LAKEWOOD RANCH — No one knows the lay of the land like Roger Alan Hill.
As the longtime ranch manager for Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Hill knew virtually every detail of SMR’s nearly 30,000-acre property.
“His knowledge for this gigantic piece of (land) was unbelievable, and there wasn’t a square inch that he did not know,” said Jason McKendree, SMR’s cattle manager. “He was a visionary and a perfectionist all rolled into one. He was an architect in a pair of cowboy boots. There wasn’t much he could not do when he set out to do it.”
Hill, who gained the respect the local agriculture and business community, died March 1, at a Bradenton-area hospital. He was 68 years old.
“We all have heavy hearts,” SMR’s CFO Tony Chiofalo said. “He was involved in every part of this company. I really believe the way he conducted himself, with such kindness and professionalism — and the fact he cared about everything he did — really rubbed off on (everyone) in this company.
“Roger was somebody who was there for the groundbreaking, so to speak, for everything that happened here (on the Ranch),” he said. “He was part of everything that started from scratch.”
Hill, who was born April 11, 1944, in Johnson City, N.Y., on a dairy farm, moved to Florida with his family as a teenager. After college, he started R&R Fencing Co. and began installing miles of fence around the area.
Through his fence business, Hill became an independent contractor for SMR. SMR, however, recognized Hill’s strong work ethic and hired him as an official employee in 1981, at which time he began working as a cattle manager. At that time, there were only six employees compared to today’s 350 employees. State Road 70 was just a dirt road from Caruso Road to County Road 675.
In 1985, SMR promoted him to ranch manager.
Although SMR is best known for its award-winning master-planned residential development, the company is rooted in agriculture, with cattle, citrus, shell mining and sod operations — all facets of the company that Hill, an avid fisherman and hunter, loved to showcase.
Hill also played a key role in the launch of commercial real-estate efforts, the Sarasota Polo Club, golf course construction and, most recently, with the creation of the Premier Sports Campus.
“Roger was the one out there from day one and turned an old cattle pasture into what we consider to be one of the best sports complexes in Florida,” Chiofalo said. “The tone of that complex is very much a family-friendly, player-friendly place. It was Roger who set that tone.”
Hill can also be credited with helping to create the SMR Cup, an annual three-day, seven-event competition that pits local cowboys against polo players. Events now include mechanical-bull riding, fishing, skeet shooting, roping, cattle penning, polo and a horse race. The event started in 1991 with six events and was re-launched in 2006, after a 10-year break, with the addition of the bull-riding contest.
During his 32-year tenure with SMR, Hill also gave back to his community, serving as the director and two-term president of the Manatee County Fair Association and volunteering with Florida Farm Bureau and the Manatee County Cattlemen Association, among other commitments.
“He had such a love for the community, for God and for his family,” Hill’s daughter, Valerie Ellery said, noting Hill’s deep commitment and love for his wife and family and how what was important to them became important to him, as well. “I believe one of Dad’s greatest (legacies) was how he loved so deeply.
“He was such a pillar of serving,” she said. “(Anything) he put his mind to, he made sure he did it with excellence.”
Hill was preceded in death by his son, Ryan Alan; his parents, Kenneth and Estelle; his brother, Jimmy; and his sister, Joan.
He is survived by his wife, Laurie; three daughters Connie Smith, Valerie Ellery and Christy Cruz; sister, Shirley Martin; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Bayside Community Church hosted a Celebration of Life service for Hill Tuesday, March 4.
Contact Pam Eubanks [email protected].