Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Jack Hudder, Tavernier



“We started vacationing in Islamorada in the mid 70’s. We had been to Hawaii and rented some snorkel gear. I was astounded by the fish. Jeannie is claustrophobic and I made her put on a mask and fins and come with me, she liked it too. Hawaii was too far to go for weekend trips! Jeannie did some research and we ended up down here; towed our boat down from Pennsylvania and spent 2 weeks here every year.

There was too much pressure and stress in the corporate structure; I had what they thought was a heart attack, but it wasn’t, it was an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. I decided then that I wasn’t going to let them kill me. We enjoyed the Keys so we started looking.

We had a realtor that was looking for a business for us. I came home one night from work and Jeannie said ‘Guess where we are going this weekend?’ She had made flight reservations for that Friday. We came down and met with the owners of the flower shop in Key Largo. We bought the business in May and took it over in July. It was 1980.

We grew that business from $10 and $15 days to one of the top 1000 florists in the country. Our secret? Good product, good service. Period. We got tired after 24 years and sold out.

We lived in PA and the University of PA had a floral class; we would drive the 45 minutes 2 times a week after working all day to learn about arranging and taking care of cut flowers. Once we moved down here we had a supplier that gave classes, and we took them.

I spent 15 years in uniform. I started as a young crazy kid in high school and joined the National Guard; when I graduated I became a commercial fisherman in Cape May, NJ. We would fish from New Jersey to Virginia and from 4 am sometimes until 1am the next morning. I would miss my National Guard meetings being on the water all the time and they didn’t like that; I had to make the meetings or get arrested. I couldn’t tell the boat owner to come back so I could make a meeting! I left the National Guard. After the fishing season, I joined the Navy and served 4 years in the Navy and then 2 years in the Naval Reserves. When I got out of the Navy I was a precision machinist.

I pumped gas for a while. I worked 2 full time jobs to support my family and I thought there had to be something better than that, so I went back to the National Guard. I took every school they would give me. I taught myself electronics and math up through calculus; I could assemble nuclear weapons and tear down a nuclear guidance unit. I went as far as I could with the Guard in 6 or 7 years and they wanted to transfer me; they wanted all positions to be by seniority so I was at the level to push a broom. I was out of there!

That is how I ended up in the corporate structure. I got hired as an office boy and ended up taking over the computer system, which I knew nothing about so I learned it all; from spreadsheets to reading punch cards, to designing the forms used within the company. I also learned that you will get fatigued sitting behind a desk all day. I changed the way things were ran in the company and helped the company run much more efficiently! By the time I left, I was Operational Vice President.

I have taught myself whatever I needed or wanted to learn. I have been an auto mechanic, a short order cook. The information is out there. I have no sympathy for people who say they can’t get a job. There are jobs out there and every job teaches you something. That has always been my motto. When someone came to me and told me they had a new job, I would congratulate them; every job teaches you something but when you plateau it is time to move on to keep learning.

I am most proud of my wife, Jeannie. She is a very smart lady, very successful. She is a great wife and a wonderful mother; a very good partner. We did everything together; we worked together, we parented together, we did all of our home projects together. We fished together, if Jeannie wasn’t on the boat I wouldn’t catch any fish! She also always caught the biggest fish. We will be married 60 years in March.

I met Jeannie on the Boardwalk in Cape May, New Jersey. My friend and I had just come from a beach party and were sitting on a bench when these 2 girls came walking down the Boardwalk. One girl we
knew so we started talking to the girls. Jeannie just blew my mind. I can’t remember what we talked about but when she walked away I said to my buddy “She’s mine.” I didn’t know where she lived or anything. I found out years later that she would ride her bike down the boardwalk to try to find me.

School started and she was in my study hall. I didn’t know what to do because she was so different than anyone I had ever known. My buddy took a piece of notebook paper and wrote her a note and asked her out for me. She said yes.

I went to take her out and meet her parents; her dad was really strict. I sat down across from her dad, he was reading the paper. He looked at me and said “I understand you want to take Jeannie to a football game.” I replied “Yes Sir.” “Uh huh”, and he went back to reading the paper. He put the paper down and looked at me again “How are you going to get there?” (it was an away game). “Car.” “Uh huh”, and he went back to reading the paper. He put the paper down again and asked, “Who’s car?” “Mine” I replied. “Nope.” He said and went back to reading the paper. What do I do now? I kept looking at the kitchen hoping Jeannie would come out; she was doing her after dinner chores. Finally, her dad looked up at me, “Do you really want to go to the game with her?” I said “Yes.” He said “We’ll meet you at the game and you can sit with us.”

I would walk 6 miles to Jeannie’s house; she lived about 3 blocks from the beach. We would walk to the beach and talk. We would talk about what we wanted from marriage and all the rules we wanted; you never leave without a kiss and you never return without a kiss, you never go to bed mad because tomorrow has enough problems of its own. We never let anybody come between us for any reason. We could have an argument but when we walked out the door you would never know; it wasn’t anyone’s business. I would defend her to the gates of hell if need be. That was one of my rules with family, nobody was allowed to interfere with our family. We have 3 kids. It worked out well, quite well!!

We have a photographer friend that loved to take pictures of Jeannie. He said she had Elizabeth Taylor beauty. I said no she doesn’t, I don’t like Elizabeth Taylor. Jeannie is much better than that!

We retired and we were going to do a lot of traveling. Mother nature had other ideas. Jeannie got the shingles and it turned into trigeminal neuralgia. There is a nerve center behind your ear; there are 3 nerves, one that goes to the top of your body, one that goes down the middle, and one that goes to the bottom. The Shingles hit the corner of her eye and it went down her face. She doesn’t talk or do too much anymore; she has chronic pain. Trigeminal neuralgia is considered to be one of the most painful afflictions known to medical practice.

It’s been a good ride, a good life. I can’t complain. Now I take care of the grounds, I paint, do stain glass, and I just built my first kayak and I am considering a second! And, I still have my Jeannie here with me.”

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