VIDALIA, Ga. — Known to those in the Vidalia onion deal as “Miss Wendy,” Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, caught growers and shippers off guard just as they were gearing up for the 2013 season by resigning her position.

“My phone’s been ringing all morning with people wanting to know what on Earth is going on,” Wendy Brannen said March 11, about 12 hours after the news hit The Packer’s website.

Brannen will join the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., on April 22, as its director of consumer health and public relations. Her last day in Vidalia is April 19.

“I’ll fly straight to New York to do their spring media tour,” Brannen said. “There are some areas I feel I can help them build on. It will be much more consumer-based with less emphasis on retail than here.”

Brannen said the most rewarding aspect of her job with the committee has been to establish cooperative marketing efforts for the trademarked Georgia sweet yellow onions.

“Now they see what a focused, combined effort can do,” she said.

Growers and members of the committee agree.

Jason Herndon, vice chairman of the Vidalia committee and operations manager at L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc., credited Brannen with helping Vidalia onions become a “major marketed commodity.”

“Eight years ago, Wendy was a gift. She’s taken us to the next level,” Herndon said.

Kevin Hendrix, committee chairman and vice president of Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, said Brannen’s resignation was “a big shock.”

“She is going to be tough to replace,” Hendrix said. “We met March 21 to start looking at the job description to make sure it reflects what Wendy’s been doing. We probably won’t start interviewing (candidates) until June or July.”

Hendrix said the committee usually doesn’t have its regular monthly meetings in April and May because members are in the midst of the busiest time of the season. He said the job description for the executive director’s position likely won’t change much.

In the interim, the committee office will continue to be staffed by executive assistant Susan Waters and compliance officer William Braddy.