Remembering a Homestead Visionary - South Dade News Leader: Community News | South Dade News Leader | Miami Dade County

Not you?||
Logout|My Account

Remembering a Homestead Visionary

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2018 1:00 am | Updated: 8:04 am, Sat Dec 8, 2018.

John DeMott, a leader in South Dade agriculture, passed away in November, leaving a void for family, friends and the community.

Carol DeMott first met John as a surfer, in August 1966.

And after 52 years together, being married for 48 of those years,  she celebrated her 70th birthday party at Walton House, a surprise party, rightfully filled with family and friends amongst the vibrant plants, foliage, parrots and other wildlife there.

On November 24th however, many of those same friends and family gathered there again in remembrance of John DeMott’s passing, the day after he had been laid to rest, for a sweet, yet bittersweet occasion.

“He did everything, he was a pilot, a surfer, a fireman..but mainly plants,” said Carol remembering her husband’s varied interests.

As such, John also loved quotes, like this one:

                          I want a small piece of a lot of pies

It’s this that Carol will miss the most.

“His vitality, his interests in everything and everyone,” she said. “He had to have a hand in everything.”

Ron Weeks, a local grower, remembered DeMott for this desire as well.

“I’ve known John for a long time, and we’ll never ever forget all the things he’s done for this industry, an amazing man.” said Weeks.

Rusty Brown, whose husband Ellis Brown has been working for John over 10 years, even described him as an Energizer bunny:

“He was always out in the golf cart, always doing something somewhere: back in the office, out in the yard, re-doing areas,” said Brown, “it was amazing he had so much energy. It’s going to be very missed.”

As the founder of the Foliage Guide, as well as founding member of the Botanical Seed Auction, DeMott nurtured associations with the Montgomery Gardens, the USDA, UF/IFAS, ARS at Chapman Field as a way to, as he put it:

                                       Spread the germplasm

John’s son Jeffrey shared, “My Dad believed that it was our duty, not only for those in the nursery business but as humans, to spread as much plants, foliage, etc. around the globe and Mother Nature would take care of the rest. He did this with his many plant society memberships, associations and businesses and we’ll continue to do just that. It was one of his very many ‘passions’ as he would often say.”

Alfredo Bergolla, a retiree from Costa Nurseries 12 years ago, recalled how DeMott nurtured his career though too.

“I met him in 1978 when I came from Cuba, with no English at all! I used to grow plants in Cuba, [so] when I arrived here, I tried to introduce myself into the plant business,” said Bergolla. “Believe it or not, he was the first person who talked to me in the United States, the first person who gave me credit ... I’ll miss him everyday. He was a very knowledgeable person.”

Reese Robertson Sr., DeMott’s son-in law (married to DeMott’s daughter Jenifer) misses him also not just as family, but as a friend and adviser for the same reasons.

“His wealth of knowledge...his drive, his passion for everything he did, his

passion for his family, his advice -- just asking him for advice,” said Robertson.

Reese also recollected one of DeMott’s favorite quotes.

“If you do something you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life”.

As the father of five year old twins, Reese Jr. and Delaney, Reese recalled just how much DeMott loved his grandchildren as well.

“Seeing my kids around him and the way that he just lit up and smiled, and the happiness my children brought him, just really made it worthwhile to see,” Robertson said. “He was definitely the greatest grandfather I could’ve ever asked for my children. The relationship he had with my children will last forever.”

Jenifer added just how special a grandfather, DeMott was to his grandchildren.

“He had special nicknames for all the grandchildren,” Jenifer said, “and to him he was ‘Papa’.”

“He would make sure to spend one-on-one time with each grandchild. He would wake up early and bake cookies with them if they spent the night.”

From taking his grandchildren on golf cart rides to feed chickens, learn about the plants, and watch sunsets, Jenifer said her father truly cherished the time he had with all four of his grandchildren.

“He taught both grandsons to fish, and the granddaughters were his princesses,” said Jenifer. “He would often send them home with fried bacon in their pockets, and always left with a little secret that was just between them.”

In doing these things and more with his grandchildren, Jenifer explained that DeMott got to revisit many of the same activities he did with his own children.

“He used to take us on day-long trips -- ‘adventures’ we would call them -- every Saturday,” said Jenifer. “We visited nurseries, nearby islands by boat, yard sales, stopped by family and friends; and our journey would always end with a family dinner to discuss our newly created memories. It also got usout of the house for the day to give my mom a much needed break!” adds Jeffrey.

While Jenifer however will miss the cameraman that DeMott was during many of those outings, she is now more than ever, thankful for the time he took in doing it.

“He was always behind the camera at every family gathering,” Jenifer said, “and we are lucky to have years of footage to watch and remember not only him, but how he always brought us together.”

As such, it’s no surprise that DeMott passionately lived another one of his favorite quotes:

                                              Family First

Yet while still remaining on the cutting edge also, David Kaplan of Plant Doctor Nursery recalled just how ahead of the curve DeMott was.

“Every once in a while I’d get something new going, and I’d go talk to John, and I’d find out I was five years behind him,” said Kaplan. “He was always way out front; definite visionary.”

Kaplan continued his praise of DeMott’s ingenuity, explaining that no idea was too far-fetched for DeMott either.

“He’d come up with just off-the-wall things, [that] at the time you thought were crazy, and he made ‘em work,” Kaplan said. “That seedbank thing was a big thing, nobody knew what that was, nobody even thought of doing that; he came up with the idea and made that work.”

The seedbank is still running to this day at the Montgomery Botanical Center and Flamingo Gardens. His son, Jeffrey DeMott -- Director of Business Affairs for the family’s Alpha Foliage, Incorporated | Redland Nursery, Incorporated -- has been working over the last few years on a very large expansion of it to many more gardens around the country, with a goal towards even completing one this year for the Miami-Dade Chapter FNGLA; while spreading more of the germplasm, much like his father wanted to do.

Despite John DeMott’s passion for innovation and plants, Miami-Dade County Agriculture Manager Charles LaPradd also remembered how at different meetings DeMott livened and extended the proceedings in other ways.

“He’d ask me why the government was doing a certain thing, and I’d try to answer,” said DeMott. “But then he’d wave it off saying: oh nevermind, you don’t know.”

This would ultimately spark DeMott’s inquisitive and investigative nature, resulting in wanting him to, as he would always say:

                                      Follow the money trail...

LaPradd and others like Dave Tomlinson, one of DeMott’s soil providers, believed it was this anarchistic side of DeMott however that made him such an agricultural pioneer.

“He’d take those ideas that people thought were crazy, and be like ‘I think there’s something to this idea’, and he’d sort of kind of take it and grow it,” said Tomlinson.

As such, one of the main reasons he thought any conventional rule could be changed is because.

It’s not carved in stone.

The Buster Girls (daughters of Chuck Buster, business partner and close family friend) reminisced about DeMott’s particularly impish side however, highlighting a man who was also as they called him “a smart prankster.”

As the story goes, the girl’s parents would always tell them not to jump off canal bridges, because of possible amoebas and germs in the water. One hot 105 degree afternoon however, as the older sister drove the younger ones, they decided to literally take the plunge -- right off the 6th Avenue Bridge. But as they began drying off by the water, John DeMott drove by.

While the girls were unsure if DeMott saw them, they definitely saw him, and decided the best way to make sure no one else ever knew what happened was through some sweet bribery: a Carvel ice cream cake, complete with ‘To A Really Cool Guy’ written on it. Taking the cake to DeMott’s house quickly thereafter, they figured by doing so, their aquatic afternoon adventure would remain unknown by anyone else.

A couple of months later though, it was Mr. Buster’s birthday. And as John and Carol were invited accordingly, John walked in with a birthday cake which read:

“To A Really Cool Guy,” said the Buster Girls laughing at the fond memory.

So here’s to the memory of John DeMott: who lived a life as big, full, and colorful, as the plants he loved and surrounded himself with.

And also for Carol DeMott, who will always remember what she would tell John whenever he talked about passing away.

“He told me he was coming back better, and I said probably as a palm,” Carol said.

If not, Alfredo Bergolla, has another idea.

“Maybe someday we’ll start a business together up there,” Bergolla said pointing skyward, and to a really cool guy indeed.

John DeMott is survived by his wife Carolyn, son Jeff and daughter-in-law Sarah, daughter Jenifer and son-in-law Reese Sr.

In addition to his four grandchildren -- Tyler, Ella, Reese Jr., and Delaney -- John is survived by his brothers: Raymond and his wife Debra, Jeffery DeMott; as well as his sisters: Jeanne and her husband Scott O’Connor, Joan and her husband Vince Foley; along with many nephews, nieces, great-nephews and great-nieces, loving sisters-in-laws, brother-in-law, and their families.

John was predeceased by his mother and father: Gloria and Corbit, and also his brothers: Craig and Robert “Larry” DeMott.

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.