CHICAGO – Twenty three years after his grandfather Tom Mathison won the same award, Stemilt Growers CEO and president West Mathison was recognized by The Packer as the 2019 Apple Man of the Year.
Mathison, succeeded his grandfather, who founded Stemilt, as president of the company in 2005 at the age of 28. Tom Mathison died in 2011.
The Packer’s editor Tom Karst presented the award Aug. 22 at the U.S. Apple Association's Apple Crop Outlook & Marketing Conference, praising Mathison’s commitment to the industry and the people in his company.
Introducing West Mathison, Karst recalled the legacy of Tom Mathison, a pioneer in developing export markets. Tom Mathison received The Packer’s Apple Man of the Year award in 1996.
“The old saying that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree certainly applies in this case,” Karst said.
With West Mathison leading the company, Stemilt has launched several new apple brands, including Piñata and SweeTango. Stemilt also worked with the University of Minnesota to launch Rave, an early-season apple that is harvested nearly three weeks before any other variety. Stemilt will also be a major player in the new Cosmic Crisp apple.
West Mathison’s direction is credited with the company’s investment in modern orchards, the creation and execution of Stemilt’s new Fresh Cube Distribution center and other innovations.
Karst praised West Mathison’s work in helping improve the lives of Stemilt employees of Stemilt and the greater Wenatchee community.
West Mathison grew up working in his family’s orchards on Stemilt Hill near Wenatchee, Wash.
“Like many in his family and certainly like his grandfather before him, West has devoted his whole life to apples and the apple industry,” Karst said.
West Mathison said he was humbled and honored to receive the award, and thanked his wife for her inspiration and support. He also expressed thanks to industry friends.
“We do life together, and many of you have been great mentors to me,” he said.
West Mathison said he was blessed to spend a lot of time with his grandfather.
“That was really what made me who made who I am,” he said.
He also recalled the lessons of his great-grandmother, who ran the family farm alone after her husband died in the 1940s. She treated employees like family, he said, serving orchard crew coffee and cookies in her kitchen.
“She said, ‘I may not know what to do all the time, but the way we are going to make this place pay is on a positive attitude,'” Mathison said.
The same principle applies as the company seeks to delight consumers and take care of its people, he said.
“I’m most proud of the people who manage our trees, who pick and pack the fruit, who load the trucks,” he said. “They are what makes Stemilt world-famous and this award is a reflection of their efforts, their innovation, and their positive attitude.”