R.D Keene or R. Dolph Keene was born in 1885 the year of the great freeze. The Great Freeze lasted 2 years (December-January) and killed over $1,000,000 worth of citrus in Florida. The pineapple plants were hit so hard they were almost completely wiped out in Northern Florida freezing the plants all of the way to the ground. The freeze lasted over 5 weeks and was documented in the New York Times.
Less than 20 years later R.D. Keene found his way into the Orange groves. In 1907 he was employed By Dr. Phillips who is also famous for his groves over in the Big Sand Lake area. Mr. Keene started off his career in the industry as a laborer which was common in that era. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming a Picking Crew foreman and ultimately a fruit purchaser. As with many ambitious young workers he eventually developed the desire for his own company.
After sorting through the finances, he and a business partner named Barney Dillard Junior found what they wanted in Eustis Florida. A Packing House was purchased and so began their journey. It was almost immediately met with a completely unexpected problem, there were far too many oranges on the market. Just the opposite of his entrance into the world. This caused a price collapse nearly bankrupting the two owners. They continued on, managing to survive and prosper enough that R.D. Keene could sell out and relocate to Winter Garden in 1933.
After moving to Winter Garden Florida Mr. Keene would not live anywhere else. He began his business in a small log building which was a former schoolhouse. In a way symbolic that he had learned his lessons and was moving on. Move on he would as in just a few years he would own a large packing plant operation employing many local residents.This is the time he began to acquire the land which would ultimately become the beautiful community and luscious fairways it is today.
R.D. Keene had become an innovator. He had also been through hard times which taught him to not be wasteful and to be fair to others. Life has a way of training us when we listen. He became well known as a man who was willing to hear new ideas, to grasp opportunities when available and be innovative. He along with a handful of others started the Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative which he was the Chief Executive Officer of until 1966. His citrus plants by that time had expanded to become some of the largest in the state and include recovery plants and left no waste where ever possible using every part of the citrus.
During the same era that Mr. Keene served the Winter Garden Citrus Products Cooperative he found time to serve as the President of the Growers and Shippers League from the early 1930’s until 1953. He then moved on and for the next 14 years he was the Chairman of the Board. R.D. Keene was a man who values life’s days as precious. He let very few of them go to waste. Serving on many boards and organizations that helped form the industry into what it is today until he passed away in 1973.
You can now visit R.D. Keene Park. The Park has two large soccer fields which you can reserve for events or walk over and just use them when they are open. The children's play area has been covered before but now it is not. I'm expecting someone to fix that in the next few years. The children's play area also has a rubberized mat which makes it very nice.
In addition there are public restrooms and water fountains. As a matter of fact they do produce cold water. I used one last time I was there.
R.D. Keene's Boat ramp is located on lake Palmer. It has parking for nearly 50 boat trailers and the fees area as follows.
Vehicles with trailers and motorized boats and jetskis etc. $5 per day.
Vehicles only or with non motorized watercraft Free
Boat ramp annual pass $150 and smart card is $50
Or last time I was out there the smart card reader was broken and it was all free.