Tony Fogle Named T&D Person of the Year
"Entrepreneur, Benefactor, 'Greatest Generation' Member Has Helped Shape His Community"
He may be 90 years old, but John A. “Tony” Fogle of Neeses hasn’t eased back into his recliner just yet.
The consummate entrepreneur, who founded the business that has evolved into Carolina Fresh Farms, still climbs up on his beloved bulldozer nearly every day to clear land. He also can be found working alongside his grandson, Carolina Fresh Farms CEO Andy Fogle, at the business’ headquarters on U.S. 321 between Neeses and Norway.
“I run my bulldozer every day. Andy makes most of the (business) decisions. I make a few. I mostly sit around and eat peanuts,” says Fogle, laughing.
Andy, who accompanied Fogle to Normandy in June for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France, said his grandfather loves his bulldozer.
“He told me when we were in France he missed his bulldozer,” he said, chuckling.
Known affectionately by family and friends as “Papa Tony,” the elder Fogle was part of the 90th Infantry Division, nicknamed “Tough ‘Ombres.” His division landed on Utah Beach and fought its way through Normandy, eventually fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Fogle was one of 22 World War II veterans invited on the Operation Overlord 70 tour by Columbia travel agent Jeanne Palyok, who organized the trip as a tribute to veterans.
As one of America’s “Greatest Generation” who risked his life to keep the world free and a businessman, civic leader and generous benefactor who has positively impacted Orangeburg County, Fogle is being recognized as The Times and Democrat’s Person of the Year for 2014.
We think Tony Fogle is the perfect choice for the 2014 T&D Person of the Year. He represents a generation that we admire and he represents the epitome of a hard-working family man who has given back to his community. We are honored to feature him this year,” said Cathy Hughes, publisher.
Farming operations began in late 1940s. After returning from the war in the late 1940s, Fogle began farming cotton, corn and soybeans, starting out with less than 100 acres. Today, Carolina Fresh farms more than 3,000 acres between its main operation in Neeses and a smaller farm in Rutherfordton, N.C., where the company for the past six or seven years has been growing cool-season grass that won’t grow in this area.
Fogle attributes his success in business to “working hard, always looking for good deals and not being afraid to take risks.” Over the years, he has purchased vast amounts of land, sometimes paying as little as $10 an acre, then selling it for $200 or more an acre.
Fogle branched out into hay and timber. He said in the 1960s, “the county agent came out here and the first thing he said was, ‘I want you to plant some Bermuda.’ … I told him straight. I said a bad word. I said, ‘To hell with you. If you want me to plant Bermuda, you just turn around and go back. I’ve been planting (row crops) since I was knee-high to a duck.’ He talked me into planting some coastal Bermuda. He said, ‘You can cut it for hay,’” Fogle recalled.
I bought me a used mower and a baler, paid $175 for it. … I baled it (the hay) up and put it in a barn and went down to the Production Credit Association. I wanted to buy some cows to feed some hay to,” he said. Fogle was advised by the PCA to advertise the hay and if he didn’t sell it, the PCA would lend him the money to buy some cows.
I didn’t like people telling me what to do, but I sold it just like that. The next year, I planted a little bit more and sold it, too. Finally, I had 1,500 acres of coastal,” he said.
Fogle and his grandson say hay got the family business through some rough spots. The business at that time was known as Coastal Hay Farms.
We used to ship out 1,200 square bales every day, three truckloads a day,” Andy said.
In the late 1970s, Fogle invested $1 million to modernize his hay business by adding a pellet mill, which turned hay into pellets. A railroad spur was used to ship the pellets from the mill.
Eventually, however, producers started growing their own hay to feed to their cattle, the elder Fogle said. As a result of the declining market for hay and more and more producers getting out of the cattle business because of the high costs involved, Carolina Fresh Farms began using the hay to grow mushrooms.
“I was trying to find a home for some of this bad hay,” the elder Fogle said. The composted hay was used as a medium for growing the mushrooms. The mushroom business operated for about six years.
The first year, we sold every bit we could get to France. The next year, they didn’t want any. We had to get out and hunt sales,” Fogle said. Competition was fierce in the mushroom business, with Pennsylvania mushroom producers dominating the market.
“We had a cooler full of mushrooms and didn’t know what to do with them,” he said.
Carolina Fresh Farms still sells 13,000 to 14,000 pounds of mushrooms to the S.C. State Fair each year for the popular fried mushroom concession, Andy said.
Today, the sale of sod is Carolina Fresh Farms’ bread and butter. Crops like corn, cotton and peanuts are also grown. The business currently employs 75 to 80 people — half of them at the Neeses farm. It also operates several landscaping supply outlet stores.
Expansion of the company is planned, with a warehouse to be added.
“Papa Tony” has operated several other businesses over the years, including a grocery store and a hat shop in Columbia. Even at age 90, he’s still looking to the future as he recalls almost getting into the solar industry business a few years back. He hopes this dream he has long harbored may one day be pursued by his grandson.
“If it wasn’t for the economy (going) sour, I’d have a solar company right now,” Fogle said.
‘War is hell.’ Fogle’s willingness to take risks may have developed as a result of his experiences on the battlefield during World War II.
“War is hell. … People have got to realize that. Hitler was an SOB. … You faced death every day. It was just like a having a rattlesnake crawl up your britches … you don’t know when he’s going to raise his head and strike you,” Fogle said.
His only regret in life was the role he played in killing a German soldier during the war, Fogle said. A German sniper had been gunning down members of his unit, and Fogle threw a grenade into the building where he was hiding.
“Some boys went through his pockets and (discovered) he had a wife and two kids. That didn’t suit us too much,” he said.
Fogle said he tried without success to track down the soldier’s family. He wanted to do something to help the children, he said.
“I never forgot them,” Fogle said.
He was injured twice during the war. Once when he was in a foxhole, the private heard the sound of German tanks in the distance. Someone shot at the tanks and exposed where his unit was. The Germans were shooting just over Fogle’s head and blasting the buildings in the town nearby. A shell hit a building close to his foxhole and sent shrapnel everywhere, with one piece hitting him in the back. Fortunately, the piece of metal, which was about the size of a half-dollar, broke his skin and burned through his jacket.
His second injury came as the stage was being set for the Battle of the Bulge. Fogle and his company were surprised by fire and took cover in their foxhole. In the rush to get into the foxhole, one of the soldiers jumped on Fogle’s leg and broke his ankle. He didn’t know his ankle was broken and continued to fight. He was later loaded onto a Jeep and driven away from the front lines, ending his service in World War II. For his service, he received the Purple Heart.
Giving back. Fogle says he believes in being a good corporate neighbor in the community. In addition to donating the land for the now-defunct Heritage Hall, he donated the grass for North Greenville University’s sports complex in Tigerville. As a result, the university’s football field is named “Fogle Field” in honor of Fogle and his wife of nearly 70 years, Margaret. He has also served on the university’s board of trustees.
In addition, Carolina Fresh Farms donated the grass for the Lugoff-Elgin High School baseball field as well as landscaping materials for other Midlands schools, including Hunter-Kinard-Tyler.
The Fogles contribute to local sports teams (including a high school bass fishing team) and area Boy Scout troops, recently donating a brand-new utility trailer to Troop 519 in Charleston after theirs was stolen.
Andy said his grandfather has even helped support families financially while one of their members went through rehabilitation.
Fogle was active for many years in the Ruritan Club. He is also a longtime member and former deacon of Calvary Baptist Church in Neeses.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the Bible verse that has guided him throughout his life, Fogle said.
Summing up his successful business career, he laughs and says, “I’ve tried to do a lot of things. Some failed and some didn’t.”
Article courtesy of The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, South Carolina. Written by Carol Barker, T&D Region Editor