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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Touching Tributes To Jack Pandol

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 30, 2010

Our piece, Remembering Jack Pandol, brought back many memories. Most of us, if we are lucky, have an imprint on our immediate family or perhaps our community. Jack seemed to have impact on the whole world.

As Rick Eastes, whose letter about Jack we included in our piece, wrote after the funeral:

The funeral was really a celebration of Jack’s life and Frieda Caplan gave an excellent eulogy, as did Jack’s physician son. This was a truly international event. It was as if the world, and most of California agriculture, was in attendance.

Frieda also sent us a note after the funeral:

Karen and I just returned from the JACK PANDOL MEMORIAL SERVICE… and saw both Rick and Mary Eastes and Bruce Obbink… so I commented to them about their letters that appeared in the PUNDIT piece regarding the passing of Jack Pandol… By the way, the church had a capacity of 1000 and it looked pretty full!

Just so you know … Fred Williamson, President of Andrew & Williamson… was reading the PUNDIT late the night before the funeral… and learned of Jack’s passing. Though he didn’t know Jack personally, he was so overwhelmed by your story, he got up (In San Diego the morning of the funeral) at 5 a.m. and drove to Bakersfield in order to attend!

The power of the Prevor Pen!

— Frieda Rapoport Caplan
Founder
Frieda’s, Inc.
Los Angeles, California

Since Jack was known across the planet, many couldn’t make it to the funeral. We asked both Frieda, and Jack’s eldest son, Stephen, if they would allow us to share their eulogies with the industry which they most graciously did. Frieda Rapoport Caplan spoke these words:

The last time I saw Jack Pandol was a very joyous occasion. It was about four or five years ago at the Produce Marketing Convention in Anaheim. These are cherished events where you not only renew business relationships but it is a wonderful opportunity to visit and greet long time friends.

When Jack and Winnie walked up to our booth… and we made eye contact… both Jack and I became teary-eyed as we hugged. Since my daughters, Karen and Jackie, were there, they joined us in a group hug. My daughters were well aware of our long term relationship with this wonderful, giving couple.

Karen thanked Jack profusely for taking her phone call a few years earlier when we needed guidance on how to handle a potential new grower. Like many others, we turned to Jack on how to handle what might be a difficult relationship. His advice… this particular time… stay away from these people… they are nothing but trouble.

I met Jack in 1957… just after I started selling fresh mushrooms at Giumarra brothers on the 7th Street Produce Market in Los Angeles.. He was walking by our stall and paused to ask if I would sell him some of our white button mushrooms. He was getting ready for his annual Delano barbeque at the Slav Club… for which he was famous because he did all the cooking for his many friends and associates.

Having no clue to who he was… I was still pretty new to the produce business… I had to ask someone at Giumarra Bros. if Jack Pandol was credit-worthy!… And this was the beginning of a relationship that lasted all these many years.

Soon after I founded what is now known as Frieda’s Specialty Produce… Jack needed an outlet to help market and introduce the first produce item that he sourced from China. Many people, even today, are totally unaware of Jack’s visionary role in opening up trade with China. The item was fresh waterchestnuts. Frankly, this was not a particularly successful venture, financially… but demonstrated Jack’s inventive way of opening the door for our produce industry… and it paid off in relationship-building… not only for Pandol brothers… but it pried open the door for other U.S. produce companies as well.

Though it may not have been popular politically… opening business in China at that time… this didn’t stop Jack. He was one of those rare individuals who was able to envision opportunities that would eventually benefit, not only Pandol Brothers, but U.S. businesses of all types.

Knowing the importance of industry associations, Jack literally changed the direction of the Produce Marketing Association, by serving as the first chairman of PMA’s international trade committee, which was created in 1983… largely at his initiative.

As many of you know, Jack enjoyed stirring up controversy in our industry, especially if he felt it would help us reach new heights of produce consumption.

My most vivid personal experience with Jack was the time… when he and I were invited to address the International Apple Association’s annual convention. I think we were both invited because we had recently, though independently, challenged conventional wisdom on the direction that the apple industry was taking.

While my talk questioned the future of the Red Delicious apple, Jack stunned this audience (and did he love the controversy that ensued) when he challenged the growers in the audience to rethink their growing processes and consider growing apples organically. “Orangic” was a dirty word for many of the growers present.

You can’t imagine the hell and backlash he caused that day… he was lucky that he got out of this convention unscathed… and then, our produce press picked up on Jack’s comments and helped spread the word to the many thousands of industry members who weren’t present to hear what Jack had to say that day.

Time, of course, has shown that Jack’s visionary ability was once again, right on!

Jack, over the years, has literally mentored hundreds of members of our industry. I want to read to you an especially touching tribute my daughter Karen received on August 6th, after she wrote to Bill Lewis, a former Pandol employee, who still lives in Chile.

“Hi karen… thank you for thinking of me. Jack truly was such an important influence, in business and in my case… romance. When I foolishly fell hopelessly in love with Andrea, who was living on the other side of the world, Jack immediately solved the problem for me. I never asked what my salary was and really had no idea what I was getting into, but I have never regretted leaving Topco (former employer) because it was exciting to work for Jack. He was much more than an employer; he was like my favorite uncle who we always were trying to keep out of trouble. I’ve learned so much from him.

“I’m in the Elqui valley right now and in deep reflection. Jack’s death is bittersweet as he suffered the past years. We worked hard to get him the Bernardo O’Higgins knighthood and when he received it, he was not truly able to enjoy the honor. Still, it is a testament to the kind of man he was.”

In 2009, Jack was presented with this award by Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, the highest honor given by the people of Chile to a foreign citizen.

One prestigeous award he was able to receive and enjoy in person was the “produce man for all seasons,” presented at PMA’s national convention by the Packer newspaper in 1987.

Jack may have passed from planet earth… but his impact in and on our industry has been and will be enormous… not only because of the international markets he opened and developed, and the produce items he introduced, but most importantly, the many talented family members and Pandol staff members he nurtured. With the help of his lifelong partner, Winnie, this will keep his presence uppermost in our industry’s daily lives for many years to come.

To Jack’s amazing family… and especially to Winnie… I thank you so much for asking me to be part of this celebration of Jack Pandol’s life and legacy.

Stephen Pandol represented His family with these thoughts:

I am Stephen, Jack’s oldest son representing his family. First, thank you all for coming today. Each and every one of you here today played key roles in enriching and making his life the wonderful event that it was. We thank you, and Jack thanks you for being there and the blessings you brought to him and his family.

Now I will tell you the story of the inception of our family.

When Jack returned from the Service after WWII, he had a singular mission — to court Winifred Zaninovich. She was a few years younger and grew up in her family home that was about 20 miles from his family’s home both on Road 192, a country road in Tulare County. They didn’t have an official relationship before he left for the service but they wrote to each other while he was away.

Upon returning, he wanted to show his intentions by going to meet with her and her family soon after returning. This was so important to him that he described to us in later years the stress, emotion and details of his driving this 20 miles from his house to her family’s house. Like many men returning from the service, he felt somehow less than worthy of such an important girl. He was an emotional wreck trying to make this 20 mile drive.

Many years later he recalled his pounding heart and difficulty breathing as he started on his way. He stopped the car and even turned around to return back to his home a couple of times. He talked about being weak in the knees going up the steps to her house. Imagine this man who had just fought bravely in the war having such a difficult time in going to see Winifred to court her. Well, that is who he was and how important Winifred was to him. And that is how the family started.

There were many things we admired about Jack. Even though he had a shy way about him as you see from the story I just told, he stood strong in his convictions, in his love for his family, in his passion for his work and love for those he worked with. He was confident and unapologetic in his approach. We all saw that special quality and how it impacted all of us both in the family and his world. His convictions and values have been so powerful that they are influencing the oldest to the youngest generations in our family.

Now, I have a poetic prayer from Jack to all of us

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift up-flinging rush of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft star that shines at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there
I did not die

Jack lives with us.

******

Stephen elected to recite Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep, a 1932 poem written by Mary Elizabeth Frye. The poem is believed to have been written to Frye’s friend, a Jewish girl of German descent whose mother died back in Germany, and it was not possible for her to go back and visit her mother.

It also strikes us as especially appropriate to be read at Jack Pandol’s funeral. So many who knew him could not have the satisfaction of being with him and seeing him laid to rest.

They will, however, draw solace from Frieda’s boisterous jaunt through a real life business relationship and friendship with Jack and his son’s poetic admonition that the great live on through our own conduct.

We have one more important piece to write about Jack Pandol in the next Pundit for now we say, simply, peace be with Jack and all who loved him.

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