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Oral History Interview with Robert K. Banks

My name is Robert K, K stands for Kevin, Banks. People call me Bob and I was born in Belle Glade, Florida in 1959… At the time that I was born, my father was a $65.00 a week cowboy and he decided to go back to school and become a veterinarian….

LISTEN  Part I

 

Were many people able to go to college at that time as far as veterinary school, isn’t that expensive?

… he worked some odd jobs at the University of Gainesville while he took courses. My mother worked somewhere, I think, she worked in the etymology department at the University of Florida for a professor there. The way I heard it is he applied to vet school and back then the state of Florida didn’t have a vet school and so they accepted so many students from the State of Florida into Auburn. They had an agreement. And it’s my understanding that my dad was the first one accepted out of 250 applicants for 10 spots. So, we moved to Auburn and my mother worked for the President of Auburn University while my father was in vet school. She made about $200 a month. She ironed shirts for my dad’s classmates for 50 cents a shirt to make extra money. And some of my fondest memories of my youth were as a little boy living and growing up in Auburn while my dad was in vet school…

My father graduated from vet school in 1965 and he and my mom started talking about where they wanted to be and they ended up going to Fort Myers. He ended up going to work with a veterinary there and bought out his practice. And he was there, I think, for 15 years. I grew up working in the vet clinic… And then my dad and mom ended up over in Ft. Pierce. I was in college at University of Florida. I decided at the time I wanted to be a veterinarian like my dad and I got to UF and in some of my course work didn’t do so well and kind of decided maybe I wanted to go in the ranching business, be a ranch manager. I studied animal science and that kind of took me down a path for a while as a young man very similar to what my grandfather did way back when…

Did you know your grandparents?

I knew my father’s parents. I never had the pleasure of knowing any of my mother’s parents. My mother was the last of 13 children and I knew most of her brothers and sisters, but my grandfather passed away about two years before I was born. So I never had the opportunity of getting to know him. I know him through stories and pictures that have come into my possession within the last ten years…

Dash (dog), Grandpa Bumby (Dad’s dad), Josh Bumby, Grandma Bumby (Dad’s mom) with Sook in front, Daddy with Tom in front, Mrs. Clark, Aunt Kate, holding baby Jack.  Photo courtesy of Robert K. Banks.

Jesse Bumby

My mother’s father was Jesse Bumby, Jr….

Envelope and letter (page one) to Jesse Bumby, Jr. from Nantucket, MA, postmarked October 1, 1914. Courtesy of Robert K. Banks. 

His first wife passed away in the early 1900’s here in Orange County. And I think her name was Temperance. And then his second wife was Maxie V. Royal and Maxie was my mother’s mother.

The Bumby House on Lake Jessamine. Photo courtesy of Robert K. Banks.

 

And so, I’ve come across some newspaper articles, old articles that show that my grandfather actually went off to Georgia, it’s kind of an amusing article the way it’s written, but he came back with my mother’s mother as his bride. And that was in the early 1900’s…

Jesse Bumby and Maxie Bumby’s tombstones at Greenwood Cemetery.

Do you know how the family came to this area originally?

Well, the story goes that my great grandfather was in England in the 1800’s and it was my understanding that he was married at the time in the middle 1800’s and his wife passed away. And so, he decided to come to the United States to start new which I think there were a lot of people at that time that were doing so. How he ended up here in Florida I have no idea…. all’s I know is he ended up settling here in Central Florida. It was Orange County and I have copies of his original land grant after the Civil War that I obtained from a friend of mine that actually lives on the property that my grandfather homesteaded…

I have this that shows, it says, the United States of America, that Jesse Bumby, patent dated July 1, 1875 filed August 28, 1877, deed book M, page 254. And it describes the piece of property that was his homestead. It’s the northeast, quarter of section 14 township 23 south, range 29 East. Now from my experience working in the cattle business, I know the section of land is 640 acres. This goes on further to describe that this land, subject to sale at Gainesville, Florida, containing 159.51 acres. So that was one quarter of 640 acres which was a square mile. And the reason why I think it’s .51 is because this particular section takes in a portion of Lake Jessamine if you look at this exact measurement on the plat map. And so, this says in testimony, I Ulysses S. Grant, President of the United States of America… the first day of July, 1875… So that’s essentially saying that my grandfather was able to obtain property here in Orange County as a land grant. And the next page of the warranty deed actually shows that he paid 6,000 dollars in 1881. That was quite a substantial amount of money back then. Substantial amount. And it shows Jesse Bumby and Temperance Bumby was his wife….

You met your father’s parents, your grandparents?

My father’s father was a medical doctor. And my father was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And, my grandfather, my father’s father served in World War II and during that time my father lost his grandmother, his grandfather, and his mother. They all passed away in a period of about six months. I’m not sure why, but I think it may be there was a really bad flu epidemic that occurred. My father was born in 1933 so that’s my best guess… While he was there what was my father’s stepmother, but she was the only grandmother I ever knew, they got married, came back, and they ended up settling in Wachulla, Florida eventually. My father’s father started a hospital in Wachulla and that’s where they lived until my grandfather died in the seventies…

What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?

Well, it depended on where I was at. If I was in Fort Myers, my parents would get us up in the morning and we’d get our Sunday best on and we’d go to church, one of the two Presbyterian Churches in Fort Myers. It was either Covenant Presbyterian or First Presbyterian. If we happen to be in Wachulla where most of my mother’s sisters and brothers ended up in Wachulla, as did my dad’s family. That’s how my mom and dad met was they were growing up in the same town as teenagers. And so, that’s where we would go often times for weekends… If we stayed at my grandparents house, a lot of times we’d go to the First Presbyterian Church in Wachulla. And so, weekends we would do that. My dad being a veterinarian, often times, well every Saturday, the clinic was open so he saw patients. He went to work basically seven days a week because even on Sunday, there were dogs and cats that needed to be treated…

LISTEN  Part II

 

How would you spend your summers?

Well, as a young man, I spent summers – I was in Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts. We had a relatively small troop in Fort Myers. But we had a leader, we called him Uncle Wilson… and he was really good about taking us on adventures as young men. We would take canoes… we would  camp on Friday nights. We’d get up Saturday morning and we would have breakfast. We would break camp, load up everything in our canoes and we would take off down the Peace River… We went to Fish Eating Creek sometimes on adventure to camp, canoe. There was a time when I was a young man, I almost made it to Eagle Scout. And I did that by spending a week out in the wilderness. I made what was called Order of the Arrow in southwest Florida in Charlotte County down by Ponta Gorda… And then I grew up, you know, we went to the beach a lot. Fort Myers Beach was a great place to go… So I did a lot of fishing, waterskiing. I did a lot of things that you do as a young man. I played football… I would go to Wachulla, stay with my grandparents; help my grandmother’s brother, we called him Uncle Happy, in the orange groves.

Jesse Bumby, Jr. pictured with his children Belle, Florence, Buddy, Sook, Sis, and his wife, Maxie Royal Bumby, in Bumby Grove in Orlando, circa 1900’s. Photo courtesy of Robert K. Banks.

You know it was unmercifully hot in June and July crawling up under citrus trees… you know you’d get fire ant bites up and down from your ankles to your knees…. And sometimes I would help my uncle work the cattle and that was as a young boy… My parents actually got me signed up, there was a horse camp that I would go to in the summertime… We would drink sulfur water… we rode horses and played games…. One summer I actually went to a horse camp in Brooksville, Florida for a week or two and that was a wonderful experience…. 

What did you do at the University of Florida?

… I studied animal science at the University of Florida. I actually helped pay my way through school. I worked at the swine farm for a period of time raising pigs… there was a time when I left working at the swine farm and got a job working in the meats laboratory where we would do main slaughter of pigs and sheep, and goats and cattle. They would study the meat and learn how to make a better side of beef. And I learned how to make sausages and bacon and those types of things. And so, I really enjoyed that part of it. I worked in the old meats laboratory, got out and went into the cattle business for a while…. My first job while I was still in school at UF I worked on a 3,000 acre commercial beef master operation outside of Gainesville, Florida…. I returned to the University of Florida part time, post bacc… University of Florida had some positions called Biological Scientist and I started looking at qualifications for that… so I ended up interviewing for the position and I got hired. I ended up working with him for eight years doing human liver research for The University of Florida… We parted ways together after eight years and that was because we lost our funding.

Evans High School Vocational Agriculture Instructor

I ended up leaving Gainesville and coming to Orlando and that was the first time I came here… I walked into Evans High School in Pine Hills…  in January 1995 and I started teaching vocational agriculture. We had two campuses that had a green house and a shade house on each campus. At our 9th grade campus they had 15 head of cows and four show steers… I did that for a little over three years. That’s why I … started making a connection with the Bumby family being here in Orlando. Because at the time there was a place in downtown Orlando called the Bumby Arcade and I visited that. And, I started hearing about the Bumby Hardware Store. And I started talking to my mom about what’s the connection… Of course, I drove across Bumby Avenue twice a day….

University of Central Florida 

So I saw a job for someone to be an editor. She wanted somebody to edit scientific articles for her, textbook chapters, things like that. She was French speaking and English was a second language for her… I had in my previous work at UF had been experienced in that… Through the course of working with her in about six months, I was managing her lab group, made C 3 head mounted displays for virtual reality. About six months or so into working with her, I got another position with UCF where I was managing other research facilities… I’ve been at UCF for 18 years now managing a variety of research operations and facilities. So between UF and UCF for about 30 years now, I’ve had a hand in training a lot of people that have become scientists. I’ve worked with undergraduate students, and graduate students, and post docs from all over the world. And I’ve become a teacher of sorts and we’ve worked on various projects…     

LISTEN  Part III

 

Have you seen much growth in the research program at UCF from the time you started?

When I was first here, I moved around quite a lot. There’s been lots of different changes. They say UCF stands for Under Construction Forever. It’s changed a lot. I saw the stadium be built. My son actually worked on that project. I helped design a few buildings… So, yeah it’s grown by leaps and bounds over that 18 year time frame. Of course, they have a whole lot more students now than they did… Central Florida is not what it once was in terms of, it used to be cattle country….

In your work out at UCF with the research organizations, different programs out there, what are some of the programs that you’ve worked with?

I’ve worked with just about every department that UCF has. We had a researcher out at UCF that grew transplant tobacco plants for creating oral vaccines and I started working with him back then managing his greenhouse operations because of my previous experience as an Ag. teacher. I still do that. It’s a little bit different. A little bit challenging because now instead of having one researcher and just his staff and students to deal with, now I have multiple researchers using the same space because he’s now moved on… Very expensive, very interesting facility. We have one part that’s air conditioned believe it or not. An air conditioned greenhouse. I always thought that was odd, but it allows researchers to be able to grow things. Certain kinds of lettuces, cold winter vegetables that you otherwise can’t grow out in Florida in the summertime. It gives them the ability to do that. It also is a more controlled environment than a greenhouse section that has a fan that’s growing air through it… It serves a purpose. It’s taught lots of young people. I don’t know, maybe someday they’ll find a cure for something. That’s what science is all about…

As someone who has expertise working in rural agriculture, also scientific technology, what do you see as the future of our area?

Well, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It seems like more and more pressure is being put on agriculture all the time. I know I’ve been on ranches in Florida that are hundreds of thousands of acres… I have a lot of connections. It’s very difficult to be a landowner in this day and age when people are offering you $50,000 or more an acre… I’ve been on ranches in Florida, and there are still ranches in Florida, that are hundreds of thousands, 200 thousand acres, 400 thousand acres, believe it or not. It’s in the center part of Florida. The area where I was born Belle Glade, there’s a lot of farmland. But as society keeps building, they keep coming. Thousands of people are coming to Florida every day. A lot of them are coming to Central Florida. We don’t have enough apartments. We don’t have enough homes. You know, we don’t have enough land, so they’re constantly squeezing. As time’s gone on farming’s gotten more mechanized. But, there’s some things that we can’t do mechanically without damaging the product. And so, it has to be done by hand…. The people that are still farming, a lot of them talk about corporate farming. There’s not a lot of small farmers anymore. It’s just not cost effective. It’s very expensive. It’s very difficult. I don’t know where Florida will be. I hope that Florida will continue to support agriculture… We still need to feed ourselves….

Jesse Bumby, Jr. pictured in his cabbage patch on Lake Jessamine, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of Robert K. Banks.

And I understand that you still do a lot of barbecuing?

I do. I’m getting ready to do one this weekend for about 150 to 200 people from UCF mostly. That’s kind of my hobby, my passion. And I have cooked a pig about every which way you can – in the ground, above the ground, and, I guess, I get that from my grandfather, too. My mother used to tell stories about when she was a little girl, of him loading her and her sisters up in a pick up truck and driving from Wachulla to Fish Eating Creek and he would put a slab of ribs over the fire. And they’d cook the ribs and he’d sleep on the ground and the girls would sleep in the bed of the truck. And they’d get up the next day and fish. So I’ve learned now where I get some of my things from. My love of cattle, and fishing, of eating fish. I love to barbecue, you know, those types of things I think come from that line. My dad not so much. My dad wasn’t much of a cook. Sometimes I think my desire for science and wanting to fix things came from him. Certainly my work ethic came from my mother and my father. They taught us a lot about the value of a hard day’s labor. And, it’s important.

 

Interview: Robert K. Banks, University of Central Florida Associate Director of Research Programs

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: March 11, 2019

Place: Orlando Public Library

     

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ATTACHMENTS

Jesse Bumby, Jr. Correspondence, 1914
Envelope for a letter to Orlando pioneer Jesse Bumby, Jr. dated October 1, 1914 from Nantucket, MA. Courtesy Robert K. Banks.
Letter to Jesse Bumby, Jr. , 1914
Letter to Orlando pioneer Jesse Bumby, Jr. dated October 1, 1914 from Nantucket, MA. Courtesy Robert K. Banks.
Bumby Cabbage patch on Lake Jessamine, circa 1900
Jesse Bumby, Jr. pictured in his cabbage patch on Lake Jessamine, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of Robert K. Banks.
Jesse Bumby, Jr. in Bumby Grove
Jesse Bumby, Jr. pictured with his children Belle, Florence, Buddy, Sook, Sis, and his wife Maxie Royal Bumby. Photo courtesy of his...
The Bumby House on Lake Jessamine
The Bumby House on Lake Jessamine. Photo courtesy of Jesse Bumby Jr.'s grandson, Robert K. Banks.
Jesse Bumby, Jr. and Maxie Bumby's Tombstones
Jesse Bumby, Jr. and Maxie Bumby's tombstone at Greenwood Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Robert K. Banks.
Bumby family photo, circa 1900
Dash (dog), Grandpa Bumby (Dad's dad), Josh Bumby, Grandma Bumby (Dad's mom) with Sook in front, Daddy with Tom in front, Mrs....
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Oral History Interview with Robert Banks, Part I

Oral History Interview with Robert Banks, Part I of III. (19:26)

Interview: Robert K. Banks, University of Central Florida Associate Director of Research Programs

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: March 11, 2019

Place: Orlando Public Library












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