Hal Porter once offered to teach me to roller skate.
It was my daughter Erin’s birthday party at the Roller Barn; she was probably 8 or 9, and I was watching the kids skating.
Hal wandered by.
“You’re not out there?” he asked.
When I told him roller skates had never touched my feet, he said, “Mr. Mike, we can fix that.”
I declined his offer. My knees today continue to thank me.
That recollection came to mind last Friday night when a friend called to say Hal had died.
Hal Porter was one of the most well-known men in Citrus County, particularly in Inverness. He was manager of the Citrus County Fair and manager at the Roller Barn.
He grew up in Citrus County and showed calves at the fair when he was 8 years old. Hal was active in 4-H and repaid his childhood experiences by becoming a huge 4-H advocate as an adult, including his 2019 induction into the 4-H Foundation Hall of Fame.
He was the current President of the Florida Federation of Fairs and Livestock Shows, which comprises 46 county fairs, the Florida State Fair.
In short, Hal loved kids. And he loved the Citrus County Fair.
That’s an entire culture, those fair folks. I don’t pretend to know all about it, but the Citrus Countians who are members of the Fair Association work fiercely each year to present the best fair they can.
Hal was in the middle of it. For the last 17 years, his name was synonymous with the Citrus County Fair. His was the face — along with cows, pigs, rabbits and chickens — associated with the fair.
I didn’t know Hal as well as many others, but there was no mistaking his influence. He spoke softly, and was always polite. A Southern gentleman, for sure.
When I posted his passing this week on Facebook, several people fondly recalled Hal’s role in Citrus County. Some examples:
And many more like that, pointing out Hal’s involvement with 4-H and his interest in the children of our community.
Those comments should be comforting to Hal’s family and close friends. He had impact here; his name and existence meant a great deal to a great many people.
I sat Thursday morning with a longtime Citrus County educator. We spent some time chatting about politics (anyone who sits with me for five minutes or more wants to discuss local politics), and today’s challenges of teaching vs when she first started out.
Mostly, though, we talked about kids. We talked about their struggles, challenges, and adversity to overcome. We talked about how important it is for kids to have friends in school, someone they can relate with and confide in. We agreed the key to smart, fun, successful kids is to be mentored by caring adults.
Hal Porter was a caring adult. He grew up in 4-H and understood the significance of that involvement in his life. He stayed close to the Citrus County Fair because he knew that’s where he could have the most positive impact on kids.
We simply cannot have enough Hal Porters in this county. And when we lose Hal, as a Just Wright Citrus reader said, it's a pair of boots that can’t be replaced.
But we should be encouraged and buoyed by his example. The battle takes place every day. Kids have tons of influences that are not healthy for them. Parents can only do so much.
It’s on the rest of us grownups to follow the Hal Porter way.
Services for Hal are 2 p.m. Sunday at the Citrus County Fairgrounds Arena. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts to the Citrus County 4-H Association supporting educational programs for youths in Citrus County. Checks should be payable to Citrus County 4-H Association (memo Hal Porter) to 3650 W. Sovereign Path, Lecanto FL 34461.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.