INDIANTOWN, FLORIDA -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles H.
Bronson today announced that Iris Pollock Wall of Indiantown has been
selected to receive the "Woman of the Year in Agriculture" award for 2006.
"Iris Wall is a lifelong cattlewoman and rancher and a talented
businesswoman," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson
said. "She is a living representative of the history of agriculture
in our state. She spent her youth cowhunting, and over the years
established a number of successful businesses and became a leader in
her community and her industry."
The award, now in its 22nd year, recognizes women who have made
outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture. It is sponsored by
the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the
Florida State Fair Authority. Bronson is scheduled to present the
award to Wall on February 8 during the opening-day luncheon at the
Florida State Fair in Tampa.
A fifth-generation Floridian, Iris was born in 1929 in
Indiantown. She spent most of her childhood on the back of a horse,
cowhunting with her father or just riding for the fun of it. During
the 1940s, when the screw worm was at its worst, she rode every day,
roping her family's cows and calves and "doctoring" them with
medicine she carried in her saddlebags.
In 1948 she married Homer Wall, her high school sweetheart, and they
started a family, which eventually grew to include three
daughters. Today, Iris owns a sprawling ranch and six lumberyards,
but she and Homer started with nothing except an eagerness to
work. They began their life together in the Everglades, hunting
alligators and cutting fence posts. They made their living fencing
other people's ranches, living frugally and putting money aside to
buy their own land.
They were soon able to start a small cattle and timber operation,
High Horse Ranch, located just outside of Indiantown. Over the years
it grew and prospered. Iris has always been a good steward of her
land and has worked with her local forest service, water districts,
county extension office, and farm service agency to ensure the best
management of the ranch's resources. She still rides through the
pastures and hammocks almost daily and offers tours to school and
civic groups. The tours often include a big barbecue and lots of
storytelling about Florida in the old days.
Iris and Homer got into the lumber business in 1962 when they
partnered with their friends Jack and Fay Williamson to open W&W
Lumber in Indiantown. After three years the Williamsons sold the
Walls their half of the business. W&W Lumber thrived, and today it
has expanded to include locations in West Palm Beach, Jensen Beach,
Okeechobee, Lake Placid and Sebring.
A ranch and a flourishing lumber business might be enough to keep
most people busy-but not Iris. In the early 1970s, Homer and Iris
purchased and restored the historic Seminole Inn, where her mother
once worked as a cook. The inn was built in 1926 by S. Davies
Warfield, a Baltimore financier who dreamed of turning Indiantown
into a railroad hub until his plans were dashed by the Great
Depression. The inn is one of the few reminders of Indiantown's boom
years in the twenties, and Iris and Homer intended their careful
restoration of the landmark to be their gift to the city. Today, the
inn is filled with period antiques and serves authentic Southern food
in its dining room. It was recently named one of Florida's top 20
inns by the St. Petersburg Times, and is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places.
Preserving the best of "old Florida" is a passion for Iris. She
serves on the board of the Florida Cracker Cattle Association and the
Florida Cracker Horse Association, and is dedicated to conserving
these rare old breeds as living links to Florida's history. She
often hosts the Cracker Horse Association's annual meetings at High
Horse Ranch, treating everyone involved, her friend Nelson Bailey
says, "to generous helpings of genuine old-style Southern hospitality
and food." Iris keeps a herd of Cracker cattle on the ranch and
still rides a Cracker horse.
Iris is also an active member of the Florida Cracker Trail
Association, a non-profit dedicated to preserving Florida's cattle
and horse heritage and to providing an east-west greenway from
Bradenton to Fort Pierce. Each February she participates in the
group's annual cross-state horseback and wagon ride, telling stories
around the campfire about her cowhunting days and helping to keep
Florida's history alive. As her friend David Reed, president of the
Cracker Trail Association, says, "With a gentle ease, she delivers us
into the old world of woods, cows, camps, rare nights in town, and
long, lonely months on the prairie. Were it not for the
participation of people like Miss Iris, who actually lived the life
growing up, it would be far more difficult, if not impossible, to
promote our purpose."
Iris took part in the Great Florida Cattle Drive of 1995, which
celebrated Florida's 150th year of statehood. She was part of a
group of cattle ranchers, farmers, and historians who drove 1,000
head of Cracker cattle across the state in a historical reenactment
of Florida's 19th century cattle drives. In 2006 Iris helped to
organize a second cattle drive, this time to benefit the Florida
Agricultural Museum, and she rode again, at the age of 77,
accompanied by family and friends.
Iris is a member of the Florida Cattlemen's Association and the
National Cattlemen's Association. She was recently elected to the
board of the Martin County Farm Bureau and has been inducted into the
Florida Cracker Hall of Fame.
Iris Pollock Wall lives in Indiantown, where her authentic Cracker
tales have put her much in demand as a speaker and storyteller. Her
beloved husband, Homer, died in 1994, but she is surrounded by her
children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and many
friends. Today, her daughters and sons-in-law manage the family
lumberyards and the inn, which is just wonderful, Iris says. The
arrangement leaves her with plenty of time to devote to her first
love: High Horse Ranch.