When Ralph “Terry” Hadley III was a kid in Winter Park, the summer population was about 3,000 and, he says fondly, the primary mode of transport for the town’s youngsters was a bicycle.
“We rode everywhere. It was a wonderful place to live. Lots of neighbors, good kids, everybody knew everybody and it was a fun place to grow up. Saturday entertainment consisted of going to the Colony Theater where we could get 12 cartoons and a double feature for about 14 cents.”
He chuckles today, pointing out that the movie theater of his youth is now a Pottery Barn, even if its façade has been lovingly maintained.
True, the city has seen many changes since Hadley’s salad days, but his fondness has not abated. He enjoys working downtown as a real estate attorney with more than 50 years experience for Swann Hadley Stump Dietrich & Spears, P.A., boasting a prime office spot on New England Avenue.
That said, Hadley’s Florida roots run well outside Metro Orlando. And as the law didn’t call to him immediately as a career, he enjoyed a few stints outside the tony confines of Winter Park.
One such experience had him working a summer job on a 5,000-acre dude ranch outside of Osteen. It was owned by the Morris family, he notes. Mr. Morris was the principal of Sanford High School back then.
“I had a blast,” he says. “Although I discovered that stringing barbed wire through the Florida scrub in the summer time was a good reason to continue on with higher education!”
In his sophomore year at the University of Florida -- Hadley is a proud Bull Gator – he got a job with the Department of Agriculture with what was then a very active fire ant eradication program.
Though Hadley’s father, an insurance professional, had hoped Terry might follow suit, a couple of summers at the firm was enough to convince him it wasn’t the right path. He took the LSAT, did well, and decided enthusiastically on a career as an attorney.
He’s enjoyed focusing that career in real estate law, in part because of Central Florida’s impressive and seemingly unending growth. But while insurance wasn’t a family business he chose to persist in, there was another that would call to him years later: farming.
The property, which sits north of Ocala in a little town known as Island Grove, has been in Hadley’s family since the 1800s.
“When I was very young, and my great grandmother was still alive, it was a classic little farm with a barn and a chicken yard,” he says. Eventually, the town named for its verdant groves fell victim to one too many frosts. The land supported cattle for a while, but 25 acres was hardly enough pasture for grazing and so about five years ago, Hadley decided to do something different.
It took two years, thousands of bushes and a lot of learning on the fly, but today Aunt Zelma’s Blueberries – named for Hadley’s great aunt, Zelma Cason – sells to big names in produce like Del Monte and Dole, and does brisk business as a U-Pick, as well.
“We’ve been very lucky,” he says of the farm’s success. “They come down from Jacksonville, over from Gainesville, from Ocala….” Hadley calls the U-Pick operation Aunt Zelma’s “shining star” of the last year.
It’s a family affair, too. Hadley says he’s blessed with a partner in wife Carol who shares the joy of working on the farm and other endeavors.
“Carol is a wonderful lady and a great cook,” he says proudly. “And she’ll put a new recipe on our website and our Facebook almost every week during the season. We get a lot of people who come in and bring their own blueberry recipes for us to share.”
The Hadleys have six kids and nine grandchildren between them. More than a few come to work on the farm, as well.
For years, the couple has lived on a lake in Altamonte Springs, but now that their brood has grown, they’ve downsized to a home in Winter Park just north of Park Avenue. Though he’s never strayed far, Hadley is delighted to have returned “home.”
Aside from local restaurants and the outdoors, Hadley also finds time for charitable pursuits. He sits on the Board of Trustees for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine.
After donating technology to the school through another business connection, a client invited him up for a visit to see the good things the gift had afforded the school, which is free for the students who qualify. Hadley was suitably impressed.
“It’s a remarkable institution,” he says. “These kids graduate with high school diplomas, many go on to college, most – K through 12 – are boarding students who live on campus during the week and they all go home for the weekends and are bussed back on Sundays.”
When the school president asked him to apply for a vacancy on the Board, Hadley did just that.
“It’s a beautiful campus,” he says warmly. “And I am continually blown away by the amount of care and love given to the kids by the staff…. I truly enjoy being a part of it; it’s one of the more meaningful things I have ever done.”