(UPDATED COVERAGE, 12:38 p.m.) Terry Vorhees, executive director of the Southeast Produce Council, died July 30 after a short battle with lung cancer. He was 64.
As one of six people who founded the council 15 years ago, Vorhees was a tireless supporter of the region’s produce industry, said David Sherrod, assistant executive director.
“The vision of the council was his life’s work,” Sherrod said. “He was always a visionary and thought we could have a larger scope than just that of a regional council because of where we are located and the significance of the area in the industry.”
Initially the council included eight states — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. In 2004 Virginia and Kentucky joined the council.
Vorhees was the first executive director of the council, a part-time position that became his full-time job in 2005. Colleagues credit him for the group’s success.
In 2009 he was named one of The Packer 25.
“We owe a lot of our success to our members, the ones that have volunteered on committees and have served as officers,” he told The Packer. “You also have to have a love for what you’re doing and a love for the industry. I have always loved this industry and wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
He began his career in Washington D.C. area Safeway stores while attending community college, later becoming a produce manager for Safeway and Grand Union stores.
Vorhees also led training programs at Four Seasons Produce Inc., Ephrata, Pa., and was a retail merchandiser for the California Tree Fruit Agreement. He was on the National Watermelon Promotion Board and helped promote Idaho-Eastern Oregon onions. Vorhees also had his own produce training and consulting company.
John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce, Reidsville, Ga., has worked closely with Vorhees on the council for the past eight years.
“Terry was the backbone of the organization,” Shuman said. “He changed the industry and he changed the way we think.
“Fifteen years ago there were few regional shows and today the industry is moving in that direction, partly because of Terry’s work with Southern Exposure. But, I think he would want to be remembered for the intangible things, like the fellowship that came to the industry out of his work with the council.”
At the council’s first conference and trade show in 2004, there were 92 exhibitors and a few hundred attendees. This year almost 2,000 people attended Southern Exposure and there wasn’t enough room on the show floor for all those who wanted to exhibit.
In June the council launched the Charity Golf Classic, raising $50,000 for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. The tournament will be renamed in his honor.
Sherrod said the council board has not yet addressed future leadership of the group.
“When I came in the plan was for me to take over in May (2015),” Sherrod said. “But no one is thinking about that right now. We’re just trying to get through the day and help his family any way we can.”
Vorhees found out in April this year that he had lung cancer, Sherrod said. He continued working despite discomfort. Sherrod said Vorhees was admitted to a hospital the week of July 21. He moved to a hospice house July 28, where he died two days later with his family at his bedside.
Faye Westfall, longtime friend and sales director of DiMare Fresh in Tampa, Fla., was with Vorhees and his family when he died. She said during his last two days she came to realize that he felt his biggest accomplishment was his family.
His survivors include his wife Beverly; sons Shaun and Scott from his previous marriage to Susan Angle; step-sons Ryan and Sean Yoders; brothers Keith Vorhees and Allen Vorhees; sister Melissa Snyder; mother Lois; and three grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Southside Baptist Church, Ruskin, Fla. Sherrod said a celebration of life will immediately follow the service at the Resort & Club at Little Harbor, also in Ruskin.
The family has requested memorial contributions in lieu of flowers. Sherrod said the council is coordinating memorial contributions, which will be divided between the SEPC Scholarship fund and two of Vorhees’ favorite charities.
Contributions may be mailed to: SEPC/Terry Vorhees Memorial Fund, 583 Highland Crossing, Suite 200, East Ellijay, Ga., 30504.