(UPDATED COVERAGE June 11) Jon Vessey, owner and president of Holtville, Calif.-based Vessey & Co. Inc., died June 7 after a battle with cancer. He was 70.
He and his son Jack Vessey ran the 10,000-acre vegetable growing operation in the Imperial Valley. Vessey & Co. Inc., which produces 40 conventional and 27 organic vegetables, is the valley’s primary supplier to Church Bros. LLC. It grows for other companies as well.
Jon Vessey, a third-generation grower from a family with a history of Western Growers Association board service, received the trade group’s Award of Honor at its annual meeting in November in Hawaii. He was on the board from 1985 to 2010.
“I am truly humbled,” he said as he accepted the award in Honolulu. He then introduced family members and his childhood friend Tom Church, partner in Church Bros., to the gathering.
“My dad taught me it wasn’t just about us, it was about the industry,” Jack Vessey said at the Western Growers meeting. “He fought for the industry. He fought for all of us.”
At the same event, Jon Vessey received a lifetime achievement award from the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“Jon always had the courage to stand up and explain what was happening to our industry and what needed to be done regardless of the cost to him personally,” Western Growers president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif told the Imperial Valley Press after Vessey’s death.
Vessey was active in other industry groups such as the Produce Marketing Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation. He was president of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association and served on the board of directors of Buy California.
The family started in the produce business after Vessey’s grandfather Elton and his wife, Maude, moved to Los Angeles from Wisconsin in the late 1800s. There they started a wholesale vegetable operation. In the 1920s, Elton decided to start growing lettuce in the Imperial Valley; Salinas and Hollister followed.
To get year-round production, Elton’s son Jackson Vessey added Brentwood, Marana, Blythe and Wilcox, Ariz. The family eventually sold its northern operations. Jon Vessey became president of Vessey & Co. Inc. in 1970.
Survivors include his wife, Darla Vessey; his children Jack Vessey, Cameron Vessey, Heather Vessey Garcia and Alexis Vessey; as well as six grandchildren.
Memorial Services were scheduled for 10 a.m. June 21 at the Barbara Worth Country Club in Holtville.