PLANT CITY – His name couldn't be more fitting for someone who helped shape the Florida Strawberry Festival: Al Berry.
After 43 years, the velvet-voiced former radio broadcaster has stepped down as a director of Plant City's signature event.
“I just feel like it's time. We need new blood. I've had a real good run at it,” the 78-year-old said.
Associate director and retired city manager Phil Waldron will take Berry's place on the board.
Festival General Manager Paul Davis said Berry's leadership will be missed.
“I don't know of anyone who works harder for the festival and the community than Al Berry,” Davis said. “His enthusiasm is contagious.”
Berry said the festival has grown over the years, including doubling its duration to 11 days. The festival also added big name entertainers, starting with an appearance by Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers, in the early 1970s.
The festival did away with girlie shows on the midway during his tenure and evolved into a celebration that boasts of its family-friendly atmosphere. He served as president two years in the 1990s.
“The festival has just taken off. I'm proud of what it's become,” he said.
Berry said he'll remain active in the festival as a director emeritus. And one role he won't give up is donning a suit as the festival's mascot, Mr. Berry, who often greets visitors as they enter the main gate.
Berry, a Plant City native, attended Texas Western College and University of Tampa before beginning a broadcasting career in 1956 with WFLA radio. For 25 years he co-owned a radio station in Plant City.
His work resume includes vice president of the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce and marketing director with the Paso Fino Horse Association. His civic service includes serving on the city's board of adjustment and such leadership positions as Hillsborough Community College trustee and Plant City Lions Club president.
He was named Plant City Citizen of the Year in 1998 for his many years of community service.
Berry and his wife of nearly 57 years, Patsi, have three daughters, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Waldron, who has been an associate director for 16 years, will take Berry's place on the board. The owner of Waldron Consulting, a planning and development firm, he said he “really can't take Al's place, because Al can't be replaced.”
Festival directors voted unanimously at an April 8 meeting to appoint Waldron.
“I feel very honored to be named director,” the 65-year-old Waldron said.
Waldron was a festival volunteer for 12 years before he was named an associate director. Associate directors have no voting priviledges.
Berry said Waldron was a good choice because of his long history with the festival, including his work in recent years to improve the traffic flow to and from the grounds.
The festival's board includes 16 directors and 14 associate directors. Davis said a new associate director will be named in the near future.
Also at the April 8 meeting, the festival directors re-elected its leadership, including Jim Jeffries, president; Dan Walden, vice president; Sandee Sytsma, secretary; and Floyd Hall, treasurer. All the officers are in their second year; festival leaders typically serve two years but face election annually.