Agri Leader

Cattleman feels blessed to manage the land

LAKE PLACID - Central Florida's Agri-LeaderAs general manager of Westby Corporation in Lake Placid, Wayne Godwin is in charge of a large citrus and cattle operation, and he’s thankful for it. He is also past president of the state Cattlemen’s Association, a national Cattlemen’s Association co-chair, on the national advisory committee to the Secretary of Agriculture, past Hardee County school board member, and a pastor at First Baptist of Lorida church. “I have no formal education, only one year of junior college,” said Godwin, who expressed thanks for the privileges he has enjoyed in his 60 years. “Every other door that has been opened to me has been God allowing me to grow,” he remarked. Godwin’s family has had close ties to Westby owners, the Caspersons, since his childhood. His father worked as general manager of the ranch before he did. Before that, his father was a successful purebred breeder of Brahman cattle, and Godwin remembers tagging along with his dad in show barns and meeting “some wonderful people.” His father, Leonard Godwin, now 85, was also instrumental in bringing the Santa Gertrudis cattle breed to Florida.
The family moved to Highlands County in 1964 from Brooksville. “I came here as an 11-year-old boy with the luxury of roaming woods instead of towns,” reminisced Godwin. And the Godwin family goes way back as far as ranching. His grandfather “was a range rider during the dipping days,” stated Godwin. That was in the 1930s when the fever tick raged and cattle had to be dipped in an arsenic solution to eradicate the pest. Godwin’s great-great grandfather and his son drove cattle for the Confederate army. Godwin himself has seen so many changes in his life working with cattle. He remembers when de-worming the cattle was the biggest challenge. Now, injectable medications make that easy. Today’s hydraulic chutes make it safer for the animals and the people working them, Godwin added. Plus, our understanding of vaccines and crossbreeding and all the different ways to affect the quality of the meat is a whole new world. The Westby ranch itself also reflects recent efforts at conservationism. In that respect, however, the Caspersons were ahead of their time. “When they bought this land and they hired dad in September of 1964, they had a vision of a working cattle operation with wildlife habitat protected. Dad was given full reins to make that happen,” Godwin recalled, “I kind of grew up helping to make that happen.” Just a couple of years ago, the corporation sold the development rights of 7,300 acres of land to the federal government under the Wetlands Restoration Program. “This land will never be developed,” stated Godwin. “It will revert back into a more native condition.” The rest of the land is about 90/10 improved/unimproved, stated Godwin. That includes the citrus groves that also fall under Godwin’s umbrella. A drive across the ranchland startled a bald eagle off of its perch. Godwin tried to track its landing. “I never tire of seeing the wildlife,” he stated, especially the babies. He’s seen deer, sand hill cranes, quail, turkey and even a panther. “Just being allowed to be a caretaker of what God did is what I enjoy the most.” The family that he described as “salt of the Earth” also supports Godwin’s calling to be a pastor, which took place at age 50. He is able to spend two days a week ministering to his congregation of about 60 active members. The Casperson family has been “extremely generous,” stated Godwin. “This family has provided a roof over my head, has raised my children and provided a roof over their heads.” Godwin has been married to his wife, Pam, for 41 years and has two children and five grandchildren, all of whom he is very proud. Thankful for what he has been blessed with, this soft-spoken cattleman and pastor looks forward to facing whatever future challenges are in store. Said Godwin, “It’s the challenges that make us grow in our faith and in our strength.”