Past Presidents

The International Palm Society is proud to recognize the leaders who have helped us become the largest society of palm enthusiasts in the world! Learn more about these former presidents below.

1956-57: Dent Smith, Florida

The International Palm Society’s founder Dent Smith, served as its first president and first editor of Principes. Born in 1897 in Staunton Virginia, he lead an “itinerant and impecunious lifestyle”, which included stints in Mexico and New York City. After a successful career on Wall Street, he retired early, settled in Daytona Beach, Florida and tended to his beloved palm garden. By March 1955 he envisioned forming a palm society, and subsequently the first meeting of (what is now) the IPS came to pass at the Fairchild Tropical Garden on April 17, 1956.

Although Mr. Smith experienced only a “thoroughly useless formal education”, he received numerous honors including a Doctorate of Science from the Florida Institute of Technology, the Founders Medal from the Fairchild and the Robert H Montgomery Medal for distinguished achievement in the world of palms.

1957-60 Dr. Walter Hodge, Florida

Walter Hodge received his PhD from Harvard University for his dissertation concerning the Flora of Dominica. Trained as an economic botanist, he and his wife Barbara traveled extensively, resulting in the publication of more than 200 scientific manuscripts. There are several eponymous plants named in his honor; alas no palms. An accomplished photographer of not only plants, Dr. Hodge amassed a formidable portrait collection of contemporary botanists (including the self-portrait above). Remarkably, at one time he ranked the most cited photographer in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

1960-62 Eugene Kitzke, Wisconsin

In his role as the head of research and development for the S. C. Johnson Co. in Racine, Wisconsin, Eugene Kitzke’s investigations focused on Copernicia and other waxy palms. He worked in Brazil (primarily at the Raposa plantation near Fortaleza) developing hybridization techniques of C. cerifera (now prunifera-the carnauba wax palm), for the wax industry. Hailing from Wisconsin, he remains the only IPS president not based in Florida, California, Hawaii, or Texas. Mr. Kitzke graduated from Marquette University (where he studied mycology) and earned a post-graduate degree in ecology.

1962-64 David Barry, Jr., California

Considered the “grand old dad” of California palm people, David Barry’s hobby later became the legendary nursery California Jungle Gardens, in Brentwood. There he introduced many new palms (including Jubaeopsis caffra and several species of Chamaedorea), as well as other tropical plants, to cultivation. For many years he administered the International Palm Seed Exchange Service (editor’s note: not the IPS seedbank). Additionally he founded the International Bromeliad Society and served as its second president. 

Mr. Barry graduated from Stanford University (majoring in natural sciences) and worked in real estate.