Jon Vessey, who grew up in Salinas, CA, in the farming business and then spent his career as a grower-shipper in the Imperial Valley, died on Saturday, June 7, after battling with leukemia.
Mr. Vessey, a third generation farmer, ran Vessey & Co. Inc., Holtville, CA, for the past 40 years. The company controls about 10,000 acres as a grower for many different vegetable shippers and also is a significant player as a grower, shipper and packer of garlic and other vegetables.
He grew up a couple doors down the street from Tom Church, chairman of the board of Church Brothers LLC., Salinas, CA. “He was a great guy. There was no better,” said Church. “He was great at everything. In high school, he was the best football player and the best wrestler. He was probably the most popular kid in our class. He was also very humble.”
The two forged a friendship that lasted Mr. Vessey’s entire life and morphed into a business relationship as well. “He was our biggest grower in the Imperial Valley,” said Church, “and he grew for many other people as well.”
While Jon Vessey spent most of his time in Salinas as a kid, his father, Jackson Vessey, had growing operations in both the Salinas and Imperial County. For much of his schooling, Jon split time between the two regions of the state. By high school, however, he remained in Salinas for the full year. Upon graduation from high school, Jon went to the University of Arizona. By that time, his father had sold the Salinas end of the operation and the family, and their farming operation, settled in Holtville, where it has remained for more than 50 years. After graduation, Jon joined the family operation full time.
In an interview last year prior to receiving the prestigious Western Growers Award of Honor, Jon Vessey credited diversity for his success. “You can’t fall in love with one crop,” he said.
He added that the company grows 40 different vegetables conventionally and 27 organically.
The family actually started in the wholesale end of the produce business after Vessey’s grandfather Elton and his wife, Maude, moved to Los Angeles from Wisconsin in the late 1800s. For many years, they had a wholesale house at the Seventh Street Market in Los Angeles. The Vessey family branched out into the growing end of the business in the 1920s to supply their wholesale operation with product. In the 1960s and beyond, Jon Vessey and his father, Jackson, built the company, and his son, Jack, has also followed that path, taking more control over the business in recent years.
Speaking about his father last year when it was announced that Jon Vessey would receive the Award of Honor, Jack said: “You go to my dad and he’s going to tell you the truth; he’s going to be honest and do the best job he can day in and day out. Anybody knows when they shake my dad’s hand, he says ’yes’ to it, that it’s going to get done and you don’t have to worry about it. I think that’s why my dad stands out. He’s taught me your word and your honor is key.”
The Vesseys have also had a long history with Western Growers. Jackson Vessey served on the board from 1957 to 1976. Jon first joined the board in 1985 and between that year and 2008, he served for 27 years. Jack Vessey served on the board in 2009-10. That equals almost a half century of service over the past 57 years.
Last year, Jon Vessey said: “We met a lot of very, very intelligent and great people in Western Growers. It’s been a life-long friendship with many of the board members, and that will continue… Once you make close friends in Western Growers, they’ll always be your friend. It’s been a great relationship.”
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