The Packer chronicled the deaths of many produce industry professionals in 2013 who won’t soon be forgotten. Here’s one final salute to them:
Joan Bernardi, a co-founder of Sandia Distributors, died Jan. 8 in Green Valley, Ariz. She was 81.
Bernardi and her late husband, Smoky Durniat, married in 1960. They formed and operated watermelon packer and shipper Sandia Distributors in Nogales, Ariz.
She retired from the produce business in 1989. A year later she opened Galleria Bernardi in Tubac, Ariz., with Al Bernardi, whom she had married in 1985. The business offered fine art and Christmas collectibles, according to a news release. The couple retired in 1995.
A childhood polio survivor, Bernardi regained use of her leg muscles and went on to serve in the Salvation Army in Las Vegas and Hawaii, then as administrative assistant to the mayor of Phoenix, before starting Sandia.
She is survived by her husband, Al Bernardi, and seven stepchildren, among other family.
Barbra Metheny, most recently chief sales officer at Chicago-based marketer Fresh Connect, died Jan. 11.
Metheny, who had brain cancer, was 60.
Her fresh produce career included roles at Victoria Farms, Full Sail Produce, Pacific Provisions, JC Produce and Frieda’s Inc.
“Barb worked with us at Frieda’s for quite a while, and it was like having a sister,” Karen Caplan, president of Frieda’s Inc., said in a news release. “She made everyone here feel very special — especially my mother, Frieda. She had a way of touching your heart.”
“I met her more than 30 years ago, and each day she could surprise me with a new, creative way to sell one of our products,” Andy Siegel, Fresh Connect president, said in the release.
Metheny is survived by her husband, Randy Metheny; three children, Lara Holland, Kurt Metheny and Grant Metheny; two grandchildren; two brothers; and a sister.
A memorial service was scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 19 at Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Kevin Murphy, 58, chief executive officer of New York-based Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., died Jan. 31 at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, New York.
Colleagues say Murphy helped popularize specialties and hard-to-find produce in the New York market.
Born in Wayne, N.J., Murphy began his food career during the 1980s at Balducci’s in Greenwich Village in Manhattan.
In 1991, Murphy took over Balducci’s small wholesale division, Baldor, distributing produce from Queens.
As business increased, he relocated Baldor to a seven-acre facility adjacent to the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx.
Company officials said Murphy increased Baldor’s sales from a van and a couple of delivery trucks to more than 800 workers who distribute produce through more than 200 trucks.
Alan Butzbach, director of marketing, began working with Murphy at Balducci when Murphy married Ria Balducci, daughter of company owner Andrew Balducci.
“He was very caring and hard-working,” Butzbach said. “He didn’t take anything from anyone and was a tough but fair negotiator. People respected him for what he knew and how he got it done.”
Butzbach said Murphy was almost kind to a fault toward his employees. Butzbach said he once saw Murphy pull $100 out of his pocket and give it to a worker who told him he was having difficult financial times.
Murphy is survived by his mother, Marilyn Murphy; son T.J. Murphy; daughter-in-law Christine Murphy; two brothers; and a sister.
The family received guests on Feb. 2 and remembered him in a private service at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in New York.
Bennie Lee Hensley Palmer
Bennie Lee Hensley Palmer of J.F. Palmer & Sons Produce Inc., Pharr, Texas, died Feb. 2.
Palmer, 87, died at Rio Grande Regional Hospital after a brief illness.
Born in Amity, Ark., Bennie Lee Hensley grew up near Texarkana, Ark., and moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 1954, working as a civilian employee with the U.S. Air Force during reactivation of Moore Air Base. That’s where she met and soon married J. Forrest Palmer, who died in 2003.
She worked in a number of roles and helped build the family business.
Kazuo Ikeda, president of Ikeda Bros. and a co-founder of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange, died Feb. 11 in Arroyo Grande, Calif. He was 94.
The Japanese-American grower and his brothers Seirin and Saburo returned to the coastal region to form the company after spending time in an internment camp during World War II.
Kazuo Ikeda, better known as Kaz, was president of Ikeda Bros. from 1955 until his death.
“My dad definitely slowed down in his 90s but was still very active touring the different ranches daily,” said Vard Ikeda, the grower’s son. He was named for Vard Loomis, whose family watched over the Ikeda property and equipment during the internment.
Ikeda Bros. produces napa cabbage, bok choy, lettuce, broccoli, celery, bell peppers and other items.
Services were Feb. 16.
Citrus grower and packer Albert Surabian has died Feb. 16 at his home in Dinuba, Calif. He was 100.
Surabian headed operations at Dinuba-based S. Surabian & Sons Packing Co. from the mid-1960s with his son Sam Surabian II, and later also with another son, Albert E. Surabian.
“He never did retire,” Albert E. Surabian said. “He was a farmer all his life. He worked well up into his 80s.”
Albert Surabian began his career in the family farming operation with his father, Sam Surabian, and his brother Edward Surabian. Later the brothers grew table grapes in Litchfield Park, Ariz. Albert retained the California operations after their father’s death.
About 11 years ago, S. Surabian & Sons Packing converted its growing, packing and shipping operations from stone fruit to citrus.
Surabian collaborated with the city of Dinuba on development of the Surabian Industrial Park, where Ruiz Foods became the anchor business. The Dinuba Chamber of Commerce named him Citizen of the Year in 2005.
Besides his two sons, survivors include three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The president of Exeter Produce & Storage Co. Ltd., Leonard Veri, 76, died March 1 while vacationing in Asia. He had led the Exeter, Ontario, company for 55 years at the time of his death.
Veri’s family business is in its fourth generation of growing field and greenhouse vegetables. Since its beginning in 1951, the company’s field operation has grown to more than 4,000 acres. In recent years the family expanded into the greenhouse industry, building a 25-acre glass facility.
Produce from the field and greenhouse operations is marketed under the Veri Fine brand in Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean, the company website states.
The firm relocated its bell pepper line to a new facility in December. The expansion allows for a production increase from 3,700 tons to 5,000 tons annually.
Survivors include his wife, Noel; two sons, Jim and Michael; and a daughter, Michele.
Heriberto Armando Borboa Lopez
The president of the Sinaloa, Mexico-based grower group CAADES has died.
Heriberto Armando Borboa Lopez died March 6 in Sinaloa, said Allison Moore, communications director of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. He was 50.
Borboa Lopez’s term at CAADES (the Confederation of Agricultural Associations of the State of Sinaloa) was set to end the week of March 11, Moore said.
A native of Guasave, Sinaloa, Borboa Lopez also served as president of the Growers Association of the Rio Sinaloa Poniente from 2009 to 2011.
Edward Basha Jr.
Edward Basha Jr., chairman of Phoenix-based Bashas’ Family of Stores, died March 26 at age 75.
The Bashas’ chain was founded in 1932 by Eddie Basha Sr. and his brother Ike Basha. It now includes more than 130 stores under the Bashas’ Bashas Dine, AJ’s Fine Foods and Food City banners.
Basha Jr. was active in Arizona politics and once ran for governor. He was also known for his philanthropy.
“We want to share with you just how much Eddie loved Bashas’, its members and its customers,” Edward Basha III said in a prepared statement. “From our earliest childhood, he always reinforced to us the importance of our members and giving back to our community. Some of his fondest times were being with Bashas’ members and customers, whether at the office, the distribution center or in the stores.
“To us, and to many of you, Eddie was always larger than life, and he gave his heart and soul to Bashas’ Family of Stores,” Basha III said in the statement. “Ironically, Eddie never saw himself that way. He considered himself to be a Bashas’ member, no different than any other, and he considered all Bashas’ members to be a part of his family.”
John Pizza, retired owner of Washington Vegetable Co. — the last of the original tenants at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market — died at 91.
Pizza, who was president of the San Francisco Produce Association for 30 years until 1997, died March 30 in San Francisco.
He began working at Washington Vegetable, a company his father founded, in 1945 after Army service in North Africa and Italy, where he saw combat. Pizza eventually became a partner in the wholesaler with his brothers Louis and Renato and later became sole owner.
The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market opened in 1963, the year after the Golden Gate Produce Terminal started up in South San Francisco. At the time, the produce industry was leaving an area that would become the city’s financial district.
“A lot of the customers went down to the south city because they built first and there were strong merchants,” said Jack Pizza, John Pizza’s son and the owner of the business since his father’s retirement. “A lot of people were saying (San Francisco Wholesale) would never survive. It turned out they did just fine, but that was a nerve-wracking time.”
John Pizza played a key role in getting the new market on a profitable path, his son said.
“He was a leader of the market, and financially it thrived under him,” Jack Pizza said.
Roberto Tarriba Rojo
“Don” Roberto Tarriba Rojo — founder of Nogales, Ariz.-based Agricola Tarriba, the owner/growing operation of Farmers Best International — died April 5 in Culiacan, Mexico. He was 85.
His funeral was April 6-7 in Culiacan.
He reportedly discovered the La Cruz de Elota growing region and was an early developer of Sinaloan agriculture, starting his career in the industry in 1965.
“Don Roberto is a great story of success and humility. He founded and built the Farmer’s Best name and reputation, his legacy will be with us for many generations,” said Leonardo Tarriba, nephew and general manager of Farmer’s Best International.
“His family, friends and people who knew him will always remember him with respect and affection. Rest in peace.”
After the death of his first wife, Alejandrina Haza, Rojo sold his company to his sons, who together created the Farmer’s Best brand.
In addition to his first wife, Rojo was preceded in death by his two sons: Roberto and Guillermo.
Rojo is survived by his wife, Cristina Almeida de Tarriba and children, Ernesto, Emma Beatriz, Ivan, Maria Alejandrina and Oscar Arturo, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Austin Migotti, a salesman and commodity manager for Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce, died in a car accident April 11. He was 27.
Austin began working in Coastline sales in January 2011, after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo the year before. He soon became commodity manager for parsley, Italian parsley, cilantro, spinach, leeks, bok choy and napa cabbage.
A memorial mass was scheduled for April 19 at St. Theodore’s Church in Gonzales, Calif. Survivors include his parents, Steve Migotti and Valerie Migotti.
Mike Monson, president of Selah, Wash.-based Monson Fruit Co., died April 13 in a helicopter crash near Bute Inlet, British Columbia.
The helicopter went down and overturned in the Homathko River near Stewart Island, according to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police news release.
Monson, 48, was one of six on board. The other five — four men and a woman — escaped without life-threatening injuries. They were taken to a hospital in Campbell River, northeast of the inlet. Four, including the pilot, were released within two days according to police. Monson’s body was recovered April 15 from the submerged wreckage.
Robert Paul Post
Fresh produce industry veteran Robert Paul “Bob” Post, who worked for Dole Fresh Fruit and its predecessor for 45 years, died of cancer April 25 in New Orleans. Post, 79, worked for Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole before retiring in 2005.
Post served in the U.S. Navy before beginning his produce career in 1960 at Standard Fruit and Steamship Co. (Dole Fresh Fruit, as of 1991) as a customer service representative. Post was transferred to Dole’s corporate office but returned to New Orleans years later as vice president of banana sales for the central division.
“Bob was an experienced and wise industry veteran with extensive knowledge of the banana business,” Mike Cavallero, president of tropical fruit for Dole, said in a news release. “Even after his retirement, I continued to speak with him on a regular basis as he was a mentor for me. He will be sorely missed.”
Post is survived by his wife, Joyce Williams Post; and three children, Nanette Cosban, Tracey Banowetz, and Kristin Post.
Don Matelson, owner and president of Direct Ethnic Marketers Inc., Fairfield, Va., died April 28 in a vehicle accident near Flagstaff, Ariz.
Matelson opened his wholesale business in Vernon, Calif., in 1971. He then opened an operation in Fairfield, Va., in 1981 and eventually moved there.
Matelson still kept a warehouse in the Los Angeles area for consolidating product and shipping, said Bill Morse, a salesman for Davalan Sales Inc., Los Angeles, a longtime business associate and friend.
Matelson, 63, and his wife, Marilee, were driving back to Virginia from California when the accident occurred.
Veteran Los Angeles produce grower, shipper and wholesaler Norman Gilfenbain died at his home April 30. He was 82.
Gilfenbain started in the produce business in Boston working for his uncles in the early 1950s, then moved back to Los Angeles where he’d grown up, according to the Los Angeles Times.
By the mid-1950s, he had become a partner in L.A. Nut House, eventually buying out the others.
During the ensuing years, Gilfenbain was affiliated with several produce ventures.
In 1963, he launched Cal Fruit, which later become involved in a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act case. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture barred Cal Fruit principals, including Gilfenbain and George Gill, from the industry for a year.
Gilfenbain remained in the produce business with Eclipse Berry Farms. The company packed under the Cal Fruit label.
Gilfenbain is survived by his wife of 62 years, Gloria; son Stuart and daughter Robin Gilfenbain Baker; and six grandchildren, according to the obituary.
Jan Fleming, former president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based wholesaler Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., died May 1 after a long fight with cancer. She was 67.
Fleming became president of Strube in 1994, succeeding her father, Bob Strube. In 2004, she stepped down from day-to-day leadership of the company but remained chief executive officer.
Fleming’s industry contributions included serving on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first fruit and vegetable advisory committee.
Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said Fleming will be remembered with equal parts love and respect.
“I can’t imagine anybody who has more respect in our industry than Jan,” Stenzel said. “She was a nurturing leader who supported younger people, and she had a personal style that was warm and welcoming.”
In 2001, Fleming and her husband, Tim Fleming, Strube Celery & Vegetable’s executive vice president, received The Packer’s Produce Man and Woman of the Year Award.
Lisa Strube, the company’s director of finance and administration, said she was fortunate to have a mentor like Fleming when she joined the company in 1987.
“What better position to be in than to follow one of the first women in produce,” she said. “She strongly supported everything I did, and I can only hope to emulate her.”
Fleming’s first ambition, Strube said, was to be a teacher. She tried it for six months before she realized her heart was in the produce industry. She joined Strube Celery & Vegetable, which was founded in 1913 by her grandfather in the late 1960s.
Fleming proved herself to her demanding father, Strube said, by creating a successful fruit program.
Fleming’s leadership style was the opposite of her father’s, but it was just as effective, Strube said.
“She had an incredible ability to lead people without them even knowing that’s what she was doing. I don’t think people understood the strength behind her.”
Becky Wilson, assistant vice president of the Tom Lange Co., Springfield, Ill., met Fleming a decade ago at United Fresh’s Washington Public Policy Conference.
“She took me under her wing and never let go,” Wilson said. “She always had wonderful insight on how to be respected as a woman in the produce industry. Jan Fleming is someone you strive to be.”
Dee Slayman, president of Bakersfield, Calif.-based pomegranate specialist Slayman Marketing, died May 1. He was 60.
Slayman followed in the fruit industry footsteps of his father, uncle and grandfather, returning to Kern County in 1979 after a brief career in real estate.
Slayman’s grandfather, Joseph, founded Slayman Fruit Co. in 1923. Dee Slayman’s father, Mitchell, and his uncle, Victor, turned Slayman Fruit into the largest shipper of pomegranates in the country.
At Slayman Marketing, Dee Slayman grew and marketed exclusively pomegranates.
Slayman was an invaluable resource for Firebaugh, Calif.-based Ruby Fresh Pomegranates, a relative latecomer to the deal, said Ruby Fresh salesman David Anthony, who would drive down to Slayman’s farm near Bakersfield for growing tips.
“He was helpful and encouraging — he didn’t think of us as a competitor,” Anthony said. “The past two years when we were short at the beginning of the season, he sold to us at a fair price. He was a really good guy, and he was devoted to promoting the whole industry.”
Slayman pioneered the early pomegranate deal, shipping in August and September before the October peak.
“He was the tip of the spear,” Anthony said. “They were out there before anyone else, creating early momentum.”
Slayman built on his forebears’ innovations in the pomegranate industry and “took it to another level,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Crown Jewels Produce LLC, Fresno, Calif.
“He’ll be sorely missed,” Torosian said. “Guys like that are too few and far between. The Slaymans are nothing but class people.”
Slayman is survived by his wife, DeAnna Jane Slayman; his stepson, Jonathan Cole; his mother, Joyce Slayman; and a sister, Lisa Slayman-McWalters.
Gilbert Papazian, longtime produce broker and former president of Burlingame, Calif.-based Lucky Strike Farms, died May 3. He was 83.
Lucky Strike, whose farming investments include two ranches in Salinas, has been a member of Western Growers Association since 1953.
“He was an iconic figure in the produce business,” said his son, Gib Papazian, the company’s current president. “He had literally thousands of friends. In this corner of the country, if he didn’t know somebody, they’d heard of him. He was larger than life.”
Gilbert Papazian lived in Hillsborough, Calif. Survivors include his wife, Margaret Papazian.
His father, Walter Papazian, started the family business in the mid-1930s.
“He was one of the last remnants of a time when the produce business was the Wild West,” Gib Papazian said of his father. “As the years rolled on, he lamented that the business had sort of lost its soul. It had become a whole lot like the grocery business and less about family growers selling to family buyers and chain stores.”
Keith Watterworth, 66, died May 8 at his home in Leamington, Ontario. He worked for greenhouse grower Mucci Farms, Kingsville, Ontario, as inbound logistics manager for the last six years.
Colleagues at Mucci remember Watterworth as a dedicated father and grandfather and a respected professional, said Emily Murracas, marketing coordinator.
Before joining Mucci, Watterworth worked in the produce industry, mostly in transportation and logistics, for more than 20 years, Murracas said. During his career, he worked for M Pearce Trucking Ltd., Leamington; Sun-Brite Foods Inc,, Ruthven, Ontario; and Clifford Produce Sales Inc., Leamington.
Gil Henry, whose business innovations included ripening rooms for the avocado industry, died May 18. The longtime partner in Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp. was 88.
“Gil built the first forced-air ripening room for avocados here at Henry Avocado in 1983,” said Phil Henry, his cousin and company president.
Gil Henry collaborated with Vic Tokar on that first room. Today the company has 54.
He was named Charles Henry — for his father — but was always known by his nickname Gil. His parents started their Escondido ranch in 1925. After an Army stint in World War II, Gil Henry joined their efforts to expand the business by starting deliveries to Los Angeles.
Gil Henry later became partners with his brother Warren Henry and cousin George Schoeffel.
“Gil got involved in planting the hass variety in the 1950s,” Phil Henry said. “The fuerte was the dominant variety then, but Gil and Warren believed the hass was a better producer, so they started planting groves in hass and actually converting fuerte groves into hass by grafting.”
Gil Henry was among the growers who in the late 1950s and early 1960s pushed to create the California Avocado Advisory Board, a precursor to the California Avocado Commission. Ralph Pinkerton was hired to head the board and its marketing efforts.
Ripening rooms were the next breakthrough.
Tim Verpoorten, a salesman for Plover, Wis.-based potato and onion broker Katz Produce Sales LLC, died May 18. He was 58.
Before joining Katz in 1986, Verpoorten worked in Stevens Point, Wis., as a truck broker for Mach Farms.
Verpoorten is survived by his wife, Alice; son, Noel; daughter, Nikki Olson; three sisters, Pam Luebbe, Vicki Rasmussen and Amy Schmidt; and three grandchildren.
Memorials may be made to Trinity Lutheran’s Steven Ministry.
Lester Wishnatzki, a former co-owner of Wish Farms in Plant City, Fla., died May 19. He was 96.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Wishnatzki moved to Florida in 1929 and began working for the family business in 1955.
At Wish Farms — then called Wishnatzki Farms — he and his brother Joe made the company one of the first in the industry to use mechanical refrigeration in packinghouses and trucks, according to a news release.
The two were instrumental in creating a market for strawberries in the Northeast and helped put Plant City on the map as the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World,” according to the release.
Lester Wishnatzki and his late wife, Selma, were known for their charitable efforts.
“He was a very generous man, known in the Lakeland and Plant City communities for his philanthropy,” said niece Elizabeth Peterson, Wish Farms’ social media and public relations manager.
Barney Greene, a pioneering Florida citrus grower and founder of one of Florida’s leading grapefruit growing and shipping operations, died May 31. He was 90.
Although retired, he remained actively involved in Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greene River Packing Inc. and Greene River Marketing Inc., established in 1993.
Greene River Packing, which packed 3.1 million cartons in 2012, became the largest single Florida grapefruit packing operation and the state’s third-largest overall citrus packer, according to the Florida Citrus Administrative Committee.
“We call him a gentle giant in our industry,” said Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League in Vero Beach.
“He was always there for the industry and was a champion of the research and the security of our industry. He kept his nose right where it counted in research. He was the kind of man that would work behind the scenes tirelessly.”
After serving as a B-29 pilot during World War II, Greene finished his bachelor of science degree in agriculture from the University of Florida, Gainesville.
A fifth-generation Floridian, he entered the industry as an assistant production manager for American Fruit Growers in Vero Beach and became vice president of Edsall Fruit Growers.
In 1952, Greene bought a 20-acre grapefruit grove and later started his first citrus nursery before expanding his operations, which eventually encompassed 3,000 acres.
He is credited with starting the production of high-quality fresh fruit for export to Japan.
Survivors include his wife, Hariot; daughter, Janie Greene (the company’s packinghouse manager); sons Griffin Greene (vice president), Ellis and Kelly; 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A former Dole Fresh Vegetables president is being remembered in the fresh produce industry for his ability to find and develop talent.
Bill Heintz died May 27 in Indian Wells, Calif. He was 84.
Heintz was president of Dole Fresh Vegetables from 1984 to 1992. After serving briefly as senior vice president of industry affairs at Dole Food, the 37-year company veteran left in 1993 to do consulting work.
He had a reputation as a mentor to rising talent.
“Bill is probably most well-known as the western division vice president of what was then Castle & Cooke Foods, which later became Dole Foods,” said Woody Johnson, consultant to and retired general manager of Green Giant Fresh.
In 1994 Heintz was named managing director of senior produce practice at Mixtec Group.
In 1996, what was then the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association presented an award to Heintz recognizing his service to the industry. He served on the boards of United Fresh and Western Growers Association, said Steve DeGuire, sales manager for Holt, Calif.-based Victoria Island Farms.
Heintz left Mixtec Group in 1999 to start a consulting and executive recruiting firm with Ed Odron, former produce executive at Lucky Stores, San Leandro, Calif. The firm was called Heintz & Odron 2000.
After leaving Dole, he also served on the board of Oviedo, Fla.-based A. Duda & Sons Inc.
Heintz is survived by his wife, Margaret, and three daughters.
Ray Clark, 89, executive director and a founding member of the Leafy Greens Council, died on June 6, said Jeff Greene, the council’s president.
He worked up until the end of his life, attending the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association’s annual convention in San Diego in May, Greene said.
Clark had recently undergone chemotherapy and was in a wheelchair at United Fresh, but his attendance at the show showed his commitment and love for the industry, Greene said.
“He had a passion for produce and put his heart and soul into it,” Greene said. “It’s a tremendous loss, and we just hope to continue his legacy.”
Clark is survived by his wife, Elly; three children; and several grandchildren, Greene said.
A service for Clark is scheduled for July 24 in St. Paul, Minn., Greene said.
Paul Schillaci, category manager of local produce for The Fresh Market, died June 10. He was 54.
Schillaci, who previously worked at Wegmans Food Markets, died after a brief illness, according to colleagues.
Schillaci worked for Wegmans for 25 years in New York as a buyer and ripening program coordinator. He joined The Fresh Market in 2009.
“During his time with TFM, Paul demonstrated a passion and genuine caring for the farmers that he recruited as growers for TFM,” The Fresh Market’s Art Beaudet said in an e-mail. “Having been a farmer himself, our growers and employees loved that Paul was such a knowledgeable authority, friend, and mentor to all.”
Schillaci received his bachelor’s degree at Cornell University, and he later received his master’s degree from North Carolina State University.
He retired to Wilmington, N.C., until he saw a job opening at The Fresh Market for the position of category manager of local produce.
Schillaci is survived by his wife, Sue Cannioto Schillaci: sons Steven, Mark and Daniel Schillaci; father Ross Schillaci; brother Peter Schillaci; and sister Teri-An Consaul.
Richard Berberian of Bee Sweet Citrus, Fowler, Calif., died June 12. He was 75.
“He was a great individual to work with; I can’t say enough about him,” said Jim Marderosian, business partner and president of Bee Sweet, in a Fresno Bee obituary. “He was the type of guy that gave a lot of thought about people he worked with — from those in the packinghouse to those in the field.”
Berberian was born and raised in Fresno, Calif.
After attending Fresno State, where he studied viticulture, Berberian joined the Coast Guard, according to the release.
After leaving the reserves, Berberian joined family-owned Berberian Brothers Distributorship and later joined the family’s farming operations, where they grew navel oranges, mandarins, lemons and grapefruit, according to the release.
Survivors include his wife, Barbara; a daughter, Erin Gleason; a son, Joseph; a brother, Michael; and a sister, Barbara Vartan.
Mike Smith, executive vice president of the Tom Lange Co., died June 23 of lung cancer.
After a 13-year career in banking, Smith joined Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange in 1980 as a financial officer, according to a company news release.
Before serving as executive vice president, Smith worked as Lange’s secretary and treasurer.
“Over the course of 32 years with the company, his leadership and vision helped shape the company we all share today,” Phil “Rock” Gumpert, Lange’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in the release.
“As important as leadership and vision is, it was Mike’s friendship and compassion that we will all miss the most. Mike lived and worked with a great sense of caring for all those around him.”
Lange’s assistant vice president, Becky Wilson, praised Smith for his influence on younger employees.
John Armenta, 87, one of the founders of the National Association of Produce Market Managers, died June 23 in Los Angeles, according to a news release from the Columbia, S.C.-based association.
After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, Armenta worked in the Los Angeles Union Terminal division of the Southern Pacific Railway Co.
Armenta managed many Los Angeles-area food warehouses, including the 7th Street Market, the largest market in the city before the construction of the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. In 1980, Armenta was made a vice president of Southern Pacific.
Armenta was active in several cultural and civic causes in L.A., including the founding of the city’s food bank.
Funeral services were July 2 in Pico Rivera, Calif.
Tom Ford, a potato grower and past president of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, died June 25. He was 81.
Ford, who grew up on a potato farm in Alamosa, Colo., grew potatoes in Colorado’s San Luis Valley for more than 50 years.
In addition to serving as president of the potato committee, he served as chairman of
the National Potato Education and Research Foundation.
Ford was inducted into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2008.
Ford is survived by his wife, Donna; a daughter, Debbie Ford; and two sisters, Josie Brewer and Alice Peel.
Services were June 29 at the Alamosa Third Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Primo Repetto, manager of the Golden Gate Produce Terminal in South San Francisco, died July 7 at 92.
“(Repetto) was a man who was respected by everyone,” said Pete Carcione, president of Carcione’s Fresh Produce Co. Inc. and president of the Golden Gate Produce Terminal.
He was a native of San Francisco who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He became manager of the Golden Gate Produce Terminal when it was founded in 1962 and continued in that position until his death.
He also was a commercial and residential real estate broker for more than 50 years.
“He was an amazing guy,” Carcione said. “He never said anything bad about anyone.”
Even at 92, he continued to come into the office for a few hours every day.
As a real estate broker, he handled the sale of the land on which the Golden Gate Produce Terminal was built.
“We wouldn’t have a market if it wasn’t for Primo,” Carcione said.
Tenants knew they could drop by and talk with him about market-related problems any time, he said. And through relationships he developed with local politicians and city officials, he had a knack for getting things done.
Retired California vegetable grower Maurice Kophamer died July 14 at his Lookout Mountain, Ga., home. He was 91.
In the late 1960s, Kophamer moved his operation from the San Fernando Valley to Wheeler Ridge, Calif., where he packed sweet corn for himself and for Kern County Land Co. Kern County became the focus of his operations.
Kophamer and a friend, Javier Tostada, were among the first carrot growers in the Cuyama Valley, according to The Bakersfield Californian obituary.
Kophamer built a carrot shed in Arvin and later took in partners. That operation came to be known as Kern Ridge Growers.
He also pursued development of a carrot freezer plant. Kophamer provided his own feasibility study to Grimmway Farms, which ultimately built the plant, according the obituary.
The grower’s onion operation, shipped under the Kops Tops label, was centered in Bakersfield. Kophamer also packed onions in El Centro and bought an onion shed in Idaho to secure year-round sourcing.
Kophamer later grew onions in the Phoenix area and West Texas, and imported Chilean crop.
His farming career began on leased land in and around what is now Santa Anita Park, a racetrack.
Salvatore Maceri Jr.
Salvatore “Sam” Maceri Jr. died July 15 at his home at age 57. He owned Tom Maceri & Son Produce in St. Clair Shores, Mich.
Known in the industry as Sam Jr., his company was founded in 1936 by his father, Salvatore “Sam” Maceri. The founder named the family business in honor of his father, Tom Maceri.
Sam Jr. started early in the produce business, using his wagon to sell strawberries door to door, 4 quarts for $1, when he was 12 years old, according to obituary information from the Michigan Grocers Association.
After operating the family business out of a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Detroit’s Eastern Market for 20 years, Sam Jr. oversaw the construction of a 75,000-square-foot facility in St. Clair Shores and a second facility in Grand Rapids.
Sam Jr. is survived by his wife Mary Anne Maceri; sons Salvatore “Sammy” Maceri III, Thomas Maceri and Steven Maceri; two brothers; two sisters; and several grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Don Johnston, a longtime leader in the California potato industry, died July 16. He was 80.
A partner in Edison-based Johnston Farms, he also was active in Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, according to a news release from the association.
Johnston served on the Western Growers and Western Growers Assurance Trust boards for many years, and in 1977 he was the organization’s chairman.
“(Johnston) was integral to our growth in the ’70s and for many of the programs, such as our government affairs focus, and all the various products and services today that assist farmers to remain competitive and profitable,” Matt McInerney, Western Growers’ executive vice president, said in the release.
“He was beloved by WG staff for all that he did for Western Growers and was a man of great character and integrity,” McInerney said.
Johnston was born in Portland, Ore., where his father worked in perishable sales for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
When he was 14, the family moved to Bakersfield, Calif., and Johnston Farms was founded. Johnston joined the family business in 1955.
Rodney Olson, 69, died in July. He had owned Becker, Minn.-based Ben Holmes Potato for 12 years.
Olson was a certified seed potato grower for more than 30 years in North Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. When Nebraska had a huge potato crop in 1998, it put him out of the growing business.
“Everyone had a bumper crop,” his son Kevin Olson said. “We couldn’t give them away.”
The elder Olson soon turned to selling other growers’ potatoes and built a thriving business with his son.
“He tripled the business in size,” Kevin Olson said. “We did about 1,000 loads that first year. Now we do about 3,000.”
Rodney Olson owned 55% of the business and handled the majority of sales.
Table grape entrepreneur and adviser David Sabovich died Aug. 9 after a bicycle accident in Bakersfield, Calif. He was 57.
Sabovich, his late brother Robert Sabovich and late father Bob Sabovich helped develop and promote the table grape industry in Sonora, Mexico, according to The Bakersfield Californian.
David Sabovich worked for such companies as Topco, Mendelson Zeller Co., and Salinas, Calif.-based Fresh Network LLC, where he was regional sales manager.
As an entrepreneur, at different stages of his career, he owned Fresno, Calif.-based Fresh Look, which specialized in grapes; and was a partner and general manager for San Diego-based Princeps International LLC.
Sabovich worked for Fresno-based Rialto Distributing Inc. before it became part of Princeps. At Princeps International, he focused on imports of Mexican grapes.
Survivors include his mother, Barbara Sabovich, and three sisters, Christy Boylan, Madeline Hahn and Karen Landers.
Roger Jones, former president of Rupert, Idaho-based Rolland Jones Potatoes and past chairman of the former United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, died at 75.
Jones focused his efforts on Carmela Winery in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, after selling his potato businesses in 2001. He died Aug. 19.
Tom Stenzel, president of what is now the United Fresh Produce Association, joined the trade group in 1993 when Jones was its board chairman.
“He was my first boss here,” Stenzel said. “I’m not sure I had ever met a potato grower-shipper, and never anyone who was as big a promoter of Idaho.”
Jones served on the Idaho Potato Commission from 1980-88, including a year as chairman. He also owned and operated transportation, recreation and publishing companies.
Survivors include two brothers, Marlin Jones and Ron Jones; two sons, Douglas Jones and Roger Jones; and two daughters, Jana Jones and Audrianna Gurr.
Memorial services were Sept. 28 for an influential Canadian potato breeder.
Henry “Eric” Davies, 100, died Aug. 25.
Davies was a breeder at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick, from after his World War II military service until he retired in 1978.
As part of the government’s National Potato Project, Davies helped introduce many varieties and was considered an expert on quality traits and helped develop a leading french fry variety, according to his obituary.
Born in Herefordshire, England, Davies was employed in horticulture work after school and in 1936 moved to Ottawa, Ontario.
He was an author of 17 potato research papers.
Daniel “Bud” Roche, who with his brother Patrick founded Roche Bros. and Sudbury Farms supermarkets, died Sept. 4 at 85.
He also founded the Hans Kissle Salad Co., Haverhill, Mass., known for its line of homemade-tasting salads, according to an obituary on the West Roxbury Patch website.
The Roche brothers opened their first store, which included meat and produce, in 1952 in Rosindale, Mass.
Five years later, they added a grocery department, and the company took off.
Well ahead of their time, the brothers embraced the department concept and added a bakery, florist and restaurant to a store they opened in 1970. They also were credited as one of the first retailers to use large displays of bulk produce.
In 1980, they opened their first Sudbury Farms store, which catered to higher-end customers. The store featured a full-service buffet bar, butcher, bakery, flower stand, deli, and wine and beer aisle.
Roche was recognized for his 40 years of innovative retailing in 1992, when he was inducted into the Food Industry Hall of Fame.
As of September, the Wellesley, Mass.-based retailer included 18 Roche Bros. and three Sudbury Farms stores in Massachusetts.
It continues to be family-owned, with Patrick’s sons Ed and Rick Roche leading the company.
David Peterson, former president of the Texas Vegetable Association and the founder of Alamo, Texas-based Tex Starr Distributing, died Sept. 7.
Peterson, who was also a founding partner of Red Starr, began working at his family’s business, Rio Grande City, Texas-based Starr Produce Co., in 1975, according to a company news release.
At Starr Produce, Peterson worked with his father, A.V., and his brothers Robert and James.
Beginning as an assistant farm manager, Peterson eventually became president of the company. He expanded the company into Mexico, sourcing honeydews and seedless watermelons.
In 2005, Peterson, his son Lance and two others formed Red Starr to handle their Mexican deals.
Under Peterson’s leadership, Red Starr developed the Royal Star papaya, known for its small size and high brix levels.
Ray Prewett, executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association, said Peterson was highly respected in the industry and much-loved, inside and outside of the produce world.
“Starr Produce was one of the premier vegetable operations in the Rio Grande Valley for years,” Prewett said. “David was a big part of that. And he developed an outstanding program in Mexico.”
Fry’s Food Stores, the Phoenix-based division of The Kroger Co., is mourning the unexpected loss of its president, Jon Flora, who died of a pulmonary embolism Sept. 13 at age 58.
Flora, who joined Kroger in 1971 as a clerk at Dillon’s, spent his career in many leadership positions within the company, including vice president of merchandising, vice president of the Southwest Division, president of the Michigan and Great Lakes Divisions, senior vice president and officer presiding over seven of Kroger’s supermarket divisions.
He was named president of Fry’s in 2007.
Flora was instrumental in strengthening relationships, Rodney Mullen, Kroger president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.
“Jon’s deep industry knowledge and innovative skills engaged and inspired those around him. He was a great teacher and friend who also was eager to learn from others. Jon was a hands-on leader, and his favorite place to be was in the stores with his 18,000 Fry’s associates. We will all miss him deeply.”
Flora was recognized by the Phoenix Business Journal as the “2013 Valley’s Most Admired Leaders” and the “2012 Executive Volunteer of the Year.”
G. Wayne Gauldin
G. Wayne Gauldin, retired Pocahontas Foods USA executive, died Sept. 11 in Wisconsin after a bout with melanoma. He was 74.
Gauldin held management roles at the Richmond, Va.-based foodservice distributor from 1967 — when it was known as Taylor and Sledd — until his 1999 retirement. He served as regional sales manager, vice president for quality assurance and director of training and development.
Gauldin developed a sales training program and conducted more than 500 foodservice sales and sales management events nationwide, according to an obituary from Schneider Apfel Schneider & Schneider Funeral Home. His travels earned him the nickname “Mr. Pocahontas.”
Memorials were Sept. 16 in Janesville, Wis.; and Sept. 22 in Richmond, Va.
NoKota Packers Inc. co-founder Malcolm Tweten died Sept. 14 in Fargo, N.D. He was 88.
Tweten started the Buxton, N.D.-based potato business in 1979 with Maurice Gjelsness, his brother-in-law. Earlier, he grew potatoes and grains with his brothers Obed and Kenneth.
Tweten served in the North Dakota State Legislature from 1973-88 on the Senate and House appropriations committees. He was a Farm Bureau state director and a member of the Red River Valley Potato Growers Association.
He mvoved to Fargo in 1994 after 40 years in the Buxton area.
Survivors include his wife, June Tweten; five sons, Steve Tweten, Erik Tweten, Dan Tweten, Jon Tweten and Bill Tweten; and two daughters, Liz Sanborn and Margaret Asheim.
Phil Boskovich, a co-founder of Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms Inc., died Sept. 30 at his home in Westlake Village, Calif. He was 97.
Boskovich was born in Los Angeles in 1915 to Croatian immigrants. After graduating from North Hollywood High School in 1933, he joined his father, Stjepan, on the family’s small farm, according to a release from the company.
He later grew green onions and carrots in the San Fernando Valley, and when his brothers John and George returned from World War II, the three formed Boskovich Bros. Produce.
In 1963, the brothers moved their farming operation to the Santa Clarita Valley, where they grew green onions on 145 acres. In the 1970s, Phil’s sons Phil Jr. and Joe and his nephew George Jr. joined the company, which was renamed Boskovich Farms.
The company later expanded into Riverside and Ventura counties. Phil Boskovich retired as chairman in 1996.
He is survived by his wife, Lena; sons Phil Jr. and Joe; daughter Janine Colich; 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Steve Miller of Steve Miller Produce Co., a Thomasville, Ga.-based vegetable packer and shipper, died Nov. 2 at a Jacksonville, Fla., hospital.
The passing of Miller, 64, also means the closing of the company, said Bill Mashburn, Steve Miller Produce’s manager.
None of his family was involved in the produce industry, and they plan to offer the company for sale, Mashburn said.
In 1978, Miller started the company on the Georgia State Farmers Market, selling bell peppers and cucumbers after working in sales for the Thomasville-based Ed Jackson Produce Co.
He entered the produce industry in high school by working in sales for a Whigham, Ga., pecan company, his brother Bobby Miller said.
“He was an asset to this part of the country,” Mashburn said. “He will be really missed. He impacted many lives.”
“Personally, I would have liked to grow up just like Steve,” said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers, Fla. “He was an innovator who made a great contribution to the produce business and will be greatly missed.”
Miller is survived by a daughter, two brothers, a sister, and three grandchildren.
Timothy “Timmy” Brennan, former Triple T Transport employee, died Nov. 22 at age 53 after spending most of the year on disability leave.
Brennan spent 19 years at Columbus, Ohio-based Triple T in a variety of positions. Most recently, he worked in carrier relations and as a night crew supervisor, dispatching loads.
Before his career at Triple T, Brennan worked in customer service and sales with Sanfillipo Produce Co. and Abbott Foods Inc. Employees described Brennan as committed and hard-working around the office with an infectious sense of humor. He also was a mentor to fellow employees.
“Timmy was a great communicator and teacher. You knew where you stood with Timmy as honesty and understanding were very important to him,” said Chris Reynolds, transportation coordinator.
Long-time Produce Marketing Association leader Bob Carey died Nov. 29 in Delaware at age 82.
Carey, who led the Newark, Del.-based PMA from 1958-96, brought the association from near bankruptcy to a powerful national trade association with thousands of members and the signature trade show for the fresh produce industry.
PMA chief executive officer Bryan Silbermann said Carey’s contributions to PMA and the fresh produce industry were immense. Notably, Silbermann said Carey’s vision helped bring buyers and sellers together and fashioned PMA into a global organization.
“Bob’s real genius was getting the best out of everyone around him — members and staff — and that’s become a core part of PMA’s culture,” Silbermann said in a news release. Calling Carey a mentor and dear friend, Silbermann worked with Carey from the time Carey hired Silbermann until Carey retired in 1996.
“His insights and advice when he was my boss and after he retired have been invaluable,” Silbermann said in the release.
Starting in 2012, PMA has given the Robert L. Carey Leadership Award at Fresh Summit. The award honors those who have shown an uncommon commitment to and impact on the association and the produce and floral industries.
Silbermann gave a eulogy at Carey’s service on Dec. 3 in Bridgeville, Del.
Bill Keene, an epidemiologist in the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health division whose work on foodborne illnesses earned a reputation beyond the state’s borders, died Dec. 1 after a brief bout with pancreatitis. He was 56.
Keene had a sense of history that prompted him to create a small Outbreak Museum in his office, memorializing diseases with the product containers implicated. Sprouts, strawberries, raw milk and deer meat were among many foods he investigated over 23 years.
He developed new methods of solving foodborne outbreaks that included Oregon’s so-called “shotgun” questionnaire; new uses of the binomial statistic; and databases.
“In epidemiology we’ll often use probability theory and statistics to implicate a product,” he told The Packer in 2011 after a Midwest outbreak of salmonella in sprouts — or “sproutbreak,” a term he favored. “It’s been the exception rather than the rule to confirm it microbiologically in the implicated product. I’m concerned people interpret that as, ‘you never proved it.’ Is it just a coincidence that 80% of the (victims) ate your product?”
“Bill exemplified determination and stamina when he investigated outbreaks,” Lillian Shirley, Public Health division director, said in a news release. “He made Oregon a healthier place to live.”
Keene helped develop the guidelines for outbreak investigations published by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
Harry Jones, a former leader of Thomasville, Ga.-based distributor W.J. Powell Co. Inc., died Dec. 2. He was 93.
After service in the U.S. Army in World War II, Powell earned an MBA at the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, then took a job at W.J. Powell, which was owned by his father-in-law, William Powell.
Jones worked at the company for 50 years, eventually becoming chairman.
W.J. Powell was one of the six original members of the Pro*Act group of distributors, founded in 1991. In 1997, Performance Food Group Co. bought W.J. Powell, which had sales of $44 million in 1996.
After the sale, Jones stayed on as a consultant for Performance.
Seb Gertmenian, chairman emeritus of Ready Pac Produce Inc. and father of Ready Pac founder Dennis Gertmenian, died Dec. 8. He was 101.
Gertmenian owned Pasadena Produce, from which he retired when he was 82. The company served foodservice customers in the San Gabriel Valley for more than 50 years.
Ready Pac was founded in the back of Pasadena Produce’s warehouse. Gertmenian provided the initial financial backing to start the company, according to a news release.
He began his career in the industry with a produce stand in Monrovia, Calif.
Mary Myers, former owner of Kegel’s Produce Inc. in Lancaster, Pa., died Dec. 10.
She was 88.
A Lancaster native, Myers was office manager for Earl P. Kegel Inc., a small produce wholesaler founded in 1948.
She bought the company after the owner died, said Kenneth G. Myers, her grandson and chief operating officer of Kegel’s Produce.
The late Kenneth C. Myers, Mary Myers’ son, purchased the business from her and ran it with his wife, Suzanne Myers, who was president.
Mary Myers retired in 1992 but remained on the company’s board of directors.
“She was a hard worker who was at it daily,” Kenneth Myers said. “She liked to visit her customers and liked to patronize them as well. That was a blueprint which helped me learn to do the same thing.”
Victor “Vic” Tokar, 70, who many consider an avocado pioneer for his work in developing California’s ripened fruit industry, died Dec. 15.
Working in the technical consulting side of the business for more than 40 years, Tokar helped design or create the avocado ripening process for most of the major packinghouses, including Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc., and Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce, said Max Nisson of Max Nisson & Associates LLC, Henderson, Nev.
“He was a genius in the avocado business,” said Julio Manshadi, owner of Los Angeles-based Direct Produce Inc., and Moonland Produce Inc., companies where Tokar also consulted. “The produce industry lost a legend.”
The Anaheim, Calif., native grew up in the avocado and citrus business and after earning a Bachelor of Science in agricultural studies at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, Tokar worked with Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp., before launching his own consulting business, said Dodie Tokar, Tokar’s wife.
His biggest interest was in postharvest research, and he worked to ship ripened avocados to customers and was instrumental in developing and implementing ripening processes and handling facilities throughout North America, she said.
Tokar is also survived by a daughter, a stepdaughter and four brothers and five sisters.
Memorial services were Dec. 23 at the Visitation Church in Westchester, Calif.
Compiled by Sections Editor Dan Galbraith