(Feb. 25) James L. LaBarba, co-founder and president of Ideal Sales Inc., Dallas, died Feb. 22 after an extended battle with cancer. He was 66.

The LaBarba name has long been associated with the Texas fresh produce industry.

James LaBarba followed in the footsteps of his namesake, grandfather James “Mr. Jimmy” LaBarba, who in 1917 founded American Produce Co. in Dallas, which now is known as American FoodService, a division of FreshPoint Inc.

As with almost all of Mr. Jimmy’s children and grandchildren, James LaBarba got his start working at American, said Sherman LaBarba, James' LaBarba’s brother and vice president of Ideal Sales.

James’ LaBarba’s other brothers, Lucian LaBarba and Carl LaBarba, are president and vice president of sales, respectively, at American Foodservice.

After graduating from Southern Methodist University with a degree in business administration in 1966, James LaBarba and business partner Frank Anderson founded Ideal Sales.

“He decided he needed to make his own way,” Sherman LaBarba said.

Sherman LaBarba joined the company in 1975.

“We had a great relationship,” Sherman LaBarba said. “He did things his way, and I did things my way. We always threw things back and forth.”

Ideal Sales grew from a small sales office to a major player, said Steve Eckles, chief financial officer of the company.

“It’s been instrumental in bringing a lot product into Dallas,” Eckles said.

James’ son, Jason LaBarba, joined the company in 1993.

“He’s making his way here,” said Sherman LaBarba. “This is not an easy business to grow up into and not an easy business to inherit, and he’s doing well.”

In 1999, Ideal Sales dipped into the grower-shipper side of the business with its Monte Vista, Colo., operation, Harvest Select.

James LaBarba will be remembered not only for his leadership with the company but also for his strong sense of family, Eckles said.

“He was a great leader,” Eckles said. “He was an extremely generous and kind person. He was always concerned, not only with the business but with your family as well.”

Sherman LaBarba said that family atmosphere has served the company well.

“We’ve got a lot of great employees here and a lot of support for all of them,” he said. “We can depend on them and that’s what makes us a successful company.”

James LaBarba is survived by his wife of 44 years, Carmen LaBarba, son Jason LaBarba, daughter Michelle Cook and four grandchildren.

His funeral is scheduled for Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. at St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the James L. LaBarba Cancer Foundation, Colonial Bank, Dallas.

Cancer claims life of Texas produce veteran
A funeral for James L. LaBarba, who was known throughout the Texas fresh produce industry, is scheduled for Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. at St. Rita Catholic Church in Dallas.