Claude Earnest Woodruff Jr. was born on January 6, 1927, in one of the oldest houses in the black community of Bartow, Florida. He was the son of Claude Earnest and Lula Mae Coles Woodruff. He attended Union Academy High School in Bartow, which had been built in 1897 and was the same school his grandmother and mother attended. Upon finishing 10thgrade at the age of 15, he was one of the first black men to join the Marines, serving from 1944-1946, spending almost a year in Japan.
Claude returned to Union Academy in Bartow to finish his education and played on the football team. He received a football scholarship and attended Florida A & M University where he played linebacker from 1948-1952. Claude enlisted in the Army and while stationed at Fort Bragg, the principal of Union Academy called him to ask if Claude wanted to teach at the school. He left the Army and began a teaching career that would last 34 years.
From 1952-1966 Claude taught physical education, health and biology, along with coaching the football team, thus earning him the name “Coach,” which was how he was known even after moving to Osceola County in 1966. He taught and coached at Jones High School in Orlando until 1969 and was head junior varsity coach at Winter Park High School until 1974.
Coach was a member of the Kissimmee Valley Livestock Show and Fair for 10 years and the Osceola County Cattlemen Association for 15. Upon retirement in 1986, he became a cook and owned Osceola Q, known for ribs, chicken, chipped beef and pork, gator tail, smoked turkey and smoked beans. In 1994 he published a cookbook “Great Black-American Cooking” that contained 180 recipes and was dedicated to his mother.
His wife, Minnie Boyer Woodruff, was inducted into the state’s Principals Hall of Fame and received other honors during her 40 years as an educator. His two daughters Edythe and Conchita were the first two black children to show cattle at 4-H competitions in Florida.
Coach died on June 15, 2009, and was buried in Pineywood Cemetery in Winter Park, Florida.
Written by Anza Bast
Sources: “Orlando Sentinel” June 2, 1991, September 4, 2003; Ancestry.com; obituary