Posted 05 February 2007 - 04:08 PM
Tribute to John Bishock
by Chuck Grieneisen, Oviedo, FL
John Bishock was hard to describe. Possibly, if Ernest Hemingway was a palm nut it would be a fitting way to describe John. He was just so full of life and had a toughness about him. My last visit with him was just two and a half weeks before his untimely passing. He was taking chemotherapy, but was up and about around his pool. He even had all his hair. Even his hair was tough. That was why his passing was such a huge shock. He certainly was a man who lived life with a capital "L".
I joined the Central Florida Palm and Cycad Society (CFPACS) about 10 years ago. The society had one of their meetings at Faith and John's house around that time. This particular meeting featured a pig roast. I still remember clearly that first visit. John and Faith were always some of the most outgoing members of the society. They never seemed to have met a palm or person they didn't like. With that booming, gravely voice he would always be there with palm advice, and stories from his many travels with the International Palm Society (IPS). One of the last meetings he was at, he brought some Borassus aethiopum seedlings for our auction to raise money for the society. Since the bidding was so low, he bought them back from himself and as usual when things like these happened, he would say "It's for charity!"
I learned much from him (too much to list here). He lived in the inland Sarasota area. I live in Oviedo, a little north and east of Orlando. He was about 3 hours south of me but surprisingly he was in a colder spot than I was. This is how I learned that a Gastrococos crispa can take 23 degrees! He had one that took that temperature and survived.
My best times with him were when I started being a vendor at the South Florida Palm Society Fairchild sales (there usually is a spring and fall sale). He was the only other CFPACS guy there (they are two different chapters of the IPS). John invited me to stay with him and Faith and I did that while in Miami. The Miami area was John and Faith's old stomping grounds. They would ride around and tell me about Miami back in their days. John would show me some of the palms that he planted while living there. In particular, I remember one Attalea in their neighborhood with a 25 foot trunk. We stayed at Faith's mother's house. John had the mother-in-law's place well planted with palms. There was one particularly rare one I can remember his unique voice saying "Ptychosperma coccobona” (sp?). And after a "hard" day of selling at Fairchild we would drink beer by the pool and I would listen to his great palm stories. I think the most outstanding ones were the IPS trips to Thailand and New Caledonia (there were many more). I have never been to any of the IPS meetings (even a trip to Miami was a big deal to me!). It seems that he had been everywhere and seen every kind of palm. My greatest palm stories are the times that I spent with John and Faith in Miami. For me, it didn't get any better than that.
At the end of the Fairchild sales John would always give me a palm or two. He would just say "take one" .He always had some that I didn't have. I tried to return the favor but he always had every palm that I had. In all these years he only took one palm from me, a Borassus (madagascarensis or sambiranensis, can't remember). After each sale I would start searching until the next sale to find a rare palm that he didn't have. As you already know, it didn't work very well, if at all. At least I did manage to give him some cycad species that he didn't have.
We had two regular CFPACS meetings at his place since I've known him. Like me, he had attended almost every regular CFPACS meeting. During our Miami trips he would always invite me to come visit him in Myakka. I heard about his new greenhouse and his various others projects and really wanted to visit his home since I knew any visit to his place would wind up around his pool drinking beer and BS'ing about palms!
Somehow, after each Fairchild sale I would realize and couldn't believe that I hadn't visited him at Myakka. I have a regular job and a palm and cycad nursery and was always behind in the nursery. I kept telling myself that after I get caught up re-potting and such I'll go visit John and Faith. I just never seemed to get caught up. It now seems the ultimate irony that the thing that brought us together had kept me from visiting him as much as I would have liked.
John was never too busy, or too sick, to receive visits from any of his friends. I had known about his cancer when I heard some other CFPACS friends were going to visit him. I didn't go with them, but went a day or two later. On that last visit, 18 days before he died, John gave me seeds of two species of palms. Indeed, at his funeral, I heard from one of his closest friends that a day or two before his last day on earth John took him around one last time in his golf cart and told him where to plant out some of his palms.
At his funeral there was a who's who of palm people from around the state. One friend who used to drink rum with John after the Fairchild sales drove up from Miami. That may seem unusual, unless of course, you have met John.
He was truly a "salt of the earth" type of person. I know that every palm meeting, sale and auction will be much blander now that John Bishock is gone.
P.S. I remember one more story that is "classic" John Bishock and unfortunately, "classic" me. After one of CFPACS's meetings, John wound up with a big paper grocery bag 3/4 full of Archontophoenix seeds. There were thousands of seeds in the bag. I asked him what he was going to do with all those seeds. He owns some acreage around where he lives (and at the time a Harley Davidson golf cart) and he said he was going to drive around his property in his golf cart and just throw out the seeds as he went, just to see what would grow where... I was too busy for that. Now I think of the time we would have had. So if there is anyone that you owe a visit to...