Hardworking. Funny. Country.
For those who knew the late Cyrus Bispham, these descriptions are among the first that come to mind when describing the Sarasota dairy farmer, developer and community leader who helped shape the modern picture of Sarasota. Bispham died Wednesday, June 26, at the age of 87.
Born in 1925 in Sarasota, Bispham joined a family of farmers, which boasts the county’s second dairy permit. His father, Jackson Bispham, was a former Longboat Key farmer who relocated to the mainland after a 1921 hurricane wiped out his crop. He purchased farmland where The Landings exists today, and he filed in 1922 for the permit to open Bayside Dairy.
“If you want to talk about grassroots in Sarasota, the Bispham family embodies that,” says Kerry Kirschner, executive director of the Argus Foundation, of which Bispham was a charter member. “Cy and his family are an institution in Sarasota.”
Bispham was known for his tireless work ethic, which he developed early in life. As a child, he and his brother, Jack, would wake up every morning at 3 a.m. to milk the family’s 60 cows and deliver the glass bottles of milk before school. In 1944, he graduated from Sarasota High School, where he was a standout athlete in football, track and boxing. After graduation, Bispham joined the Army as a paratrooper and was stationed in the Philippines and Japan during World War II.
Upon his return to Sarasota, he met and married his wife, Doris, in 1948. They raised four children while he devoted himself to the family business. In 1950, Bispham helped relocate the dairy farm to the Gulf Gate area, then to property east of town in 1952, where it continued to operate until 1987.
Bispham devoted the 12 years leading up to his retirement to developing 383 acres of the family’s 1,150-acre farm into the golf and residential community Serenoa, which opened in 1990.
Colleagues say Bispham’s work ethic was apparent in everything he did, whether he was working on the farm or devoting time to one of his many civic commitments.
“This is a guy who was all about community, from A to Z,” says Kirschner. “If Sarasota had a hall of fame, he would be in it. He committed his entire life to the betterment of the community. Whether it was with his family, church or anything, he was tireless in that.”
Bispham served on local, state and national dairy boards, the Sarasota County Fair Board and the Sarasota County Planning Commission. He was a founding member of the County Charter Commission, and he helped found the Rotary Club of Sarasota Bay, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Argus Foundation, which in 2010 honored him with a lifetime achievement award.
Buddy Alday, who served on the Sarasota County Fair Board with Bispham, remembers his ability to get the job done.
“Cy didn’t say a whole lot,” says Alday. “But when he did, you’d better listen. If he told you something, you could count on it, and he always helped get things on their way.”
Former Sen. Bob Johnson, who worked with Bispham on the County Charter Commission, says Bispham’s contributions to Sarasota are significant.
“He helped shape what Sarasota was to become as a county,” says Johnson. “He was complex; he could be down to earth and a good ol’ boy, but he was also very smart. He’s not someone you could just reproduce with a mold.”
In addition to his work ethic and legacy in the community, friends and colleagues also admired Bispham’s sense of humor.
“Cy was always quick with a joke or a one-liner,” says Tom Dabney, longtime friend and president of Gulf Coast Property Services Inc. “He was humorous in a very country kind of way. He was a dairy farmer — and proud of it. He always told you exactly what was on his mind.”
Bispham’s son, Jack, describes his father as an avid outdoorsman and says that he continued to hunt and shoot sporting clays well into his 80s. He and his father enjoyed taking bird-hunting trips as far away as Nicaragua or the Bahamas.
“He was the kind of man who didn’t believe in Saturday afternoons off,” says Jack Bispham. “He was never idle, and he always had to have a project or be doing something productive. He was a man full of life, and I hope that’s how he’s remembered.”