Dick Raymond's The Joy of Gardening is one of the best selling gardening books of all time. He's made the Gallup Poll's list of the 100 most influential Americans. He's had his own TV show and appeared on Oprah a handful of times. And for the past 12 years he and wife Jan have been coming to Sun N Fun, sharing their wisdom with us.
Born into poverty, the youngest of nine, in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression, Dick grew up in a small town in Vermont. He'll tell you that as soon as you were big enough to pull a weed, you started gardening.
"Neighbors shared everything then, you passed clothes down, you put cardboard in your shoes. We had a two-acre garden and Mom planted everything: potatoes, turnips, tomatoes, corn, and onions – all kinds of vegetables. She'd can a lot of it and we'd keep things in the cellar until the following spring's crop. We were never hungry," Dick says of those days.
A grammar school dropout, Dick got his education from a neighbor, a native-American who he says taught him everything he knows about the earth.
"He had a lot to tell me and I listened. Thanks to him I could go into the woods and live off the earth forever."
Dick stayed in Ferrisburg, Vt, married his sweetheart, Jan, when he was eighteen and she was seventeen and just out of high school. Now married 65-years, Dick credits her with much of his success. Together they had three daughters and the family, like his gardens, quickly grew. Today they have seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
In time, another member of the community who owned the Troy-Bilt Roto Tiller Company gave Dick a job. He was in his early thirties, industrious and inventive, and he developed a trimmer for the company that's now used all over the world.
Soon, Dick's boss had him set up seven research gardens around the country where he developed many of the easy to use, almost guaranteed successful breakthrough techniques he would write about in his many gardening books, including his classic, The Joy of Gardening. Now, more than thirty years after its publication, he's pleased to say, it is still selling all over the world.
As a result of the book's success, Dick was offered a half-hour television show that was to be syndicated all over the country. It was a chance to introduce the methodologies he'd developed for gardening to an even wider audience.
"It ran for sixteen years. Everything we did was affordable and accessible to people who wanted to grow vegetables."
In addition to the television show, Dick did a column for United Press International, which was syndicated and a series of books, several co-written with Jan. One of Dick's most vivid memories from this period is a call he received from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"I was scared to death. I couldn't imagine what they wanted with me. I'd never done anything but when you get a call like that, well, I didn't get a wink of sleep that night.
"The next day they came to see me and the agent told me that ‘what you've been doing for this country is amazing. We want you to bring that message to the developing world and show them what you've been showing Americans on your TV show.' They filmed me giving lessons on gardening that have been shown all over the world. I'm very proud of that."
Another of Dick's triumphs began with a call that came out of the blue from actor Eddie Albert, today remembered, somewhat appropriately considering what was to come, for the TV show Green Acres.
Albert flew Dick out to California and put the child of the Depression up at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Albert, who was a special envoy for Meals for Millions and a consultant for the World Hunger Conference, asked Dick to help in the fight against hunger by shipping seeds all over the world, a project that came to be called the Seed Corp.
Today, the Raymonds split their time between Vermont and Sun N Fun where they rent a vacation cottage from November through March.
"We like the turnkey approach the Resort offers us. Just show up, everything's waiting and everything you could want is here: friendly people, all kinds of activities and great food," Dick says, giving our vegetables a thumbs up.
The couple is understandably a fixture at parties around the park, Dick does a little Sinatra and Eddie Arnold at Karaoke and they still love to jitterbug. They've been doing it their whole married life and they've no plans to stop.
Dick, despite fighting a nine-year battle against Alzheimer's, has no intention of stopping anything. He's got two books coming out online this year, both written with Jan. One is called Gardens for all Seasons for people who want to grow their gardens all year round. The other is his autobiography. The title, we think, perfectly describes this remarkable man. It's called Sharing My Life.