Edward Gerrits was an FBI agent, bank chairman of the board, cattle rancher, developer and, often behind the scenes, supporter of political interests.
Linked with other Citrus County’s pioneers — the Tolles, the Fitzpatricks — Mr. Gerrits, as his grown children’s friends still call him, staked the path that led Citrus County through its formidable growth years.
“He’s definitely someone who made Citrus County what it is today,” said Josh Wooten, president and CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Gerrits died Tuesday, May 11, 2021, at his home in Shamrock Hills, Crystal River. He was 95.
“He had a huge impact. A lot of things he did in the county, people didn’t know about,” said Crystal River Councilman Pat Fitzpatrick, who worked for Mr. Gerrits at Citizens First National Bank, which Mr. Gerrits opened in 1970 in Inverness. “A lot of things got done in Citrus County because of him and the people he associated with.”
Mr. Gerrits was born Feb. 7, 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Miami. He worked with the FBI as a special agent for five years, then returned to Miami to work with his father’s construction business, Edward J. Gerrits Inc.
He and his first wife, Madeleine, moved to Crystal River in 1955 and he assumed responsibility for the family cattle and farming business, while continuing to work for the construction company. In 1970 he opened Citizens First National Bank in Inverness, which later expanded into a multi-bank holding company.
Retired banker Rocky Hensley, who started his banking career working for Mr. Gerrits at Citizens First National, said Mr. Gerrits wanted to help businesses succeed.
“It was truly one of those community banks that fit the community bank mold,” Hensley said. “He was very supportive of the community as a whole.”
He served as chairman of the board of Financial Growth Systems Inc., a bank holding company, with operations in Citrus, Lake and Hernando counties.
Friends say Mr. Gerrits provided startup loans, often on little more than a handshake, to encourage business growth.
“He expanded the banking world in Citrus County,” his son, Eddie, said. “In doing that, he created more opportunities for people that were trying to build businesses. It injected capital in our community at a time when it was needed.”
After selling FGS to First Florida Bank in 1985, Mr. Gerrits focused on his real estate construction and development business in Citrus County.
Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek, who grew up in Crystal River, said the Gerrits name resonates.
“For literally decades, Mr. Gerrits had a huge impact and influence on Crystal River,” Meek said. “Him and his family have done numerous things and have made a positive impact on our community. He was deeply vested in the community with a multitude of business dealings and he genuinely cared about it.”
County commission Chairman Scott Carnahan said his impacts are felt throughout the county.
“Mr. Gerrits led a great life,” Carnahan said. “He’s an icon. He brought Citrus County to where it is today.”
Services are pending and will be announced.