When Logan Cooper started spraying, sweeping and stacking feed bags at Glade & Grove Supply Company in Avon Park, the 14-year-old joined the fourth generation of this family-owned and -operated equipment sales company.
"My dad started it in 1938," said George Cooper Jr, who owns the company along with his four children, Glenn, Mark, Jean and Cay. Glenn manages the local Avon Park store while Mark serves as president of the company and runs the family's largest location in Belle Glade. They have a third store in Immokalee.
The first location was opened in Princeton, a town about seven miles north of Homestead in south Florida.
"All during the war (my dad) was a farmer. He grew potatoes, sweet corn, limes and avocados," George recalled.
After earning an agriculture degree at the University of Florida, George spent five years in the Army before going back to work in the business. He bought George Sr out in 1968, acquired a harvester dealership in Pahokee in 1975, and purchased Glades Equipment Company in Belle Glade after that.
When they went looking for the next closest tractor dealership to buy, the Coopers discovered Crews Equipment in Avon Park. They purchased the business in 1998 and put down roots in Highlands County.
Glade & Grove Supply is the only Case IH dealer in the area and sells tractors from 30 to 620 horsepower, as well as zero turn lawn mowers and equipment for commercial and agriculture, said Glenn.
But when Glenn started working the Cooper family business full time, he wasn't selling tractors. As agriculture was swallowed by residential sprawl in the Homestead area, the Coopers opened Cooper Family Restaurant, and that's where Glenn earned his paycheck.
"(Dad's) a cook, I'm a cook, my two sisters are great cooks," Glenn stated. It seemed a great fit.
Then Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992 and the restaurant was basically blown away. But that didn't stop the Coopers from cooking. They heaved their generator and equipment into a makeshift tent and began serving meals to between 600 and 1,000 hungry and displaced people a day.
The destruction was overwhelming, they recalled. "We were born and raised down there and it was hard to find your way around. There were no trees, no signs, no stop signs, no fences," Glenn said.
They were able to communicate with their store in Belle Glade to truck in food and supplies. They were even the hub for the Army National Guard, providing a loading dock and feeding those servicemen and women.
Many of the people they fed and supplied were the farming community who were their customers. Nobody seemed to take more than what they needed. "They would take a flashlight and a couple of spare batteries. They wouldn't take a whole case of batteries," recalled George.
After about a month, the Coopers started charging a nominal fee for a meal. It was six months before the town was back to functioning.
Luckily many generous businesses and individuals donated food and supplies to keep the makeshift restaurant running. The Coopers kept perishables in the refrigerated body of a friend's truck. "Our donation box was full every single night," said Glenn.
After the city recovered, the Coopers closed their restaurant and left, but their charitable spirit now has a home in Highlands County. They support youth baseball, football, 4-H and FFA. Glenn adds $25 to $50 to every animal the local kids sell at auction - all they have to do is write him a letter. He attends the auctions, too, and always takes home an animal. They bring out tractors for Ag-venture and more.
George has taken on the task of keeping positivity going in the shop. "I'm the go-around-and-cheer-everybody-up-guy," he described himself. He cooks for all the company meetings, and according to sales representative Mike Rivera, George's cobbler is legendary.
It's very much a family business as far as employees go, too. Rivera has been there for about 10 years, and the full-service mechanic shop manager, Vic Forest II, is one of four Forests employed by Glade & Grove.
Now that Logan is a part of the gang, he gets to learn life lessons as well as business skills on the job. Is the worst part of the job spraying or sweeping, his dad wanted to know. Logan said sweeping. With spraying there's a destination, said the teen. Sweeping never ends.