“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”
That quote has been attributed to both Benjamin Franklin and Lucille Ball, and it epitomizes the life of 74-year-old Edgar Stokes, owner and manager of Stokes Ranch, former Highlands County commissioner, grandfather, great-grandfather, and major player both in agriculture and in the community.
To say his resume is lengthy would be an understatement. Stokes serves on the National Cattlemen’s association board of directors and has served as president and more of the Highlands County Cattlemen’s association, the Florida Cattlemen’s association, the Florida Farm Bureau and the Lorida Lions Club. And that just scratches the surface.
“My brother said, if you want to get something done, go to Edgar,” said Stokes, the fifth of six children born to Bob and Mary Stokes. The friendly gentleman comes by his sense of civic responsibility honestly: his father started the family ranch in Lorida in 1926, worked at the railroad station and also served as county commissioner in the 1950s. His mother was the local postmaster. It was actually Mary Stokes who gave the town of Lorida its name.
“There was a railroad spur that went around the lake on the east side of it, and there were two more stations over there. This was called North Lake Station,” Stokes explained, indicating present-day Lorida. One of the stations on the spur was called South Lake Station. Mary noticed there was a lot of confusion between the two. “Mama suggested to the district manager, ‘why don’t we just name this Lorida,’” Stokes recounted. He added, “She took the F off of Florida. She liked the name Florida.”
Stokes remembered being a little tyke of 6 or so years, sitting up on top of the red boxcars, poking the cattle with a pole to help load them for transport. Later, when his older brothers joined the military service, he found himself the sole helper of his dad on the ranch. That was an introduction to hard work.
All of those afternoons spent breaking horses after school catapulted Stokes into the rodeo scene where he competed in saddle bronc riding, bareback riding and bull riding. “That was a big part of my life,” Stokes said.
He also remembers when the plots that now house homes and lawns in Lorida were filled with sweet potatoes and other crops. His parents owned a general store that sat on the main road before Highway 98 was built. When the highway was established, his parents “put that store on two telephone poles” and dragged it to the new road, Stokes recalled.
Stokes and his wife, Norma, also extremely active in the agriculture community, raised their young family above that general store - one son and three daughters. Later on, his career in agriculture and politics would include many important contributions, the largest of which would probably be the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act. This piece of bipartisan legislation protected ranchers and other members of the agricultural community from unreasonable or unfair governmental burdens on their property investment or their livelihood, according to www.florida-eminent-domain.com.
Stokes is also well-known for his commitment to caring for the land and was instrumental in launching the Florida Cattlemen’s environmental stewardship program. “It was something I cared about,” stated Stokes. He has also spent many hours volunteering his time to help transport disabled veterans to their medical appointments.
In 1998, when he took the county commissioner seat that he would hold for a total of 12 years, it wasn’t the first time someone had tried to convince him to run. “I said no several times,” said the busy, go-to guy. At the time he was managing a 4,200 acre ranch in Okeechobee and had cattle of his own in three counties-- Highlands, Okeechobee and Osceola. What made him finally say yes?
“I just decided, I’ll take a turn. I’ve not done that,” Stokes recalled. He did not plan on making a career of it, but enjoyed being able to help people.
Now, the grandfather of five and great-grandfather of one is enjoying spending time with the youngest generations of Stokes when he’s not running his ranch or attending cattlemen’s meetings. “They have him wrapped right here,” said Norma of the kids, holding up her pinky finger.
With all of the press this lifelong Highlands County resident and community leader has received over the years, it’s hard to find something people don’t already know about him.
Most people don’t know I played football, said Stokes, who explained that it wasn’t until the 11th grade when his brother Norman returned to the family ranch that he had the time to invest in a sport. With a little laugh, Stokes shared, “I played defensive guard. I got an award that year for most improved player.”