Cindy Jewell, United Fresh chairwoman and vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, presents Ron Carkoski with the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award at the United Fruit Produce Association’s FreshStart on Jan. 15. ( Tom Karst )

LA QUINTA, Calif. — After more than 40 years in the produce industry and nearly 25 years at Four Seasons Family of Cos., Ron Carkoski was honored with the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award at the United Fresh Produce Association’s FreshStart 2019.

Carkoski, president and CEO of Ephrata, Pa.-based Four Family of Cos. since 2002, retired Dec. 21.

The Jan. 15 award presentation featured remarks by David Hollinger, chairman of Four Seasons Family of Cos. and Loretta Radanovic, vice president and chief financial officer.

Carkoski joined the company as director of procurement in 1994, when it was Four Seasons Produce.

Carkoski has been on the United Fresh board of directors and served as chairman in 2015. He also has been chairman of the United Fresh wholesale distributor board.

 

Tributes

Hollinger praised Carkoski’s leadership qualities.

“You always left us smiling chuckling, uplifting us, listening — you led with strength, you led with inspiration in the good times and challenging situations, and you always maintained a high level of integrity,” he said. “Be assured that your friends at Four Seasons Family know you best after working with you for 24 years, and we understand just how deserving you are of this award.”

Hollinger praised Carkoski’s ability to communicate and to clarify the company’s vision and mission.

“We’ve worked together, we laughed together, we collaborated together on so many decisions, and often in the last few months in the last few weeks, and the last day, we had some tears together,” he said.

Hollinger said he appreciates that Carkoski will continue to serve Four Seasons as a consultant to Jason Hollinger, the company’s new president and CEO.

“I want to say a big thank you again for being a genuine friend to so many of us in our company and the industry at large.” Hollinger said.

Radanovic, quoting verses from the book Ecclesiastes in the Bible, said there is a time and season for everything.

“Tonight is the time to speak about all the wonderful things that Ron has accomplished and to celebrate all of the wonderful things Ron has done. Ron has been an extraordinary leader and a personal mentor,” she said, expressing thanks for the sacrifice that he and his wife Pat made to move their family from the Midwest to Pennsylvania to take the position at Four Seasons.

“Ron invested in so many of us early in our careers and he believed that we were capable of doing more than we realized,” she said. “He mentored us with tough love and called us out when we needed it and pushed us towards excellence. And then he raised the bar higher, pushed us further, and he recognized our strengths and worked to improve our weakness.”

“We look forward to what you will accomplish in the next season, whether that be in produce, playing the piano or playing with the grandkids,” she said.

After Radanovic’s remarks, Carkoski — a music major in college — sat at a keyboard and played the song “Sometimes,” a song written by Felice Mancini, daughter of Henry Mancini, to honor her parents.

“The song really states how I feel about the privilege of everything that I got to enjoy during my career,” he said.

Carkoski said he appreciates all the people that have influenced him in the industry.

“I clearly understand that we are all given the opportunity at appropriate times to be that one small thing or partake in that one defining moment in each other’s lives,” he said. “I understand that we have to be open to both giving, but also receiving because that’s how God works in our lives.”

He recalled how his dad conducted a merchandising seminar in Kansas City in 1949 for the United Fruit and Vegetable Association, the precursor to the United Fresh Produce Association.

Carkoski said he was “incredibly blessed” to meet, fall in love and marry his wife Pat, who recently suffered a fall and could not attend the event.

“How we blessed we both were with our three children, Karen, Susan, and John,” he said.

“Without their support, absolutely none of this would be possible — our family means everything to me,” he said. “All i want to do is to be able to enjoy (retirement) with my family,” he said, noting that his name tag now reads “grandpa” instead of CEO.

Carkoski also praised the work of United Fresh and its CEO and president Tom Stenzel.

“I simply could not have come up with this story, this journey of my own. It’s a story that is mine, but it’s not mine. It’s yours and those that have helped me along the way to create it,” he said.

Past recipients of the award include Hugh Topper, Bruce McEvoy, Rick and Tonya Antle, Mike Cavallero, Joe Procacci, Reggie Griffin, Frieda Caplan and Bob Grimm (posthumously).

 
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