What is in this article?:
- At 97, Victor Guzman still is building better veggies
- Peru sponsored his education
- Had frequent job offers
- Strong work ethic
• “The big boss, the dean of research, said to me, ‘Go solve problems.’ So, whatever problem they had, I had to take it on.”
• Now 97 years old,Victor Guzman's still at it, still at work most days, breeding new lettuce varieties and figuring ways to help growers solve problems. He officially retired in 1987, but couldn’t leave his work. His job was more than a job — it was a mission, and missions don’t stop with the turn of a calendar page.
VICTOR GUZMAN, at 97,
is still looking for ways
to make better vegetables.
Peru sponsored his education
Peru sponsored his U.S. education. Even though he had scholarships paying for tuition and dorm rooms, his native country gave him money for food and incidentals.
“My professor in Peru said, ‘We’re broke, but you’re going to the U.S. somehow.’ He gave me $13 per month,” Guzman says. After getting his doctorate and spending about a year working at Louisiana State University, where he met and married his wife, Ruth, Peru called him home.
“They said, ‘We need you,’ so I went back. They had given me that money, and I felt like I had to go.”
In 1946, just a year-or-so after earning his Ph.D. at Cornell, Guzman was named head of the horticulture department at La Molina College of Agriculture in Peru.
“It was a good job at the experiment station of the biggest agriculture college in Peru. It was worthwhile work,” he says.
Peru’s president got interested in his work and visited him from time to time. “He was a good guy — intelligent, full of smart questions about what we were doing. My memory is so bad now, I’m sad to say, I can’t remember his name, but I remember him. He promised to help agriculture, by all means possible. He knew how important it was to feed people.”
When the president visitedthe agriculture college, he had a military aide with him acting as a bodyguard. “The military man betrayed the president and kicked him out of office,” Guzman says. “I said, ‘That’s enough of this for me.’ I talked to my wife and said, ‘Let’s go back to the U.S. I don’t want to work with anybody who betrays his boss.’ That’s not my way of doing things.”
For Ruth Guzman, who missed her family in the U.S., moving home couldn’t come fast enough. Before long, he landed the University of Florida job that sent him to Belle Glade, where he settled into the office he now occupies.
Glades-area farmers were growing some of the same crops they now do, but the region’s agriculture was poised to take off. He began working with all vegetable crops, but sweet corn, in particular, got attention in those early years.
“South Florida had less than 100 acres of fresh market corn prior to 1946,” Guzman says. “By the early 1960’s, it had increased to 54,200 acres.
“We had nine or 10 Ph.D.s at the station; they had come from different universities, and they were good. We had lots of people here who were very dedicated, extremely hard workers, and they produced good results. They changed farming here. Without them, I don’t think agriculture in the Glades would look like it does.
“Right now, Palm Beach County is the second-biggest agricultural-producing county in the U.S., and No. 1 east of the Mississippi. Lots of things have happened in Belle Glade agriculture over the years. Hopefully, things made progress and got better for farmers and workers, and we had something to do with that at the experiment station.”