Sandy Cooprider (left), former Athletic Director of Wenatchee Valley College and a longtime friend of Dalton Thomas (center), and Darci Christoferson of the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival, surprised Thomas in announcing he is the 2019 Apple Citizen of the Year. ( Courtesy Apple Blossom Festival )

Dalton Thomas of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers is the 2019 Apple Citizen of the Year.

The recognition, awarded by the Apple Blossom Festival, honors the 52-year career Thomas spent in the Washington apple industry. He retired as owner-president of Starr Ranch Growers in 2017.

His father, Paul “Tommy” Thomas and family members founded Oneonta Trading Corp. in 1934, becoming the first exporter of Washington apples, according to a news release. Dalton Thomas and his brother became involved in the company in 1965, and acquired it in 1971, exporting to Taiwan the following year. In 2002, Dalton Thomas became the sole owner of the company, now called Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, according to the release.

In September, he received the first Impact Award at the Asiafruit Congress, recognizing contributions to developing an export market for Washington and other U.S. fruit to Asia, according to the release.

The company grows and ships 15.5 million cartons of apples, 2.5 million cartons of pears, 2 million cartons of cherries, and also stone fruit grown in Washington and Oregon, according to the release.

Reggie Collins, vice president and director of Chelan Fresh Marketing, has known Dalton Thomas for more than 40 years.

“You can use all kinds of words — generous, loyal, trustworthy, wise and insightful — to describe him,” Collins said in the release. “But one thing’s certain: He’s the one you’d like to be in the trenches with. I mean that both personally and from a business side.

“I could always go to Dalton and get the true story about what was going on in the industry,” Collins said in the release. “He’s benefited this industry with his wisdom and strength.”

Todd Fryhover, president of the Wenatchee-based Washington Apple Commission, spoke about Dalton Thomas’ support of the industry when he retired in 2017.

"Dalton was a stalwart supporter of our programs, seeing the value of increasing international promotional activities for the benefit of the entire industry," Fryhover said at the time.

Thomas will be honored at the 100th Apple Blossom Festival at a May 1 luncheon and will ride in the annual Stemilt Growers Grand Parade May 4.