Chester Stokes '65

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Chester Stokes '65: It's All About the Friends

March 2006

Chester Stokes, Sigma Nu pledge class of 1962, is a successful real estate developer. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, he also has offices in Tampa, Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte and Charleston. He is a man of both significant means and significant responsibilities. And he has recently agreed to serve as one of three co-chairs for Sigma Nu's upcoming capital campaign, making substantial commitments of both time and money.

He's willing to do it for one simple reason: his friends.

"The fraternity was a big part of my early life," he says. "I made a lot of friends that I keep in close contact with, who've been important in my life. I've always been of a mind to give back, and I'm fortunate to be in the position to do so. The fraternity has been good to me."

Chester joined the Gamma Alpha chapter during his sophomore year because he felt comfortable there. He lived in the house, rooming with several different brothers, including Jack Painer (now deceased), Peck Edwards and Phil Gingery (now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and another of the capital campaign's co-chairs). The third co-chairman is Charlie Brady '55 of Atlanta, GA.

"Sigma Nu was just a close group of guys," Chester says. "If you ever needed help of any kind, you could always find it—whether it was for help studying or for someone to talk to about your girlfriend. I want future students to be able to have that kind of support."

Chester stays in close touch with one particular Gamma Alpha brother. "Hawley Smith is my best friend in the world—other than my wife," Chester says. Hawley moved to Jacksonville in 1972 to go to work for Chester. The following year, Chester left that business to open Stokes & Company, his real estate developing company. Today, Chester is chairman of Stokes Land Group, and Hawley is president of H. Smith, Inc., also a real estate firm. Are they in competition? "There's enough land out there for everybody," Chester says with a laugh, adding that they tend to focus on different business.

In addition to Stokes Land Group, Chester is also chairman of Island Foods and Grease Monkey Corporation.

Chester and his friend and Sigma Nu brother, Hawley, own 9,000 acres of land together. They and their wives recently donated 500 acres to Seamark Ranch, a non-denominational Christian children's home for abused, neglected, abandoned, orphaned and homeless children. The property will be developed into a ranch which will house 100 children.

Chester says that most of his civic and charitable work is geared towards children and youth, as evidenced by the fact that he was named "Man of the Year" by the Duval County public school system a few years ago.

In addition, Chester has served on the board of the Alexander-Tharpe Fund (A-T Fund), which provides scholarships for Georgia Tech student athletes and the National Advisory Board at Georgia Tech. In Jacksonville, he has served as chairman of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. He says his "greatest accomplishment for the city of Jacksonville was to push through a referendum enacting a local sales tax and abolishing tolls."

He has served on the Board of Trustees for Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida Foundation and the Florida Community College of Jacksonville Foundation. He served for about 15 years on the board of Barnett Bank of Jacksonville. He was also named "Builder of the Year" by the North Florida Builders Assoc.

When not working or busy with civic activities, Chester loves to be outdoors. He owns a quail hunting plantation in St. George, Georgia, on the St. Mary's River, about 35 minutes from downtown Jacksonville, where he can be found throughout the winter. He is an avid golfer; in fact, he currently owns Marsh Landing Country Club at Ponte Vedra Beach. Chester truly enjoys life and is enthusiastic about every thing he does whether its spending time on the golf course with his son; fishing from his boat; hunting on his ranch; or high atop one of his magnificent horses.

Chester is married to Lynda, who is also from his hometown of Blakely, Georgia. They have a 15-year-old son, Chet.

Chester Stokes - Gamma Alpha # 1137 - WALKS IN THE WAY OF HONOR