Cover Stories December 2017 On The Cover

Lifetime Achievement Award Winner: Davis Rembert

Written By: Alyssa Ramos

When Davis Rembert was a child, he knew a Gainesville where Butler Plaza was still dirt roads and Santa Fe College was still Hotel Thomas. At age 76, Rembert has seen Gainesville evolve into more than just another college town, but a thriving city. Part of that growth can be attributed to Rembert, a man wanting to give back to the community that gave him everything.

“It’s home, and I’m just so proud to see how it has grown, – matured in a well and balanced way,” Rembert said. “I can’t believe how much Gainesville has grown.”

He has a hearty laugh, wide eyes, a grandpa’s sense of humor and an endearing habit of forgetting his phone. It’s an unassuming appearance, but to those in the Gainesville community, Rembert is known for so much more. He boasts a successful career as an entrepreneur and more notably as a major philanthropist contributing to several local institutions and nonprofits. 

“I learned to be involved in the community, and the community would give back to you,” Rembert said.

Born and raised in Gainesville, Rembert’s road to success started with a paper route as the neighborhood paper boy for the Florida-Times Union. Whether it be mowing lawns or collecting Coke bottles, Rembert always had some sort of odd job to support himself. A younger Rembert had the initiative to start a one-dollar-a-day payment plan with the local hardware store until he finally earned enough money to pay for every kid’s dream: A Schwinn bike.

Such small victories served as a precursor for future entrepreneurial endeavors. In 1963, opportunities in other states beckoned for Rembert. He and his family moved to New Jersey where they had a successful business, but eventually they would return to Florida. In 1972, the Remberts returned to Gainesville to start what would be a series of businesses, starting with United Fuel Corporation. In 1981, he and his wife, Judi Rembert would start Sprint Food Stores. In 2013, Rembert converted his family farm to a venue space for weddings, receptions, reunions and church functions, now called The Barn at Rembert Farms.

“My friends tease me; they say that whatever I touch is successful,” Rembert said. “It’s not totally true, they just haven’t seen my failures. We all have them, but the law of averages has been on my side.”

He’s made many investments in his life, but failure and risk don’t deter him. If anything, he sees them as opportunities. Rembert said he’s not one to confine himself to any boundaries, rather he builds with the intent to think outside the box. By nature, Rembert describes himself as spontaneously living according to a jam-packed schedule where, sometimes, even he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. If an opportunity appears, he jumps at the chance.

“If you don’t try, you don’t succeed. People are hesitant to try, but I’m just fortunate; I think I can do everything,” Rembert said. “Obviously you can’t, but you don’t know what your limit is, so you push.”

His business approach? Trust and a solid handshake. Rembert grew up living next to Gainesville’s greatest, such as State Senator William A. Shands, Fred Cone and Earl Powers. These men who had made tremendous gains for the community would serve as Rembert’s mentors and as friends. Inspired by their leadership and influence on the community, Rembert has held several positions sitting on the board of directors for Sun Bank and serving as the President of the Chamber of Commerce, president of Rotary Club and numerous others in the past.

However, his biggest accomplishment thus far surpasses any dollar sign or breakeven point. While Rembert has certainly been fortunate, his true success has always been a combined effort of both him and his late wife, Judi Rembert.

“I think without each other, neither of us would be as successful,” Rembert said. “You can’t walk in a room without anybody noticing her, so when you notice her, you notice me.”

Married at 16 and 19 respectively, Judi and Davis Rembert celebrated a 57-year marriage. Judi Rembert, who passed away due to cancer this past summer, was both his angel and his visionary.

“She had charisma, a great smile about her,” Rembert said. “We always did everything together.”

It was the perfect partnership, and they were a package deal at every charity and corporate event and business meeting. Maybe it’s because they never said no, Rembert said. They were always present fixtures in the community. Judi Rembert played an integral role, not only as his life partner but as his business partner. In fact, Rembert credits his wife for introducing him to several opportunities and tending to the details. The name for their Sprint Food stores was actually Judi Rembert’s idea. 

“We’ve done a lot of good stuff,” Rembert said.

They’re modest about their philanthropic pursuits, but the Remberts have dedicated their lives to supporting the community, their most notable contribution going toward Shands Health Care where they’ve donated a hefty sum for the University of Florida Cancer Hospital. Recently, they held their annual ViVa! fundraising event for Haven Hospice where they raised 3 million dollars. Through Rembert’s life, it’s never been a conscious decision to give, rather it’s instinctive.

“I just thought that [philanthropy] was the thing to do, but just now the numbers are a lot larger,” Rembert said.

Rembert created the Rembert Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has given money to United Way and other charities. Ten percent of his business sales go to the foundation as another way to give back to the community. True to his spontaneous character, he loves to give back in ways that people least expect it. Whether it be whipping out a hefty tip at a local restaurant or giving funds to renovate a Boys Scout facility, the Remberts know Gainesville, at its core, starts with investing in its people.

“I just gave where the heart is, but I don’t know where the next one is gonna be.”

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