Jack Pandol Sr., chairman emeritus and patriarch of family owned Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., died Aug. 4 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87.

Accolades for his more than 50 years of work in the California and Chilean produce industries poured in as news of his death quickly spread.

Jack Pandol Sr. remembered as ‘commercially fearless’

Pandol

“He was among the first tier of people who were very important to the development of the produce industry in Chile,” said David Holzworth, Washington, D.C.-based general counsel for the Chilean Exporters Association (ASOEX).

Pandol and his company were pioneers in investing in agriculture land in Chile and “developing a boots-on-the-ground approach to show their commitment to the industry,” Holzworth said.

“Jack and the Pandol organization were instrumental in working out legal and political issues to not only save the industry but to enable it to thrive,” he said. “I don’t think his importance both in Chile and the U.S. can be overstated.”

Pandol’s influence was not limited to the two continents.

“He was not just a pioneer in terms of product coming in from Chile, but really had an understanding of global connections that have become essential to the industry today,” said Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del. “Jack was really the architect of PMA’s global expansion. He almost single-handedly pushed global trade up the PMA priority list.”

A legendary Jack Pandol story that involves Silbermann has reverberated for more than 25 years. As Pandol and Silbermann were having dinner at a Newark restaurant, they were told fresh fruit was not available, said Silbermann, then a new member of the PMA staff.

Pandol told the restaurateur that he had not looked hard enough, and before leaving for California, he purchased a carton of Pandol Bros. fruit at the terminal market and directed Silbermann to deliver it.

“Jack never took no for an answer,” Silbermann said.

It was an approach to life observed often by the Pandol family, said nephew John Pandol, the company’s director of special projects.

“Jack didn’t know the meaning of risk,” John Pandol said. “He was absolutely the biggest optimist you’d ever meet. He was commercially fearless.”

Bruce Obbink served as president of the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, during the often turbulent 1960s and 1970s. He worked closely with Jack Pandol.

“He was a leader in the industry and a leader within his own peer group in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley,” he said. “Jack can rest easy knowing his family learned the trade well.”

Kathleen Nave, president of the grape commission, said Pandol embodied an industry that is “still a very family-centric, industry-minded business, a way of life and business where relatives compete for sales in the morning, work on industry boards in the afternoon … and attend family functions and church together.

“Jack Pandol Sr. demonstrated the ideals of competitiveness, family and industry-mindedness in a manner that still resonates today,” she said.

Pandol’s involvement in the produce industry brought many domestic and international honors and awards.

He received The Packer’s Produce Man for All Seasons award at the 1987 Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit.

Pandol and his brother, Matt, were given knighthood in Israel’s Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem in 1989.

He served on the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League’s board of directors for nearly three decades until stepping down in 1976. He was the 1995 recipient of the league’s Mentors Award.

“He was a family man, business and community leader as well as an industry visionary,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the grape and tree fruit league. “He was truly an icon who will be missed by all in the produce community.”

In 2009, Pandol was honored with Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins Award, that country’s highest civilian award, for his role in developing the Chilean table grape industry.

“Jack was truly an ambassador for America not only in the produce industry but in business and politics,” said Robert Verloop, a former Pandol Bros. employee and now senior vice president of sales and marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.

A lifelong resident of the San Joaquin Valley, Pandol served in the U.S. Army during World War II seeing combat in the Philippines and, following the war, serving in the occupational force in Japan. When he was discharged in 1946, Pandol returned to California and along with his younger brothers, Matt and Steve Pandol, joined Pandol and Sons, the farming operation founded by his parents, Steve and Margaret Pandol.

Under Jack Pandol’s leadership, the company launched in 1957 Pandol Bros. Inc., a marketing arm that bypassed the traditional terminal market auctions to focus on direct sales to retailers.

He also is credited with being the first to ship grapes cross country in refrigerated trucks, helping to boost export markets for California grapes and being a leader in establishing Chile as a major fresh produce exporter to the U.S.

Pandol is survived by Winifred, his wife of 62 years; sons Stephen, Jim and Jack J.; daughter Maria Zebrowski and her husband Greg; and five grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 11 at St. Francis Church, Bakersfield. A reception will follow at the Stockdale Country Club.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations in Pandol’s memory be sent to Boy Scouts of America, Southern Sierra Division, 2417 M Street, Bakersfield, Calif., 93301; All Slavonic-American Association, c/o Bronzan, 112 Green Oaks, Visalia, Calif., 93277; or Hoffman Hospice, 8501 Brimhall Road, Bakersfield, Calif. 93312.