SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The Idaho Grower Shipper Association awarded one of the top honors in the state’s potato industry — the Russet Aristocrat — posthumously to August “Gus” Blase at its 83rd annual convention.
Described as a potato industry veteran and innovator, Blase had roots in fresh produce. He began working for his father and uncles at Blase Brothers Produce in San Jose, Calif., around 1930 when he started driving truck at age 14.
He later founded Sun Valley Potatoes, retiring in 1998. He died in 2009.
Members of the IGSA shared favorite stories about their competitor and mentor during the association’s annual awards banquet Sept. 2. More than one person recalled his sometimes gruff manner.
“He said get the #%*@ out of here, I’m working,” said Todd Dompier, salesman for Idaho Package Co., Idaho Falls, who met Blase in 1992 as a fresh college grad. “My dad said ‘that went pretty well, I think he likes you’ after we left.”
Then there were the stories of the rough exterior that was another Blase trademark.
“He would talk about his days playing for Stanford on a football scholarship,” Dompier said. “He said they didn’t have facemasks back then. All you had to do was look as his nose and you knew he was telling the truth.”
By the time Blase died at age 93 in 2009 he had led and founded several companies. In 1960 he opened a packing shed, A.R. Blase Co., in San Jose, Calif. Later he moved to Idaho and went into potatoes full time. He became a partner in Magic Valley Produce Inc., Paul, Idaho, in 1978.
Blase founded Sun Valley Potatoes Inc., Paul, Idaho, in 1988 and led the company until his retirement. At one time the company had the largest packing shed in the industry. Unwilling to completely give up the business after retiring, he went on his final buying trip just one month before his death.
Brian Jones, president of Sun Valley and outgoing chairman of the board for IGSA, worked under Blase and also spent time as his stepson. Jones' eyes welled up as his mother accepted the Russet Aristocrat award for her late husband at the IGSA banquet.