It’s been a sweet life for the O’Ferrell Family. Even with the ups and downs that plague everyone, the 2019 Swamp Cabbage Festival Pioneer Family members look back on a history filled with love, community pride and downhome fun. They look forward to the continued blessings of a close family and community.
Jesse and Irma O’Ferrell had a good life in North Carolina – lots of hard work softened by strong family ties. Jesse worked as a night clerk at the Greensboro Hotel to help support his family while tending to his 40-acre farm and keeping bees with his brother Raymond, and Jesse’s four sons: Ray, John, Lawrence and Tommy.
While in North Carolina at the “home place” from July to December, members of the family worked many different jobs to keep things going. During the springtime they headed south to continue their bee business.
In 1957, the family of six squeezed into a 1949 Ford pickup truck and came south to work bees with dad Jesse and his long-time friend, W.D. Reams, on Bridge Street in LaBelle. Ray left North Carolina State College early, borrowed on his life insurance and jumpstarted the business.
Lawrence came in 1964.
Brother John had a good job at Duke Power Company in North Carolina but the lure of the family circle and the bees brought him to LaBelle in 1973, just after brother Tommy.
The O’Ferrell women managed everything in the store and the kids were always there, working along with their elders, learning the family ethics of work and play.
Eventually, Jesse bought out Mr. Reams and it became J.L. O’Ferrell and Sons Honey House. They continued to expand their business by purchasing other area bee outfits. During those early days, the O’Ferrells and LaBelle’s other honey house, belonging to the Curtises, worked together for the success of all. From January till June the O’Ferrell family worked hard for their family, their bees and their community.
Good businessmen, the O’Ferrells diversified their bee business. They:
In 1963, Ray and his wife Beth moved to LaBelle permanently. In 1970, Ray heard the calling and became a Methodist minister, which remains his life work. He still works bees, though. Apparently, as brother Lawrence said, Ray is a “beekeeper at heart.”
It’s been a long time since Ray and Beth lived in LaBelle. A higher calling took them other directions, but she said she has fond memories of working in the honey house and in the school library.
In 1973 Jesse passed away and Ray returned for a time to help the family bee business out.
Jesse and Irma proved to be strong, loving parents who, in Lawrence’s words, “taught us everything we knew: how to get along; how to work.”
Tommy’s wife Linda recalls how she became an O’Ferrell. A Fort Myers native, she met Tommy enjoying a favorite pastime of hers – skating. When two good looking LaBelle boys showed up at the rink in Fort Myers, Linda took no time at all to make her choice. The sparks were mutual and they became inseparable.
Lawrence’s wife Peggy was from Arkansas. They met when she went to North Carolina to be with her sister. When Lawrence and Peggy married, she became another important part of the O’Ferrell clan.
John met his wife Marie in Greensboro, NC, and came to LaBelle in 1973 where Marie contributed to the community as a teacher’s aide and substitute teacher. John also worked for the school district and was well known by decades of LaBelle High School students for his work as custodian but even more for his continuing devotion and volunteerism for the school. For many years John passed on his enthusiasm for the school as president of the Quarterback Club.
The four O’Ferrell boys and their families made an indelible mark in LaBelle, all pitching in to make their community a better place for everyone – and having a lot of fun doing it.
There were good years, there were lean years - but the family always pulled together, working toward their goals. In fact, they continued working hard after “work hours.”
Yes, they worked a lot but they also played. All four boys were together on LaBelle’s ball fields.
The O’Ferrells treasure the same memories so many of LaBelle’s “old families” share – memories of a close knit, small community where everyone worked together – doing the many jobs that made it all better for everyone, sharing the hardships and the fun.
When the work day was over, they could be found doing their part for other community projects or fighting fires.
Avid football players, the O’Ferrells rolled up their sleeves with the Curtises, members of the Quarterback Club and other neighbors, working together to build the Vermont Owens Football Stadium, LaBelle’s first field for the LaBelle High School Cowboys. Because of the community’s generosity, the Cowboys finally had a field to be proud of.
All four of the O’Ferrell boys served in the Army – even in the same company. They later all served in the LaBelle volunteer Fire Department, protecting their community from disasters.
Along with so many of their neighbors, familiar names in LaBelle’s history – Davidson, Langford, Pratt – all “super stars” in LaBelle’s history – most every O’Ferrell answered the call to community service of some sort.
Many community projects are better for the O’Ferrell family influence. Lawrence started Cub Scout Pack 9 and in 1983 was named the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year. Lawrence and Peggy had O’Ferrell’s Florist and for many years have transported and sold thousands of North Carolina Christmas trees to help residents enjoy the season’s spirit.
Jesse and Irma’s four sons and their children continue to live their heritage:
Ray and wife Beth live in Faith, NC. Their children are David, Molly, Amy, Betsy and Paige.
In recent years the community lost John and his wife Marie, who hailed from McLeansville, NC. Son Wesley lives in LaBelle; Ricky lives in Winter Haven.
Lawrence recently lost his dear wife Peggy. Their children are Regina Townsend, Larry (in North Carolina) and Tammy Powell.
Tommy has also passed. His wife Linda retired from LaBelle Elementary School. Son John is in Gainesville and daughter Lori Acosta lives in Fort Worth, Texas.
All Jesse and Irma’s grandchildren graduated from LaBelle High School.
Whenever the community needed something, the O’Ferrells always shouldered their share of the work. “It’s been a good life,” Lawrence recalls, where all five O’Ferrell men were always together. There was a lot of fun, a lot of heartache, too, he said. But they always faced it together.