In Memoriam: 2012 Produce Industry Deaths

12/28/2012 10:17:00 AM
Dan Galbraith

Here's a recap of some of the notable fresh produce industry leaders who died in 2012:

Ernest Williams

Ernest Williams, who founded Nashville-based Ernest Williams Produce Inc. more than 60 years ago, died Dec. 20 from complications of diabetes. He was 83.

In July, Williams merged his business with Louisville, Ky.-based Creation Gardens. The merger made Creation Gardens one of the largest foodservice distributors in Kentucky and middle Tennessee, said Mark Williams, one of his three sons.

Earlier, Ernest Williams Produce served retail and foodservice operators.

“He started it in his early 20s, just buying a little bit from local distributors and selling the product,” Mark Williams said. “As he made profits, he got trucks and started bringing product in from Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. He’d sell it to the local grocery stores and farmers market, and as he continued to grow, bought property and built a warehouse.

“He was just one of those old-timers who started from nothing and built a family business into a local foodservice distributor.”

Stephen Tavilla

Stephen Tavilla, a fixture in the Boston-area fresh produce industry for more than seven decades, died Jan. 1. He was 87.

As a youngster, Tavilla quit school to help in the family’s wholesale fresh produce business. Eventually joined by his six brothers, Tavilla helped mold P. Tavilla Co., Chelsea, Mass., into one of the region’s major wholesale produce distributors.

The company’s success enabled expansion to other regions.

Over the years, P. Tavilla Co. acquired and built produce sales companies in California, a potato farm in Maine, a Florida tomato farm and processing and packing facility, a trucking company and a retail produce business.

The company also owns wholesale produce centers in Miami and Houston.

Tavilla’s efforts on behalf of the food industry were not restricted by U.S. borders.

He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to task forces that advised South and Central American countries on how to improve their fresh produce industries.

Robert Norinsberg

Robert Norinsberg, an apple grower, shipper and wholesaler, died Dec. 25. He was 76.

Norinsberg entered the produce industry in 1958, working for his father, Jack Norinsberg, at New York-based The Norinsberg Corp. In 1992, the company transitioned into Bronx, N.Y.-based Natures Best Produce, a wholesaler on the Hunts Point Terminal Market.

During the 1970s, Robert Norinsberg grew apples on up to 4,000 of his own acres in Vermont and Maine, said his son, Mike Norinsberg, Natures Best’s president.

“He was a real builder and a real entrepreneur who touched many people, and many people knew and loved him,” Mike Norinsberg said. “In the 1970s, he basically ran the eastern apple business.”

Patricia Harrison

Patricia Harrison, who worked in Florida’s produce industry for more than three decades, died Dec. 17 after battling cancer. She was 72.

Harrison worked in sales since 1999 for Sugarland Produce Inc., a South Bay, Fla., produce broker, said Leon Kelsoe, the company’s president and owner.

Before joining Sugarland, Harrison was in sales with American Growers in Belle Glade, Fla.

Joseph Piazza Jr.

Joseph “Jay” Piazza Jr., 51, of Everett, Mass.-based Community-Suffolk Inc. died Jan. 21.

Piazza worked as warehouse manager alongside his brothers and cousin in the third-generation family wholesale operation near Boston.

Bob McDougall

Bob McDougall, one of four founding partners in Columbia Marketing International, died Feb. 6 in Mesa, Ariz. He was 87.

McDougall had a 60-year career in the fruit industry in Washington’s Wenatchee Valley. He formed McDougall Orchards Inc. in 1960. In 1977, he and his sons Stuart and Scott McDougall established Wenatchee, Wash.-based McDougall and Sons Inc.

Bob McDougall was president until his retirement in 1998.

Columbia Marketing International was created in 1989, also in Wenatchee.

McDougall remained an active partner with his sons in New Northview Orchard Partnership, north of Orondo, Wash.

A legislator as well as a grower-shipper, he served in the Washington State House of Representatives for eight years and in the state senate for four, where he was minority whip.

Bill Coon

CoonBill Coon, publisher of The Packer from 1972 to 1996, died Feb. 27. Coon, of Leawood, Kan., was 84.

He was praised by those who knew him as a tireless promoter of the industry and The Packer.

Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement that Coon helped establish The Packer as a vital partner in the produce industry.

“Bill was as committed to a strong and profitable industry as any produce company (chief executive officer),” Stenzel said. “He is one of those who made a real difference in our industry’s history.”

“He loved the industry, and the industry loved him as well,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. Stuart said Coon was a great mentor and friend.

He joined The Packer in 1952, serving in a variety of field positions in New York, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Chicago before moving to the Kansas City office in 1967. He directed development of special sections for The Packer during the 1960s and 1970s, a new concept for trade publishing.

Bob Moore

Bob Moore, founder of the International Banana Association, died Jan. 17 at a hospital in Sanford, Fla., according to the Times Picayune newspaper in New Orleans. He was 86.

Moore founded the IBA in 1983 and was president and chief operating officer until he retired in 1999. The trade group was based in Washington, D.C.

Moore earned law degrees from the University of Virginia and New York University. Before entering the produce industry, he worked as a special assistant to the Louisiana attorney general and maintained a private law practice.

In 1957 Moore joined the Standard Fruit and Steamship Co. He ultimately served as general counsel and secretary of the company.

Food producer Castle & Cooke Inc. bought Standard Fruit in 1968, keeping Moore on

as general counsel and senior executive president.

Luigi D’Alleva

Luigi “Lou” D’Alleva, co-owner of Garden Fresh Salad Co., Chelsea, Mass., died Feb. 19 after a lengthy fight against brain cancer. He was 50.

The family business is still overseen by his father, Izzy D’Alleva, who founded the company. Lou D’Alleva worked for the family business his entire life.

Frederick Giorgi

Frederick Giorgi, chairman of F&P Holding Co., Blandon, Pa. — with subsidiaries Giorgio Foods Inc., Giorgio Fresh Co. and Giorgi Mushroom Co., among others — died Feb. 18. He was 81.

After beginning with a career in public law practice and two years in the U.S. Navy, Giorgi devoted his life to the family business, Giorigio Foods Inc. and its related companies.

Howard Liggett

Howard Liggett, 83, founder of Howard Liggett Truck Brokers, died Feb. 5 in his home in Carmel Valley, Calif.

Liggett opened his first truck brokerage in Salinas, Calif. He founded Howard Liggett Truck Brokers in 1969 in Nogales, Ariz., where it still operates.

Mark Perez

Mark Perez, secretary-treasurer of Perez Packing Inc., Firebaugh, Calif., died March 24 after a long illness. He was 58.

In addition to his work at the family business, Perez was on the Western Growers Board of Directors, Irvine, Calif., for the past 12 years.

Perez was also chairman of the board for San Joaquin Tomato Growers, Crows Landing, Calif. In the past, he was on the boards of California Tomato Farmers, California Angus Association and Fresno Madera Farm Credit.

Perez earned a bachelor’s degree at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo. After graduation he returned to the family business, joining father Thomas Perez in the melon packing and sales divisions of Perez Packing.

William Moore

William Moore, a longtime produce buyer for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc., died in his home April 16. He was 52.

Moore worked for nearly 30 years for Publix, finishing as produce buyer.

Chuck Hodges

Chuck Hodges, a founder and managing member of Prime Time International, died April 19 at his Palm Springs, Calif., home after a 16-month bout with cancer. He was 70.

“Chuck was a guy who came into a room with a commanding presence,” said Mike Aiton, marketing director of Prime Time International.

With Mark Nickerson, Carl Sam Maggio and Javier “Skippy” Tostada, Hodges 25 years ago launched the Coachella, Calif.-based company now known as Prime Time International.

In 1987, the quartet opened Sun & Sands Enterprises with seven employees and 400 acres of fruits and vegetables. Hodges founded CH Sales in 1992 as Sun & Sands’ sales and marketing arm. In 1998, Sun & Sands and CH Sales merged to form Prime Time.

Previously, Hodges was vice president of sales for Sun World International for nearly 12 years.

Herbert Abrash

Herbert Abrash, 79, of Andrews Bros. Inc., Detroit, died May 13 after complications related to kidney disease.

Jeff Abrash, his son, now operates the family produce business started by Herbert’s grandfather in 1899, according to the obituary from A.J. Desmond & Sons funeral home.

Herbert Abrash was involved in the local restaurant industry as well, investing in several local venues.

John German

Strawberry industry veteran John German died May 5 at age 75 in Santa Cruz County, Calif.

Based in Watsonville, Calif., German was director of berry operations for Dole Fresh Vegetables from 1988 until his retirement in 2002.

Earlier he was vice president of pre-cool and quality assurance at Driscoll’s, where he worked from 1970-87.

In the 1950s, German suffered a temporary full paralysis in a vehicle rollover accident while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Morocco, his son Bill German said.

He recovered sufficiently to walk with a cane for much of the rest of his life.

Morton Litowich

Morton “Bud” Litowich, 90, former head of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Ben Litowich and Son Inc., died April 21.

He lived in Delray Beach, Fla.

His son, Ben Litowich, has served as company president since Bud’s retirement in the early 1990s, though Bud Litowich continued to be involved in the company and the produce industry as an adviser to the company.

Lou Kertesz Sr.

Hailed as an innovator who helped change the way stores received produce, industry icon Lou Kertesz Sr. died June 2. He was 76.

Kertesz Sr. was former vice president of produce operations for procurement and merchandising for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc., Montvale, N.J. He is credited with introducing truckload shipments to retail stores.

Kertesz in 1980 received The Packer’s Produce Marketing Man of the Year Award.

Lou Kertesz Jr., vice president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Fresh Quest Produce Inc., said his father created a movement that revolutionized produce shipments.

“He created a lot of careers and inspired a lot of people,” Kertesz Jr. said. “He inspired people to put the passion in the business. If you loved him, you had to ride the roller coaster to destinations you’d never go to.”

While filling in for a vacationing produce manager at Kohls Food Stores, Kertesz was given the opportunity to manage his own store. He later joined A&P at its Indianapolis regional office and was promoted to head of perishables.

Leaving A&P during the 1980s, Kertesz for a decade ran a consulting business and became a co-owner of Pueblo International, which owned a large Puerto Rican and Caribbean retail chain.

Sharon Brannan

Sharon “Sheree” Brannan, 62, Pasadena, Md., died June 12 after a battle with cancer.

Brannan was a past market manager for the Jessup-based Maryland Wholesale Produce Market. She also was the first woman president of the National Association of Produce Market Managers, from 2004-05.

“I had the honor of serving on the board of NAPMM during the year that Sheree was president, the first woman to hold this position,” said Jim Farr, editor for the association.

“Sheree was responsible for helping the organization grow its membership, update its bylaws, website and professionalize the management structure, including convincing the board of the need to hire an administrative secretary.”

She was recognized in 2008 by the association for managing the Maryland Food Center and was honored as the Market Manager of the Year.

Chris Martin

MartinChris Martin, president of Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co., died July 23.

Martin, Gourmet Trading’s president since 1988, died of an apparent heart attack while on vacation with his family in Santa Barbara, Calif., according to a Gourmet Trading official. He was 48.

In a statement, Paul Martin, Chris Martin’s brother and a partner in Gourmet Trading, praised his brother’s vision in turning their company into a worldwide supplier of asparagus, blueberries and other fruits and vegetables.

“We mourn the loss of Chris, whose honesty, fairness and integrity have established the lasting values by which our company will continue to operate successfully as we move on,” Paul Martin said.

A fellow asparagus importer, Walter Yager, chief executive officer of Miami-based Alpine Fresh, first got to know Martin 25 years ago.

Yager remembered Martin, a New Zealand native, as an excellent businessman and leader.

Martin, who was the West Coast co-chairman of the Miami-based Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, is widely regarded as one of the first importers to recognize Peru’s potential as an asparagus growing region.

John Stickles

John Stickles, a Florida strawberry grower, died July 26. He was 57.

Born in Oceanside, Calif., Stickles was general manager and partner with Dover-based Florida Pacific Farms, which markets fruit through Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.

A board member of the Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Stickles also served on the boards of the Dover-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association and the Gainesville-based Florida Farm Bureau.

Lawrence Krempel

Longtime Kroger Co. produce merchandiser Lawrence “Larry” Krempel, 61, of Vero Beach, Fla., died Aug. 3 at a Cincinnati hospital.

Krempel worked 37 years in produce merchandising and procurement for Cincinnati-based Kroger’s Vero Beach Kroger/Wesco Foods Co. buying office.

After retiring from Kroger in 2007, Krempel worked in sales for GreenLine Foods Inc., Perrysburg, Ohio, before joining Worldwide Produce Direct LLC, Tampa, Fla., in 2010.

Krempel was actively involved with the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.

Thomas Rahll Sr.

Thomas Rahll Sr., longtime president of Edward G. Rahll & Sons Inc., is remembered by friends, industry colleagues and family as a valued leader.

Rahll, 71, was the second-generation leadership of the business started by his father, Edward G. Rahll Sr., in 1951.

Thomas Rahll Sr. remained company president until recently and was instrumental in expanding business.

The company has been an active tenant of the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market in Jessup, and Rahll played an important role in the market’s construction.

Butch DeBlouw

Butch DeBlouw, president of Michigan vegetable shipper Mike Pirrone Produce Inc., died Aug. 15. He was 49.

DeBlouw was killed in an electrical accident in the company’s packinghouse, said Joe Pirrone, the company’s former owner.

DeBlouw, a co-owner of Mussey-based Pirrone since 1988, and his son Henry bought Joe Pirrone’s shares in the company in May. Pirrone remains at the company as a salesman.

Henry DeBlouw, who became secretary and treasurer after the sale, succeeded his father as president, Pirrone said.

Butch DeBlouw, who grew up on a farm near Mount Clemens, Mich., joined Pirrone in 1985.

Francisco Delamora

Francisco Delamora, owner of fresh produce distributor JDM Transport, was among five people killed when a single-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the South Lake Tahoe, Calif., airport, according to a company source.

Joe Andrade, a dispatcher at Fresno, Calif.-based JDM Transport, confirmed the deaths of Delamora, his wife Lorena and 7-year-old daughter Esmeralda. Harold and Kin Cardwell also died in the Aug. 25 crash, he said.

Jimmy Hook

Jimmy Hook, former president of V.B. Hook & Co. Inc., Columbia, S.C., died Sept. 14. He was 85.

Hook was the second generation to work for the company his father, Bill Hook, founded in 1928.

The younger Hook worked in the family wholesaling business as a child and started full time in 1947 after graduating from college and serving in Japan during the occupation in World War II.

He was known for his integrity, said son Marty Hook, president.

“We have had the highest credit rating you can possess continuously for well over 50 years,” Hook said. “It was his honesty, integrity and his business values. He was well-respected in the industry and had a great reputation. His legacy will be hard to follow.”

Douglas Bernard

Douglas Bernard, a chili pepper importer, died Oct. 24 in Miami. He was 69.

Since 1995, Bernard was president of Tropical Commodities, which imports and distributes chili peppers throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Bernard worked in the 1990s as sales manager of PFM International Inc., Miami. Also in the 1990s, he worked for an airline that served the Caribbean on a project to import fresh produce.

Joseph Anthony Melara

Joseph Anthony Melara, owner of King and Raphael Toronto Ltd., died Oct. 26. He was 79.

Melara had a long and successful career in wholesale produce at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. He was a founding director of the Ontario Produce Marketing Association in 1991 and served on its board of directors for many years. From the 1980s to the mid-1990s, he also was a director, president and chairman on the board of directors of The Toronto Wholesale Produce Association.

Robert Bol

Robert “Dutch” Bol, a former sales manager for The Oppenheimer Group, died Oct. 2. He was 49.

Bol died of a heart attack in his sleep, said Rick Eastes, vice president and general manager of Seald Sweet West International Inc., Dinuba, Calif.

Eastes hired Bol at Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer in 1986 after Bol served an internship at the company. Bol worked in Oppenheimer’s Los Angeles office, handling South American imports. In 1991 he moved to Visalia when the company opened an office there. He lived in Visalia until his death.

Eastes said Bol was a bigger-than-life figure — he stood 6’6” and weighed 250 pounds — who earned the respect of people he worked with along the supply chain.

After leaving his position at Oppenheimer as West Coast sales manager about 2006, Bol founded his own business, Dutch Produce.

Henry Beyer

Henry “Hank” Beyer, a Los Angeles produce industry veteran and a former partner in Sam Perricone Citrus Co., died in his Sherman Oakes, Calif., home Nov. 25, at the age of 84.

For more than 40 years, Beyer worked on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, first as a salesman and then as a partner with the late Sam Perricone, according to a news release.

The Beyer family still owns bays on the produce market.

Ruben Shives

ShivesRuben Shives, sales manager for Edinburg, Texas-based Edinburg Citrus Association, died Nov. 20 at age 55.

Shives joined the Edinburg Citrus sales staff in 1995. He also worked as an inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Rio Grande Valley and as a buyer and inspector for Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway. He became sales manager at Edinburg Citrus in the 2008-09 season.

Art Ginsburg

Art GinsburgAfter decades of celebrating good food and good produce, “Mr. Food” has died.

The 81-year old Art Ginsburg died Nov. 21 in Weston, Fla., of pancreatic cancer.

Known for his tagline “Oooh, it is so good!” exclamation at the end of each segment and his signature white chef’s cap and apron, Ginsburg was familiar to many Americans.

Mr. Food’s 90-second television vignettes first appeared in 1980 and were syndicated on 168 stations by 2007. The segments were still carried on 125 television stations this year.

Ginsburg Enterprises, founded by Ginsburg, also produces the “Mr. Food Test Kitchen” and the company indicated it would continue producing those segments without Ginsburg.

Ginsburg’s work ethic and the warm personality were admirable, said Bob Corey, chief executive officer and sales manager of Corey Bros. Inc., Charleston, W.Va.

“He had great longevity, and he was good at what he did. You don’t see that every day,” Corey said. “It is a true loss.”

Virgil Rasmussen

Virgil Rasmussen, longtime partner in Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., died at his California home Nov. 18. He was 94.

Sanger, Calif.-based Ballantine Produce closed in 2009 after 65 years in business.

Rasmussen took over management of Ballantine Produce in 1948. David Albertson purchased it in 1951 and formed a partnership with Rasmussen. Under Rasmussen’s leadership, the company grew to include two packinghouses, a network of growers and a worldwide market.

At the end of its run, Ballantine had a volume of about 9 million cartons of peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, apples, and Asian pears. Besides California fruit, it imported from Chile and Mexico.

Sarkis Sarabian

Sarkis Sarabian, former president of Sarabian Farms and a past board chairman for the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, died Nov. 30. He was 79.

Sanger, Calif.-based Sarabian Farms is a grower-shipper of grapes, melons, Asian vegetables and other items. Its label is Sark’s Sunshine Fresh.

Sarabian joined the league as a grower member in 1974 and was chairman in 1989 and 1990. He served on committees including standardization and packaging, environmental resources and marketing research.

In 2008, he became the first recipient of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League’s lifetime achievement award, according to a news release.

Donnie Blanton

Donnie Blanton, former director of sales for Selma, Calif.-based Sunnyside Packing Co., died Dec. 2. He was 46.

Blanton worked for Sunnyside Packing from 2007 until this year.

The Clovis, Calif., resident began his career in a Salinas, Calif.-based family business, Bernardasci & Blanton Produce Co., which later became Blanton Produce Co.

After graduating from college in 1990, Blanton worked for Baloian Farms in Fresno, Calif. He continued there as a senior sales representative until 2006, when he started Blanton Consulting & Sales in Clovis.

Dale Bone

Dale Bone, founder of Nashville, N.C.-based Nash Produce LLC, died Dec. 11. He was 69.

Bone founded Nash Produce, a sweet potato and cucumber specialist, in 1977. In 2005, Nash Produce was selected North Carolina Agribusiness of the Year.

Bone sold the company and retired as president in 2006.

He was an active industry leader, serving as president, vice president and treasurer of the National Council of Agricultural Employers.

He also had volunteer positions in the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission and other organizations.

Adel Kader

Longtime horticultural specialist Adel Kader died Dec. 10 while traveling home from a South African conference. He was 71.

A native of Cairo, Kader worked as a researcher and then chair of the pomology department at the University of California-Davis.

Kader wrote the “Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops.” He was organizer of the International Horticultural Congress.

Kader developed the UC-Davis Postharvest Technology Center from a group of postharvest extension specialists, according to a news release from the center. He worked with the Agriculture Development Strategy project to bring information to Egypt and other countries.

Ted Scribner

Ted Scribner, general manager for Dallas-based Harrington Produce, died Nov. 16 at age 64.



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