Rene Curtis-Pratt 2020 SCF Grand Marshal

Posted 2/19/20

(Submitted photo/Patty Brant) The 2020 Swamp Cabbage Festival Grand Marshall, Rene Curtis-Pratt. Rene Curtis-Pratt is continuing a long line of Swamp Cabbage Festival Grand Marshals whose heart and …

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Rene Curtis-Pratt 2020 SCF Grand Marshal

(Submitted photo/Patty Brant) The 2020 Swamp Cabbage Festival Grand Marshall, Rene Curtis-Pratt.

Rene Curtis-Pratt is continuing a long line of Swamp Cabbage Festival Grand Marshals whose heart and community spirit sets them apart. From the beginning LaBelle residents have pulled together to build a thriving community they could be proud of – rich fodder for many Grand Marshals.

Born into the Curtis family of North Carolina, Rene’s family has been synonymous with honey in LaBelle since 1954. That’s when her grandfather, George Curtis, expanded his business to LaBelle. The family alternated its home – six months in LaBelle, six months in North Carolina - for many years and Rene worked along with her siblings – her twin Harold James, Cale and Anthony.

Rene has worked all her life with bees in the fields and also running the store. As a young girl, she went with her grandfather all around the area – from Lake Placid to Sanibel – working the hives from early on Saturday mornings. She loved working beside her grandfather and brothers catching queens. They had no fancy “space suits” like nowadays – she wore a bathing suit or cutoffs for the job and she never was afraid of the bees. If you’re gentle with them, she said, they rarely sting.

Those times with her grandfather are some of her very best memories, she said, along with his pats on the back and quiet comments like, “You did a good job.”

Today Rene remains a quiet supporter of LaBelle. She co-owns and runs Harold Curtis Honey Company that has been located on Bridge Street since 1954.

Rene is a 1976 LaBelle High School graduate and earned a degree in business from Edison Community College (now Florida Southwestern). She is a longtime member of the Greater LaBelle Chamber of Commerce.

Married for 40 years to Dwayne Pratt, himself from an old LaBelle family, the couple has raised three children: Kyndel, Lucas and Nathan – all respected community members who live up to their parents’ strong values.

Kyndel Murray is married to Adam Murray. They have two children: Lane, 17, and Kaelyn, 12.

Lucas and his wife Krystie have three children: Madison, Caden and Gunnar.

Nathan and his wife Stefanie have two children: Lilly and Rylie.

It was Lucas who submitted his mother’s name as Grand Marshal nominee, saying:

“My mom has the kindest heart of anyone I know and would literally give her last dollar to anyone who needed it more than her. She exemplifies what LaBelle really is and what our community is. If you know Rene, you know she has worked hard her whole life to build a great life for her family and continues to take care of her parents, children and grandchildren as well . . . I feel as though she deserves this recognition for her tireless fight to make LaBelle a better place by participating in every localized event in LaBelle, not to mention the countless sponsorships her business has been a part of, and there is no telling how many field trips she has had come through her store. If you live in LaBelle you most likely know her honey shop with the big mural on the side, but running the shop is the queen bee herself and she never stops no matter what happens in her life.”

Extending the legacy to new generations, Rene has cared for her children and grandchildren at the store. Twelve-year-old Kaelyn has virtually grown up at the store since she was just six-weeks old, watching her grandmother. She has picked up the subtleties of business and has become very proficient at running the store. At just six, she made herself a note card to remind her what to say to customers. She recalls what it said: “How can I help you?” And this tiny girl did help them, much to their amazement, even learning to tote up the sale and make change. Now she’s a little authority on bees, explaining to people the business, the difference in the various honeys and which are best for their needs.

She most enjoys the interesting people who come to the store, Kaelyn said, and she likes “running the honey” (filling the jars). At present, she says she wants to become a veterinarian some day, but she always wants to continue working in the store.

That would suit Rene just fine, but she is very unsure about the future of their family business. Beginning with a debilitating mite problem in the 1980s, the industry took a big downturn, she said. That disaster is only becoming much worse with the current worldwide “colony collapse” from a virus that is ravaging the hives so important to agriculture.

Rene’s daughter Kyndel, Kaelyn’s mom, said both her children always want to be at the honey house. She also worked there when she was in school and would like to keep the business going, but as a CPA she has “moved away” from the family business, as have her brothers. “It would be super sad,” she said, “if the business goes away.”

She is obviously impressed with her mother, explaining that Rene has always worked “super hard and is a caring person.” Her mom always has her hands full, is always dealing with kids and tours and field trips to the store. “She is always willing to help the community and local organizations. She cares about everyone and does for others,” Kyndel said. “I don’t know how she does it.”

True to her ways, Rene readily pays tribute to the way her parents raised her and her brothers, with family, community and hard work at the core of everything.

In the end, for Rene, as so many of SCF’s other grand marshals, it’s about the community: it’s about caring for and helping others, whether it’s providing the best queen bees around the world and quality products for honey lovers or her commitment to her community and her family.

She is the “face” of LaBelle for many customers from all over, who could buy honey anywhere, but return time and again to Curtis Honey Company on Bridge Street to buy the best honey they can in the friendliest town.

A lot has changed in the word over the centuries, but honey is one of the few things even ancient peoples would still recognize, and honey has been an important ingredient in the success of the 2020 Grand Marshal’s family, business and community.

Her dislike for the limelight may keep her life understated, but her community is happy to pay witness to a lifetime of giving. Rene Curtis-Pratt is proof you don’t have to move mountains to be important to your family, friends and community. You just have to have a heart for it and be willing to work hard.

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