June 6, 2016

Three Legends Pass On

Within about a month of each other, three prominent members of the produce industry in the western half of the United States died.  Each had served agriculture well and was a leader in the industry in every sense of that word.


George Tanimura (1915-2016)


On April 15, George Tanimura, the founding co-chairman of the board of Tanimura & Antle, died at the age of 100.

Mr. Tanimura was the eldest of 12 children of Eijiro Tanimura, who began farming in the San Juan Bautista area of California about a century ago. At the untimely death of his father at the age of 46 in 1935, oldest son George, at the young age of 20, took over the reins of the family business running the growing operation.  It was from this start that George Tanimura built the Tanimura family farming operation that would be an integral part of the pioneering Bud Antle Inc. firm and a full partner in Tanimura & Antle, which was formed in 1982.

After taking over control of the family enterprise in the midst of the Great Depression, George Tanimura was faced with quite possibly the biggest challenge of his life, which was to navigate the war years and emerge whole again. Most of the Tanimura clan spent the war years in an internment camp in Arizona, losing everything they had.

When the war ended, the Tanimuras came back to the Salinas Valley and started from scratch once again. Eventually they pulled their money together and in the late 1940s they bought a 20-acre ranch and started farming once again. The Tanimura family began a farming relationship with Bud Antle, who had launched Bud Antle Inc. in 1942. Soon the Tanimuras began to grow exclusively for that firm and thus began the relationship that endures to this day. Bud Antle Inc. became the largest lettuce shipper in the country and the Tanimura family became its largest grower.

In 1982, Mr. Tanimura, along with his brothers, formed Tanimura & Antle with the Antle family. This partnership joined the Tanimura growing expertise with the Antle packing, marketing and shipping expertise. Mr. Tanimura and Bob Antle became inseparable partners and co-chairmen of the board, and built the company to what it is today.


John R. Norton III (1929-2016)


John R. Norton III, a tireless advocate for the fresh produce industry largely credited with establishing the all-important Trust provision of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, died on Sunday April 17, at the age of 87 at his home in Arizona.

Mr. Norton was a third generation Arizonan whose father was also a well-known farmer and pioneer in the lettuce business. John Norton III was active in many industry organizations over the years and also served for several years beginning in 1985 as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Mr. Norton was the 1980 chairman of the board of Western Growers (WG) and in 1982, he served in the same position for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable. During that time period he hatched the idea of establishing a priority position for fresh produce producers in the event of a receiver bankruptcy patterned after the Packers and Stockyard Act.

Mr. Norton was born April 10, 1929, in Phoenix where he was raised. He attended Stanford University for one year, but graduated in 1950 from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture. He remained involved in U of A throughout his life, serving on many committees and boards, and donating to many university causes.

After meeting and marrying Doris Schaefer, the couple moved to Blythe, CA, where he founded the J.R. Norton Company, a diverse farming operation with production in both California and Arizona.

His list of honors both in and out of the industry is prodigious, including the Western Growers Award of Honor in 1985 and the U of A “Bear Down” Alumnus Award.


Ralph Bodine (1942-2016)


Ralph Bodine was a former chairman of Western Growers and also was an Award of Honor Recipient for the group. His career was also distinguished by his chairmanship of Sunkist Growers Inc.

Mr. Bodine died on March 7, 2016, at age 73. He was born on October 1, 1942, and was married to his wife Linda for 35 years. Together they had six children.

A graduate of Princeton University, Mr. Bodine was a great leader, man of integrity and a prominent voice in the fresh produce industry. A grower of a variety of fresh produce, he switched to an all-citrus operation in the early 1980s. He was involved with numerous boards during his career, serving as chairman of Western Growers Board of Directors in 1985. He also served as chairman of Sunkist from 1986 to 1989. In 1990, Western Growers honored his distinguished career by making him its Award of Honor recipient.

His father, Arthur Bodine, founded the Bodine Produce Company in Phoenix, and was an active member of Western Growers, also serving as chairman of the association.