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Honoring a CCA Florida Legend, H.C. “Cary” Kresge, Jr.

Honoring a CCA Florida Legend

H.C. “Cary” Kresge, Jr.
December 20, 1941 – August 2, 2023

H.C. “Cary” Kresge, Jr. was honored last week at the 35th Annual CCA Florida Orlando Chapter Banquet & Auction. Cary was born in Los Angeles and moved as an infant to the Detroit area and then to the Sunset Isles of Miami Beach where his lifelong passion for all things fishing was cemented. He attended Detroit Country Day School and the Asheville School for Boys before enrolling at Rollins College where he graduated with a BA and then an MBA. In 1965 he married the love of his life Susan Camp Kresge, whom he met at Rollins. They remained married for over 58 years and were dedicated to each other like no other couple you’ll ever meet.

Cary was a serial entrepreneur, helping to build many businesses in Florida over the years. He was an effective fundraiser and supporter for both Rollins College – especially the sports programs – and his beloved Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). At CCA he was a force of nature as he helped first the state and later the national organization form and flourish into the voice of conservation of the country’s fishing resources nationally.

Cary was the driving force and founder of the Orlando Chapter of CCA Florida in 1985. Everyone who knew him simply referred to him as “Kresge”. Cary served on numerous CCA Florida and CCA National committees for decades. He wasn’t big on the nitty gritty details of fisheries management but his uncanny ability to recruit supporters and volunteers, secure donations and his leadership was a big part in what CCA is today.

Prior to CCA, Cary served on the board of the Everglades Protection Association and helped to successfully advocated for a ban on commercial fishing in Everglades National Park. One of his greatest accomplishments with CCA was the push for a referendum to ban entanglement nets, which was passed in 1994 by an overwhelming majority. Kresge knew this was a landmark deal for CCA Florida and often voiced his approval for the rebound of fishery and its domino effect on other sea and bird life.

Many of you knew Cary and even if you didn’t, you definitely benefited from his passion and dedication to CCA and Florida’s precious natural resources. If you have attended a CCA event over the past 38 years, then you have benefited from his efforts. I’d even be willing to bet that you own a piece of art, a rod, a reel, a high-end watch or general fishing equipment that was procured by Cary. The Orlando events were always unique thanks to his ability to procure auction and raffle items that you wouldn’t see at any other CCA event in Florida. Not only would he secure more donations than anyone else, he would turn around and bid on them himself at the auction. Back in 1986, Cary and his good friend Bob Showalter bid and won the first boat ever auctioned at a CCA Florida event, a Maverick Master Angler. They appropriately named it “Auction Fever.” That purchase almost caused two divorces and in hindsight, Bob said they should have named it “9 Scotch’s Each” instead!

Cary’s hard work, dedication and passion for conservation did not go unnoticed. He earned numerous awards for his efforts over the years and most notably the CCA Florida Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the Ted Forsgren Conservation award, the highest honor in CCA. The Orlando Chapter honors Cary each year by choosing a recipient of an award that bears his name, “The Cary Kresge Volunteer of the Year Award.” In 2019, The Cary Kresge Artificial reef was deployed in his honor off the coast of Brevard County.

Cary will always hold a special place in my heart as he is responsible for where I am today. As a member of CCA Florida’s highest leadership committee, Cary interviewed me 22 years ago when I first applied for a regional director position with CCA. Since that day, Cary was always there for me and genuinely cared for me and my family. No matter the reason for his call, he always asked about my wife and daughter first. Cary was the anchor of the management committee for over 20 years. His concern for our staff and their families always came first. Cary would often pop into the office unannounced to just say high and talk family and fishing with not just me but all staff. He always met you with a giant smile and his one-of-kind handshake. He was and still is one of the most respected leaders this organization has ever had.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to fish with Cary and CCA Florida’s founding father, Alex Jernigan in Crystal River last year. We had an incredible day with Capt. Brandon Branch that started with catching giant gag grouper in 12’ of water and finished the day with catching over-slot sized snook in the mangrove forests of the nature coast. I still have a video of Cary (80) and Alex (92) talking trash to each other while they had their rods doubled over battling 2 big gags. Both fish were still pulling drag when Cary looked over at Alex and said “mines bigger Alex.” It just goes to show you that no matter what your age, boys will be boys… The smiles on their faces and the memories of that day of fishing will stick with me forever.

Some people are lucky to have a best friend. Many of Cary’s friends would tell you that Cary was “my best friend!” So many of us benefitted from his rapt attention to any issues we might bring to him for advice. His steady and functional suggestions were always priceless. He worked hard at his businesses, he fished harder and he loved his Sue and his friends totally!

Rest in Peace My Good Friend. You are missed more than you can ever imagine and your CCA legacy will live forever! Until we meet again… Brian

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