Ken Martin ( Courtesy Martin family )

Ken Martin, who left a short career as a funeral director and mortician in Missouri to manage what became one of the Rio Grande Valley’s major citrus operations, has died.

Martin, who in recent years became a Napa Valley winemaker, died Aug. 7. He was 77.

Martin grew up on a dairy farm in southwest Missouri, attended Southwest Baptist College and then Dallas Mortuary College, moving to Fulton, Mo., to become a funeral director. There, he met his future wife, Sue Ware, according to his obituary. They moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 1970 to help her father manage citrus orchards.

Ken Martin’s initial entry into the Texas citrus industry was as a farmer, tending the groves for Warehouse Farms, the Mission-based company his father-in-law, James Ware, founded in 1970. Ware sold his interest in the company in 1987. The company name changed to Rio Queen Citrus Inc. in 1998, when Warehouse Farms and Pharr,Texas-based onion and melon company Elmore & Stahl merged. Martin was the president at Rio Queen, and Elmore & Stahl continued to operate separately, although their sales desks also merged.

Rio Queen grew, packed and shipped Texas citrus, and Martin was a proponent of the Rio Star grapefruit. The company also sold onions year-round with supplies from Texas, Mexico, Colorado and New Mexico.

His son, Mike Martin, became sales manager for the two companies, and Mike became president of Rio Queen in 2003.

In 2005, Martin, chairman of the board at Rio Queen, received the Texas Citrus Mutual Special Award. In 2011, The Packer featured him as part of a Profiles in Produce series.

The family exited the Texas citrus industry in 2012, when it sold to Paramount Citrus, later renamed Wonderful Citrus.

The Martin family bought a Napa vineyard, naming it Italics Winegrowers, in 2014.

"Italics is a project that truly highlighted Ken's passion for agriculture and a keen eye for cutting-edge farming and production," according to the obituary. " ... Ken spent his last days tasting wine, enjoying his time with his grandchildren and preparing for another harvest season — the things he loved the most."

A funeral service is scheduled for Aug. 20 at the First United Methodist Church in McAllen, Texas. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Saving Hope Animal Rescue ( or the American Heart Association (