The secret to longevity? Citrus, says 101-year-old Davie grove mascot
Miami Herald – July 23, 2011
Al Roth, the grove owner, the real estate developer, the craps player, is demonstrating his likeable charm and quick wit. Entertaining flocks of visitors to his family’s grove in Davie, the 101-year-old tells stories of gambling at the Brook Club and dancing the night away at the National Hotel in Miami Beach during the 1950s.
“We partied galore, but we always made it home for breakfast,” he says.
Roth moved the family to Davie, an undiscovered farming town, in 1957. He bought a 10-acre plot at Griffin and Hiatus roads and opened Al Roth’s Realty and Roth’s Grove, the family’s first venture into the citrus business.
Roth’s Grove shipped oranges in wired baskets via Railway Express and sold the celebrated citrus for a $1 a bag. A small amount Roth said, considering in today’s market a bag of oranges sells for around $10.
“Those were truly pioneering days for the little band of people who saw the possibilities,” he said. “We called it the soil belt.”
For more than 20 years, Roth labored in his grove while selling real estate in Davie.
“I worked from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and didn’t quit until I was tired.”
Bob Roth said his dad ran both businesses at the same time.
“He’d be out working in the groves and somebody would drop by interested in a property,’’ Bob Roth recalled. “He’d come out of the fields all dirty in his overalls and show them real estate.’’
It was actually a neighbor from Roth’s hometown of Germantown, Penn., who put the idea of starting a citrus grove in the 1950s.
Roth and his wife Shirley had been running the Roosevelt and Surfside hotels in Miami Beach with some success. But Roth desired a different sort of tropical paradise.
He said his neighbor Smitty, a brainy entrepreneur back in Germantown, was busy buying up empty lots around Florida.
“Smitty was responsible for planting the seed of orange groves in my mind,” Roth said. “That became a recurring dream and I loved the idea of being a farmer.”
Together, Al and Shirley raised their two sons, Bob and Hank, passing on the intricacies and passion of the groves to them both.
Hank worked for a brief time with his dad at Roth’s Grove and now lives with his family in Central Florida.
Bob Roth, who’s carried on the family tradition with his own New River Groves on Griffin Road for the last 47 years, said he remembers hitchhiking out to his dad’s grove after school got out.
“I’d work with him in the fields and had this little garden behind the house,” he said. “I always wanted to be in agriculture.”
In 1980, the elder Roth decided it was time to retire and sell Roth’s Grove, currently a vacant piece of land.
A year later, he lost Shirley to cancer.
“She was a woman of valor, a wonderful wife,” he said. “The very best mate and companion anyone could’ve hoped for.”
These days, folks can find the elder Roth greeting customers at his son’s New River Groves a few times a week.
“I used to not like people, but I guess my heart has grown soft in the last 10 years or so,” Roth said.
Roth is keen to chat with customers about the days of gas streetlights and movies for a nickel.
“He’ll talk to anybody and everybody,” Bob Roth said. “He’s got a passion and energy that’s hard to keep up with.”
Every now and then, Roth takes a break as New River Groves’ resident mascot for a trip to one of his favorite gambling hubs, Las Vegas.
He said the best times of his life were spent at Caesar’s Palace and he played enough craps that some called him a semi-pro.
“In all my years of gambling I was never down or up,” he said. “I’m even.”
But he always returns to the family grove to help out in his own way.
“He comes in and changes all the prices, but we’d just have to change them back,” Bob Roth said. “He always had a certain way of doing things.”
Having just celebrated his 101st birthday, Al Roth vows h he’ll make it to 120.
Roth credits his longevity to citrus, beating colon cancer at age 94, and said he eats it several times a day, everyday, and never grows tired of it.
“Have a fresh orange or grapefruit each day, even if it’s not from my family’s orchard,” Roth said. “You’re eating one of the best foods possible.”