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Dalton Thomas retires after 52 years at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers
After more than 50 years as a leader in the Northwest tree fruit industry, Dalton Thomas, owner and president of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in Wenatchee, WA, recently announced his plans to retire. The company will remain under family ownership, according to an Oneonta spokesman.
Thomas’s long and illustrious career, which started in the mid-1960s, is a significant chapter of the Thomas family’s contribution to the industry.
Starting in produce in 1965 as a USDA inspector of apples, pears, cherries, potatoes and onions, Thomas joined the Oneonta team in 1966 as part of the quality control team. A month later he was at a sales desk.
Wenatchee-based Oneonta Trading Corp. itself was founded in 1934 by his father, the late Paul “Tommy” Thomas. In the 1970s Dalton, Tommy’s youngest son, acquired his father’s interest in the operation and took on the responsibilities of owner/president.
Through his leadership, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers continued to grow in both product volume and in solid reputation. As news of his retirement reached others in the industry, tributes began flowing in.
Within the company, Marketing Director Scott Marboe, who has been associated with Oneonta for 30 years, said, “It has been an honor and a privilege to work for, work with and learn from one of our industry’s great leaders. Dalton leaves a legacy behind, but he also leaves the company in the hands of individuals poised to take it to the next level for the future.”
Recognizing his influence in opening export markets, including those in the Pacific Rim, other industry leaders spoke highly of Thomas.
Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee, said, “I have known Dalton since I started in the business in 1985. We often competed against each other during the charter days when the industry loaded break-bulk vessels for the Middle East and Europe from Pier 90/91 in Seattle. And I remember a favorite story about Dalton, one I heard during my days of working in the same arena he did.”
He continued, “A new guy hired at Oneonta came in early the first day of work and beat Dalton to the office. The next day Dalton came in 15 minutes earlier and beat the new employee to work. However, the third day the new employee arrived 30 minutes earlier and beat Dalton. The last day Dalton came in an hour early, settling the story on who can come in the earliest.”
Concerning exports Fryhover said, “At the Washington Apple Commission, we have an inbound trade mission from Vietnam, and we offer lunch during which caveat industry members are welcome to meet the importers. Since my job is complete once the importers and packers are in the same room, I sit back and watch the interaction. I have never seen someone work a room better than Dalton. He meets everyone in the room and comes away with orders for fruits.”
Fryhover also said “As a board member, due to his expertise in the international arena, Dalton was a stalwart supporter of our programs seeing the value of increasing international promotional activities for the benefit of the entire industry. He was always in attendance, and I frequently sought his insights into markets and importers looking into future direction. It was difficult to see Dalton leave the WAC board because his international expertise can’t be replaced.”
From a personal viewpoint, Fryhover said, “Dalton is 100 percent dedicated to the Washington tree fruit industry, his growers and employees. He has no expectations of others that are above what he comes to expect of himself. When you consider the known names of the industry like Grady Auvil, Bill Zirkle and Bill Evans, Dalton Thomas is on par in the development of international tree fruit business for our industry.”
Also speaking highly of the tree fruit man was Kevin Moffitt, president and CEO of Pear Bureau Northwest in Milwaukie, OR.
Moffitt said, “Dalton built a very successful company through the strength of his vision and then hiring the right people to execute that vision. He has assembled a great team of professionals who are at the top of their game.”
The pear executive said that Oneonta plays a major role in the industry.
“One of his biggest impacts in the pear industry was partnering with Diamond Fruit Growers in Hood River, OR, one of the oldest and largest pear packers in the country,” Moffitt said. “This move helped Oneonta fill out their apple portfolio with a strong mix of all pear varieties. Dalton and his sales and marketing team’s partnership with Diamond has been very successful and beneficial to the coop’s grower members.”
Diamond Fruit President/CEO David Garcia said the alliance has been one of strength and success for his operation. “We’ve been with Dalton for about 10 years. Prior to that we had our own marketing desk and worked to get our pears and cherries into stores. We’d heard some very good things about Oneonta and especially about Dalton. I was struck by what a genuine, down to earth person he is. That’s one of his best traits. And the quality that ties us to him most is his honesty. Everything he’s ever told us he’s lived up to.”
Garcia continued, “He’s a very consistent person, always willing to meet with us, to sit down and discuss any problems. There’s not a finer person in the industry than Dalton Thomas. All of our 85 grower members trust him, and Oneonta has done a very good job for us, expanding our markets. It’s been through Dalton’s relationships. People respect him, and I’m proud to be in his circle.”
And from worthy competitor Reggie Collins, vice president and director of Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, WA, came words of respect, friendship and admiration. “I’ve known Dalton for more than 40 years,” Collins said. “My grandfather started Beebe Orchard Co. in 1912, and my father was also CEO of that company. I am the third generation farmer and CEO of that apple operation.”
Collins said, “My father and Dalton had a business relationship decades ago when Oneonta sold fruit for Beebe, and my father had the utmost respect for him. You can use all kinds of words – generous, loyal, trustworthy, wise and insightful – to describe him. But one thing’s certain: He’s the one you’d like to be in the trenches with. I mean that both personally and from a business side. I could always go to Dalton and get the true story about what was going on in the industry. He’s benefited this industry with his wisdom and strength.”
He continued, “I can’t say enough good things about Dalton. He’s competitive to the hilt. He does not like to lose, and he doesn’t lose very often. I’ll miss him in business, but this might give us more time as friends to do things. The industry will certainly miss him.”
And as a parting thought, Collins added, “I never could figure out why Dalton wouldn’t hire me.”
For more information:
Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers
Tel: +1 509 888 5120
Publication date: 9/7/2017
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