown or sunrise in Florida, it the most beautiful orange sun you’ve ever seen. So therefore the first two colors God made are orange and blue. There’s a lot of theology in college colors,” he said.
Though Huckabee and Carlene, his wife of 35 years only recently moved to Dade City, they love the small-town feel.
“We love this place; it’s a beautiful town it reminds me a lot of Mayberry because it’s just so well kept,” he said. “What little bit I’ve learned so far, there seems to be a real sense of community at the same time it seems there is a desire to grow. We’re excited about that.”
Huckabee, 57, was born and raised in Greensboro, N.C. He was raised in the church.
“I was blessed to be in a family where I went to church before I was born,” he said. “When the doors were open, we were there.”
After college, Huckabee attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and later served at First Baptist Ormond Beach. He has spent most of his ministry in Florida — 13 years at the First Baptist Church of Okeechobee.
Huckabee said many visitors have had their photograph taken with the preaching gator, among them former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Tim Tebow’s mother Pam. The Bible the gator carries is signed by Mike Huckabee.
Randy Huckabee is a distant cousin of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate.
But they did not know each other until Mike Huckabee began his campaign for president. “I went to the debates that were held in Fort Lauderdale and our paths crossed there and we began comparing notes,” the Dade City pastor said. “If we’ve got the connection right, it’s like our great-grandfathers, we believe, were brothers. I have a picture of my grandfather when he was about 85 years old and it has a striking resemblance to the governor. When I showed Mike the picture last October, he had a fit over it.”
One of Randy Huckabee’s goals is to see the church’s new building built on their property at the corner of Smith Road and SR 52.
“The Lord blessed this church 10 years ago with an amazing piece of property — 59 acres there,” he said.
The church will host a fall festival on the property from 2 to 6 p.m. Oct 27. The event will have music, games, prizes and free food. Costumes are optional. For information about the festival or the church, visit www.fbcdadecity.org or call (352) 567-3265.