Bill Boardman was a hands-on dairy farmer and a visionary leader who became synonymous with Florida’s dairy industry through his many years of service. He tirelessly promoted the industry’s products and fought its legislative battles. As his friends and admirers noted, his efforts set a high-water mark for other leaders to follow.
Boardman was born in Cordova, Illinois, in 1922 and attended the University of Illinois and Iowa State College. During World War II he served as a fighter pilot with the Army Air Corps and was awarded several medals for distinguished service. After the war he came back home to Illinois to start his own dairy operation. In 1951 he moved to California where he ran a dairy and cattle ranch and became active in the American Dairy Association of California.
In 1958 Boardman relocated to the Sunshine State to help Florida’s dairy farmers organize the American Dairy Association of Florida. The purpose of the ADA was to increase milk and dairy sales via advertising, education, and public relations, with dairy farmers paying for the promotion of their products. In those days, dairy farmers were sprinkled all across the state and many were members of small local cooperatives. Boardman went from farm to farm asking for support and signing up members.
A born salesman, Boardman quickly succeeded in organizing farmers into a statewide promotion program. But he still wasn’t satisfied. He believed milk promotions and dairy lobbying efforts should be handled by single organization. Dairy Farmers Inc. was soon created by the merger of the Florida Dairy Farmers Federation and the American Dairy Association of Florida. Boardman was named executive vice president, a position he held until his retirement in 1997.
Few in agriculture wore so many hats. In legislative circles Boardman was considered the dean of agriculture lobbyists, with lobbying skills that were revered by his friends and feared by his enemies.
In Tallahassee, Boardman did all he could to defend and protect Florida’s dairy industry. But in order for the state’s dairy farmers to stay in business, he believed, they couldn’t just make milk; they had to sell it. Boardman understood the power of the media and used it to educate the public and correct misconceptions about dairy products. He advanced the art of generic commodity promotion, developing advertising campaigns that rivaled the most savvy brand marketing efforts.
Boardman encouraged Florida’s dairy industry to provide nutrition education materials to schools around the state. To his way of thinking, this was both a public service and an investment in the future of the industry. Through classroom and cafeteria programs, he was training the next generation of consumers.
Despite the demands of his work, Boardman was generous with his time and talents, lending his leadership skills to a wide array of industry groups and dairy-related professional organizations. He served on the board of the Florida Agricultural Tax Council, the Florida Agricultural Labor Ad Hoc Committee, and the Agriculture Strategic Society. He was chairman of the Agribusiness Institute of Florida and treasurer of the Florida Agriculture Council.
Boardman’s years of service to the dairy industry brought him many awards and honors, including the Agribusiness Institute of Florida’s White Hat Award in 1987 and induction into the Florida Dairy Hall of Fame. He was an honorary member of the University of Florida Alumni Association and won Special Recognition from the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
Bill Boardman passed away in April 2001, and his wife, Marjorie, died in 2006. They are survived by their three sons, Mark, Reed, and Hollis.