(UPDATED, April 17) Rick Antle, 61, died April 14, leaving what family and friends say will be an enduring legacy.
Antle, president and CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle, was the head of a company that farms more than 35,000 acres.
After a brief battle with cancer, the family said Rick passed away peacefully surrounded by those he loved and hand-in-hand with his wife Tonya, children and grandchildren on April 14.
“Rick was the embodiment of ‘larger than life’ and his legacy will always live on,” according to a statement from his family. “He had a big personality and an even bigger heart.”
Antle loved adventure, the family said.
“Skiing, boating, flying and farming took up most of his life, but people always came first,” the statement said. “Family, employees and friends regularly describe him as a fun-loving, work-hard-and-play-harder kind of guy. He was thoughtful, magnanimous and a respected mentor.”
Antle was a great leader and mentor, both for those in the company and throughout the industry, the family said.
“The success of Tanimura & Antle can be attributed to Rick’s dedication and respect to the company’s employees,” according to the statement, which notes his role in the development of a housing project that provides homes for 800 farmworker employees at Spreckels Crossing and the company’s transition to an employee stock ownership plan last year.
“Rick was fond of introducing new technologies and systems into the industry and never lost sight of its essential elements — customers, growers and employees,” the family said. “He inherited this intense focus from his grandfather, Bud Antle, and father Bob Antle.”
One of Rick’s proudest personal accomplishments was working alongside his sons Brian and Jeff, according to the family.
Industry leaders praised Antle’s leadership and character.
“He had a really great balance of dynamic and pragmatic,” said Aaron Fox, executive vice president at McAllen, Texas-based Fox Packaging, which worked with Tanimura & Antle on onion packaging.
Antle was grounded in reality but at the same time was very forward-thinking, Fox said.
“I have this rule I use when I am making a decision on something; it is always, what would Rick do?” he said.
“Rick was a tremendous leader of our industry, and a personal friend to so many of us,” Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in an e-mail. “You always knew where you stood with Rick, and even when he was pushing you hard, it was always with a smile and you knew he was working toward what was best for the industry.”
Stenzel said Antle’s passing was a “tragic loss of someone so young, who still had so much energy to give back to our industry.”
Path to success
Antle was a 1979 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, where he served on the school’s crop science and advisory board and College of Agriculture advisory council.
He began his career as a harvest superintendent at Castle & Cooke Foods, now Dole Food Co. Inc., Westlake Village, Calif.
In 1982, with his father Bob Antle and his brother Mike Antle, Rick formed Tanimura & Antle with George Tanimura and other Tanimura family members. Rick Antle was president of the company, and in 2003 he was named CEO.
The company created “a perfect partnership,” combining the Antles’ strong packing and shipping expertise with the Tanimuras’ farming expertise, the family said.
Rick Antle was honored as The Packer’s Produce Man of the Year, drawing praise not only for his ability to introduce new products and technologies and but also for serving the needs of his customers, growers and employees. The Packer included Antle in its inaugural Packer 25 list of influential industry members in 2005.
Antle received the Cal Poly 1994 Department of Agriculture Distinguished Alumnus award and was recognized by the Salinas Chamber of Commerce as its outstanding young farmer, and has served in many volunteer roles throughout his career.
Antle served in many leadership positions within the Tanimura & Antle family of companies, the Antle Family of companies, charities, and community organizations, the family said. A former chairman of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, he also served on numerous boards including Pacific Ag Rentals, Iceberg Lettuce Research Board, United Fresh, Earthbound Farm LLC, Ready Pac Produce Inc., Dulcinea Farms LLC, and the Cal Poly College of Agriculture Advisory Council.
Rick and Tonya Antle were honored in 2016 with the United Fresh Lifetime Achievement Award.
At that event, Rick Antle, representing the fourth generation in his family to farm, reflected that he wasn’t shy about trying something new.
“When we saw change, we embraced it,” he said.
With his leadership, Tanimura & Antle was an early proponent in organic vegetables, sustainable farming practices and innovations in varieties and value-added packaging.
Dave Eldredge, North American president at Gourmet Garden Herbs and Spices, worked closely with Antle from 1990 to 2002, when Eldredge was first vice president of sales and marketing and later executive vice president at Tanimura & Antle.
“Rick was a driven person with great vision and passion for the business, traits he inherited from his father and grandfather,” Eldredge said in an e-mail. “I always felt the support he provided and considered it a privilege to work for Rick and the Tanimura and Antle families who always had high expectations.”
Eldredge said he still has fond memories and great admiration for the innovation and commitment Tanimura & Antle has for its employees and the industry.
“I know (that) was a cornerstone of Rick’s vision,” he said.
Rick Antle was a confident company leader, said Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.
Caplan is a longtime friend of Tonya Antle and also knew Rick well.
“One of the things I loved about Rick is the way he started his day every day,” she said. “When he would get up in the morning, before he went out the door, he would say ‘It’s show time!’”
Caplan said that Antle’s approach to leading Tanimura & Antle was to project motivation, positivity and enthusiasm for the company and its employees.
She learned a lot from Antle’s approach, Caplan said.
“In this business every day is potentially a new crisis, but he was the forever optimist,” she said. Caplan said Antle also was relentless about pursuing new ideas.
“He wasn’t afraid to fail forward, and I loved that he wasn’t afraid to try anything,” she said.
Caplan said Antle always kept an eye toward the future, and praised the company for its employee stock ownership plan. The plan, started a little more than a year ago, gives qualified domestic employees the ability to invest in stock ownership of a percentage of the company.
“How brilliant a move that was to create security, for the company, his family and the long-time employees of the company,” Caplan said.
Rick was born Dec. 15, 1956, in Salinas to Bob and Sue Antle. His father, Bob Antle, precedes him in death.
Survivors include his wife of 17 years, Tonya, his mother, Sue Antle, sons Brian (Amanda) Antle, Jeff Antle, Anthony Pavich, and daughter Natalie (Eric) Drobny, and grandchildren, Cameron and Spencer Antle.
A Celebration of Life Ceremony is scheduled at 2 p.m. April 27 at Tanimura & Antle headquarters. In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests that donations be made directly to The Rick & Tonya Antle Community Foundation Fund (www.cfmco.org), 2354 Garden Road, Monterey, CA 93940.