Alfred Lee Bellotto, 94, passed away peacefully at his home on Friday, November 15, 2019. Al was a loving husband to his wife, Betty, for 70 years and five days until her death in June of this year. He is survived by his daughters Chere’ Bellotto Campbell (Mike), Leah Bellotto Lauderdale (Ron), Chris Bellotto (Sheila) and son Al Bellotto, Jr. (Chanel), grandchildren Caylin, Lee, Elisa, Brittany, Zack, Trey, Jackson and 7 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his mother Annie Waters Bellotto, his father Giovanni Antonio Bellotto and brother Allie John Bellotto.
Al, known as ‘Moo” to his grandchildren and Mr. B to many others was born in Dundee, Florida on February 15, 1925. He was the son of an Italian immigrant and an American Indian who traced her roots from the Creek tribe. He graduated from Haines City High School where he played football and served as Captain. His talent on the football field as a tackle and as a running back garnered numerous accolades in various news articles. He was described as a “bulky tackle and a powerhouse on the field.” He was chosen for the All-State and the All-South prep grid squad. Al also was a Boy Scout and earned the title of Eagle Scout during his formative years.
Al learned the cattle business from his father and at age 11, he started his own cattle business. He worked 40 days at 50 cents per day to pay for his first cow for $20.00. By the time he graduated from high school in 1943, he had a herd of 100 cattle.
After graduating from high school, Al saw WWII action in the Navy aboard the battleship USS New York. Involved in some of the Pacific’s most heated battles, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa, his ship came under kamikaze attack. Al served his country as a coxswain, an anti-aircraft gunner and a loader of guns that were used for shore bombardment. He was also selected for training to become a Frogman; and according to various reports, today’s SEALs trace their history from the elite frogman of WWII. However; returning home for his mother’s illness and subsequent death kept him from graduating with his Frogman class. Consequently he returned to his battleship until the war ended when the Navy gave him 24 hours to decide if he wanted to continue where he left off on the football field or finish his tour and return home. The GI Bill provided Al an opportunity to complete a 2-year Agricultural College Course which he chose instead of playing football at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
When Al returned home to his life and his cows, he also found his soulmate. A friend talked Al into going on a blind date with a beauty queen who was selected as Miss Haines City. He chose a red plaid shirt to wear and he was amazed when he went to her door and she was wearing a dress of the same exact plaid. It was a perfect match in people and plaid and their journey together resulted in their 70+ years love story. They cherished this memory of their first date and kept the shirt and dress in a special place throughout the years. Betty donned the red plaid dress and Al donned the red plaid shirt for the final time in eternity.
Al and Betty started the Circle B Bar Ranch, a family cattle operation in Lakeland, in 1949. A large part of the ranch property is now known as the Circle B Bar Reserve, an area of protected lands that is managed by the Polk County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and jointly owned by BOCC and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The Bellotto family business also includes citrus groves and commercial real estate properties.
Al’s love for the agriculture industry and his desire for continuous improvement was enhanced by his agriculture studies at the University of Florida and his business finance classes obtained through Southern Methodist University.
He served in a variety of volunteer industry roles throughout his life. As Polk County Youth Fair’s second president, he helped many Polk County youth with steer projects by providing them an opportunity to obtain high-quality calves at less than market price. Through this outreach gesture he hoped to instill in them a solid work ethic and a desire to choose agriculture as their vocation. Al also initiated the money-making concept of bull sales in the 1960’s which still ranks as the top fundraising activity at the Polk County Youth Fair.
Al served the beef cattle industry for over 60 years as a leader at the State and National levels. He figured prominently for Florida’s strong positive support of the Referendum on the Beef Promotion & Research Order. Al served multiple times as President of the Polk County Cattlemen’s Association as well as President of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and as Chairman of the Florida Beef Council. He was the innovator who founded Florida’s Baby Beef Program in the early 1970’s and the originator of the Know Your Beef Short Course at the University of Florida which received wide acclaim in Florida and throughout the nation.
Al was also well-known for his 1985 fight to implement a Beef Checkoff Program in Florida which would provide funding for beef advertising. Previous attempts at such a fete were unsuccessful; however, Al canvassed the state and spoke one-on-one with ranchers about the benefits of a mandatory $1 a head tariff program. His leadership earned the support from his fellow ranchers and they overwhelmingly passed the tariff with the second-highest approval rate in the country.
A natural pioneer and innovator, Al introduced freeze branding to the state of Florida which vastly improved legibility of the brands and is still in use today. Al also started the use of double-deck cattle trailers to maximize hauling capacity and cut shipping costs.
As a strong proponent of conservation, he struck an agreement with a nearby citrus processor to pipe wastewater to his ranch to irrigate pastures. This unique arrangement reduced groundwater pumping, cut his costs and distributed wastewater over large areas.
Al served as a Director and President of Polk County Farm Bureau where he served as Chairman of the Legislative Committee for over 20 years. He also served as a Director of the Florida Citrus Showcase and as Chairman of the Polk Soil and Water Conservation Board.
Al also served as Chairman for two terms of Farm Credit Banks of Columbia, South Carolina, Chairman of the Board for Farm Credit Bank of Central Florida, Chairman and Director of Central Florida Production Credit Association; Director of Central Florida Federal Land Bank Association, and Director of the Farm Credit Funding Corporation in New York.
He also served as a Trustee of the Florida Agricultural Museum.
Al took his love of and pride in his industry on the road to legislatively make a difference in Tallahassee and in Washington, DC. He was an active participant in numerous legislative matters through his various volunteer leadership roles. He was deeply involved with UF’s IFAS (Institute of Food and Science) and served as the first President of the original Polk County Overall Extension Advisory Committee.
Al was an active member of Lakeside Baptist Church where he was a Deacon. In the 1960’s when the newly-formed congregation purchased the property to build their new church, Al trailered and operated his earthmoving equipment in order to prepare the land for construction.
Al was also a Mason and a member of the Lakeland Lodge #91.
Al was inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2001 and inducted into the Polk County Schools Hall of Fame in 2002.
Al was the recipient of the following: 1971 Goodyear Florida Rancher of the Year Award; 1988 Florida Cattleman’s Association Cattleman of the Year Award; 1988 Florida Association of County Agriculture Agents Outstanding Agriculturalists Award; 1995 National Farmer of the Year for Florida Farm Bureau; 1995 Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s Distinguished Service Award and the University of Florida’s Gamma Sigma Delta Award for Outstanding Service to Agriculture.
His children will always remember his kindness, his patience and his tenacity.
A private graveside service was held by the family at Lakeland Memorial Gardens, Lakeland, on November 25, 2019. The service included a military funeral honors ceremony by the United States Navy and included Al’s Masonic brethren performing the Masonic funeral rites.
The family would like to sincerely thank Alberta, Sheila, and the rest of the amazing caregiver team for loving and caring for this special, southern cowboy.
The family also extends grateful appreciation to The Garnet Team of Cornerstone Hospice of Lakeland, for their invaluable care, resources, guidance and love.
Memorials and donations may be made to the Cornerstone Hospice of Lakeland, 2140 E CR 540A, Lakeland, FL 33813.