Isabel Nuñez (left) and his son, Gus ( Photo courtesy Natural Delights; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

Isabel Nuñez, a pioneer in the date industry and a founding member of the Bard Valley Date Growers, has died.

Nunez, who arrived in Bard Valley in 1958 as a farm laborer for a medjool date grower, died Feb. 7, according to a notice from the Yuma, Ariz.-based grower group, which markets the fruit under the Natural Delights brand. He was 81.

In 1972, he bought a 10-acre date farm, acquiring Imperial Date Gardens Inc. a few years later. The Nuñez family continues to grow dates on 3,000 acres.

“Much of the success of the medjool date industry people know today is due to the personal pride and close attention to product quality that Isabel Nuñez and his family showed to their medjool dates,” David Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing for Natural Delights, said in the notice. "Isabel was not only an icon but a titan in our industry, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family during this time.”

He continued to work in the date gardens until his death, working with his children Gus, Ramon and Mari, and grandson Brandon.

“My father revolutionized the medjool date industry and was responsible for so many changes for the industry for so many years,” Gus Nuñez said in the notice. “We’re going to miss his insight as a family and what he meant to this particular operation.

“As one of the last pioneers of the early medjool date industry, he contributed to what we have now in terms of growing and production. I hope he is known for having had the courage and vision to get to get us to the level we are at today.”

A funeral mass was Feb. 15 in Yuma.