Norman Gilfenbain Passes Away at 82
Longtime Los Angeles produce wholesaler, grower and shipper Norman Gilfenbain passed away on April 30 at the age of 82. Mr. Gilfenbain was born in Boston on March 12, 1931, but his father moved the family to Los Angeles soon thereafter, where he was raised. He was quite a football player, according to his son Stuart Gilfenbain, who is sales manager of Eclipse Berry Farms, Oxnard, CA. “Mike Garrett (football great at USC and in the NFL) broke all of his high school records. That tells you how good my dad was.”
The older Mr. Gilfenbain married his high school sweetheart, Gloria, soon after graduating, and the two moved to Boston where Norman started his produce career on the Boston produce market. He went to work for his two uncles, Chick and Harry Gilfenbain, and stayed there for a couple of years in the early 1950s. By 1954 he was back in Los Angeles and eventually joined L.A. Nut House, where he launched a fruit division. After a few years, Mr. Gilfenbain became a partner at L.A. Nut House and eventually bought out his co-partners. In 1963 he launched Cal Fruit and it became a mainstay on the Los Angeles produce scene for about a quarter of a century.
Mr. Gilfenbain was a pioneer in the Chilean grape deal and also represented other growers from throughout Central and South America. In the late 1980s, Mr. Gilfenbain sold off most of his companies and founded Eclipse Berry Farm. Eclipse grows and sells strawberries and grape tomatoes. “My dad never retired. He was active up until near the end.”
He is survived by Gloria, as well as his two children, Stuart and Robin Gilfenbain Baker. He also had six grandchildren
San Francisco Produce Man Gil Papazian Passes Away at 83
Gilbert Papazian, who literally passed up on a chance to get a free education and play football at Notre Dame to join his father in the produce industry, died May 3 at the age of 83.
Mr. Papazian was born in 1929 in San Francisco as a first generation American of two Armenian-born parents. He was raised in San Francisco and was quite the football player at Lincoln High School, leading to the scholarship offer that he turned down.
In 1940, his father and uncle started Lucky Strike Farms. Both Gil and his younger brother, the late Arnold Papazian, began their produce careers in that company. Gil bought Lucky Strike Farms, changed the name to Lucky Strike Brokerage Company, and operated adjacent to the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market for decades. The company remains viable today and is run by his son Gib out of Burlingame, CA, under the old Lucky Strike Farms moniker.
“I think my dad was the first one ever to sell carton lettuce,” said Gib. “At that time everyone was selling lettuce out of the old WGA crate but my dad saw carton lettuce being packed out in the field in Salinas and decided to sell it.”
He remained active in the business up until the last couple of years when health issues started to creep into his life. One of the first things he did after buying the company was join Western Growers and he was proud of the fact that he remained a member for the past 60 years.
Gilbert Papazian is survived by his longtime wife Margaret Papazian and their children, Gib, Alice, and Chris, as well as many other relatives, including several in the produce industry.
Charles (Gil) Henry Passes Away
Charles (Gil) Henry, whose has long been associated with innovations allowing for the sale of ripe avocados, died on May 18 after battling lymphoma.
He is largely responsible for facilitating the huge growth in avocado demand at retail by marketing pre-ripened fruit and urging retailers to carry it. “It was his idea to start the ripening process and sell fruit when it was starting to ripen rather than when it was hard as a rock,” said Phil Henry, Gil’s cousin and the current president of Henry Avocado Corporation, Escondido, CA. “Before that you actually had to discount fruit that was showing any signs of breaking. Gil was truly a pioneer in pre-ripened fruit.”
Mr. Henry was born in 1925, and grew up on his parent’s newly-planted avocado grove in Escondido. It was the same year that Henry Avocado Packing Company was founded by his father, Charles C. Henry. Gil Henry served in World War II, and then came back and joined in the family business. In 1953, Gil’s father died in a tractor accident on the farm and Gil took over the management aided by his younger brother, Warren, and later, his cousin George Schoeffel.
Mr. Henry was involved in all aspects of the operation but he concentrated his efforts on packing and marketing. He was long a proponent of ripe fruit and in 1983, Henry Avocado built the first forced air ripening room in the avocado business. Today they have 54 rooms in several locations around the country, and virtually every avocado shipper has followed suit.
Mr. Henry was also an early believer and promoter of the Hass variety in the 1950s when the Fuerte was the main variety. It would eventually become the industry standard-bearer and today proliferates around the world.
Gil Henry retired from the corporation about a decade ago but remained an active avocado grower until the end and, in fact, passed away at home, which is in the middle of an avocado grove. He is survived by his wife, Georgia, as well as four children and numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and other relatives.
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