(Jan. 22) W.R. “Bob” Johnston, founder of Mendota, Calif.-based melon grower-shipper Fordel Inc. and a leading San Joaquin Valley grower-packer-shipper-marketer for nearly a half century, has died.

Johnston, who was 72, died Jan. 9.

Johnston began farming on the west side of the valley in 1959, said Bobby Johnston II, a son and vice president of Fordel Inc. In the early 1960s, he began growing melons, a commodity that would become his core crop. He also grew cotton, alfalfa, wheat and a variety of vegetables.

“He was very driven, persistent and innovative,” Bobby Johnston said.

Bob Johnston and three partners founded Silver Creek Packing in 1969, a company he would serve as president and general manager for 17 years. While with Silver Creek, he developed the practice of deep-furrow irrigating, which Bobby Johnston said produced firmer, higher-quality melons.

Johnston sold his interest in Silver Creek Packing in 1987 and a year later founded Fordel Inc. The company name, fordel, is Norwegian for “to benefit from,” Bobby Johnston said.

Family owned and operated, Fordel owns more than 3,000 acres of farmland. The company employs 400 to 500 workers, depending on the season, Bobby Johnston said, in the fields and at its packing and cooling operations.

Another son, Randall Johnston, is sales manager and assists in overall company planning and management, Bobby Johnston said.

A mark of Bob Johnston’s career was his commitment to workers.

“He treated employees as family,” Bobby Johnston said.

Johnston suffered respiratory problems in recent months and he contracted pneumonia, Bobby Johnston said.

It’s anticipated there will be no major changes at Fordel.