Dan McClure was one of Florida’s most successful tomato growers, with multiple large farms scattered across the state. He was a strong supporter of agricultural research and helped advance the industry through the use of cutting-edge automation and other technology. He was an outspoken advocate for agriculture and lent his leadership skills to many of Florida’s tomato and vegetable trade organizations. In addition, he was a multi-term Manatee County commissioner with the foresight to push for the development of the county’s reservoir, Lake Manatee, as well as its deep-water port and airport.
McClure was born in Palmetto, Florida, in 1926. The son of a banker, he grew up on the family’s ranches in Manatee County and attended Palmetto High School. After earning a degree in finance and economics from the University of Florida, he served a stint in the Navy before coming home to Manatee County to grow tomatoes and raise cattle. Eventually he owned tomato, vegetable and watermelon farms in Manatee County, Immokalee, Naples, Quincy and California. He also ran a tomato packinghouse, West Coast Tomato, in Palmetto.
McClure was more than a successful grower. He was a leader in the agricultural community. A staunch supporter of agricultural research at the University of Florida, he served on advisory committees for the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center and the Manatee County Extension Service.
He was active in many of Florida’s best known agricultural organizations, including the Florida Tomato Exchange, where he served as director, and the Florida Tomato Committee, where he served as chairman. He was a member and leader of the Manatee County Farm Bureau, Florida Farm Bureau, Manatee County Cattlemen’s Association, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. He served on the board of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association for nearly 20 years.
McClure was a member of the Manatee County Fair Board and a member of the board of the local USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. He was a great supporter of the Manatee County Agricultural Museum in Palmetto and served as a member of the Finance and Fundraising Committee. His generous donation to the museum, given early in the fundraising process, helped jumpstart the project.
In 1962 McClure won a seat on the Manatee County Commission. He went on to serve four terms, and over the next two decades he became the dominant voice in Manatee County government, pushing ahead with major investments in infrastructure. He knew how to get things done. He was instrumental in creating the Manatee County dam and water systems, the county sewer system, and the county parks and recreation department. He fought to develop Port Manatee, one of the area’s most important economic engines.
McClure was a man of incredible energy. No stranger to hard physical labor, he often worked side by side with his employees, roping cattle, harvesting tomatoes, and keeping his packinghouse running in his characteristic hands-on way. He was always on the go. But in 1971 he suffered a life-changing accident. He was critically injured when a truck pinned him against a loading dock at West Coast Tomato, crushing his pelvis and nearly cutting him in two. He underwent numerous operations and months of grueling physical therapy in order to learn to walk again.
McClure faced the aftermath of the accident with uncommon courage, perseverance, and good humor. Though he would be in and out of hospitals for the rest of his life, he never let the pain stand in his way and often conducted business by phone from his hospital bed.
McClure’s success and leadership in the agriculture industry brought him many awards and honors. Early in his career he received the Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year award from the Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1989 he was named Manatee County’s Outstanding Agriculturist and inducted into the county’s Agricultural Hall of Fame. In 1999 he was named an Outstanding Agriculturalist by the Florida Association of County Agricultural Agents.
Dan McClure passed away on September 23, 2006, after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Corrine and four grown children, Scott, D.C., Mary Anne, and Sandra.