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Remembering Jack Pandol

Growing up in the produce industry, we had the opportunity to meet many giants, and Jack Pandol was one of the most important and memorable. The Prevor and Pandol families overlapped in many ways. In Chile we shared a shipper… us handling the east coast and Pandol the west. In Europe, Robert Zwartkruis, for many years a PRODUCE BUSINESS columnist, was an important customer and friend to both the Prevors and Pandols.

We did business together and so there were also occasional disputes, a legal case — Pandol Bros., Inc. v. Prevor Marketing International, Inc., 49 Agric. Dec. 1193 (1990) — remains among the most cited cases in the produce industry, defining the proper calculation for damages in many produce disputes.

Jack was responsible for more than most realize. As soon as he passed, letters started rolling in and this one pointed out the impact of his efforts to increase export sales:

In the Boycott years of the late 60’s and early 70s, Jack almost single-handedly ‘saved’ the Central Valley grape growers by developing the Asian markets for the then mainstays of Ribiers, Emperors, Calmerias, and all of the ‘old’ varieties that the industry had, when domestic retailers would not handle California grapes out of fear of boycotts at store levels. This is a piece of history I experienced in my youth.

I remember meeting with Jack and a couple of early Chilean growers in the Carrera Hotel (not air conditioned at the time) in Santiago, overlooking the Plaza de Armas, 1976, which still showed damage from the Pinochet led coup that deposed Alliende. We both saw the potential of Chile, but had NO IDEA that the industry would reach the global stature Chile has today.

Jack had a unique vocabulary and method of expression that sometimes might confuse. What was not confusing was his enthusiasm and his character — a deal was a deal, and handshakes were good enough for him.

Jack was a great mentor to a number of my friends, and I was privileged to deal with him as a friendly competitor for most of my career. Every now and then there are a few people who really do make a difference, and Jack was one of those.

— Richard A. “Rick” Eastes
Supplier Manager
Market 52
Visalia, California

Bruce Obbink, who was President of the California Table Grape Commission from 1971 to 1998, also sent some thoughts:

I have known Jack Pandol since 1962. It is hard to believe that we have known each other that long. I first met Jack during my 6-year term with the Council of California Growers. But I really became acquainted with Jack when I arrived at the California Table Grape Commission in 1968. The Pandol Brothers were not newcomers to the industry. They were front runners in the table grape business.

Jack was truly a leader. He was a leader in the industry and a leader within his own peer group in the Southern part of the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Jack began to step forward in the export market and pretty much led the charge in the orient to get his grapes on every shelf in every possible country.

When the industry became embroiled in the grape boycott of the mid 1960’s Jack Pandol stepped to the forefront, working tirelessly to ward off violence and destruction. Jack knew the grower/shipper community and knew where they needed to be in the conflict and was always looking forward to be certain he understood the industry’s needs.

Many times I would meet Jack somewhere in the vineyard and we would compare notes as to the direction the industry was headed and he would talk with me as if I were a member of the family. I trusted Jack Pandol’s thoughts.

As the world market began to expand, much of which was his doing, he began to eye grape production in Chile. Some were concerned about that expansion, but Jack was keen on world marketing and truly believed his marketing philosophy was beneficial to the industry.

Jack Pandol was truly a leader in the California table grape industry.

Bryan Silbermann, President and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, had once told us a story that we thought perfectly captured the almost evangelical force with which Jack fought for the industry, so we asked Bryan to repeat the story:

It was midwinter 1984, the roads were icy. I met Jack at the port of Camden, New Jersey, where his company was importing fruit from Chile and we drove down to PMA’s offices in Delaware. Jack was the first-ever chairman of PMA’s new Import-Export Committee, and I’d been hired 9 months earlier to staff that group.

We went to lunch at a fine restaurant and Jack asked the waitress if they served fresh fruit for dessert. “Oh no sir,” she replied, “you can’t get fresh fruit at this time of the winter.” I cringed inside and wondered what Jack would do; Jack always saw “no” as an opportunity to reach his audience in a different way.

Pulling out his wallet, Jack took out a $20 bill and gave it to her with the instruction that she take it to the chef and have him buy some wonderful Chilean fruit now available on the market. She came back a few minutes lately and sheepishly handed him the $20 bill back, saying that “the chef isn’t able to accept this but thanks anyway.”

Later that day I drove Jack back to the port at Camden. All the way back he kept saying that we had to educate people about the bounty of fruit available from Chile. Arriving at the port he jumped out of the car, asked me to wait, and went to the office. He emerged with an employee carrying 2 boxes each of grapes and tree fruit “one each for PMA staff and the chef at the restaurant.”

And with that he bade me farewell and sent me back to Delaware with my first ever consignment of fresh fruit bound for a restaurant. I delivered it, much to the surprise of the chef/owner, who required a detailed explanation of just who this man with the strong European accent was and why he insisted that great fruit really was available in the middle of winter.

And that’s just one way Jack Pandol changed the way people view the world’s bounty of fruit — one person at a time.

The company put out an official announcement:

Jack V. Pandol
June 20, 1923 — Aug 4, 2010

It is with great sadness that we announce that passing of Jack V. Pandol who died in his sleep, August 4, 2010 at age 87, after an extended battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Jack died at home surrounded by many family members. Jack is survived by his wife of 62 years, Winifred Pandol, his sons Stephen, Jack J, and Jim Pandol, his daughter Maria Zebrowski, and grandchildren Jenny, Andrew, Jack J. Jr, and Cici Pandol and Matt Zebrowski.

Jack was a fixture in agricultural and produce marketing industry groups worldwide, Central California politics, and local charities. He was known as a world traveler and ‘the guy who ran the kitchen’ for countless social, political, industry and charitable events.

Jack was born June 20, 1923, in Orange Cove, California, a son of Steve and Margaret Pandol, immigrants from the island of Hvar, Croatia, then part of Hapsburg Austria. He attended Reedley High School and began to work with his father after he finished school. Jack served in the US Army 25th Infantry Division during WWII from 1944-1946, seeing combat in the Philippines and serving in the occupational force in Japan after the war. He achieved the rank of Tech Sergeant and received several commendations. Jack did not receive his Purple Heart during the war, but it was presented to him in a ceremony on his 70th birthday.

Jack returned to Delano and joined his father and younger brothers on the farm in Delano in 1946. In 1948 Jack married Winifred Zaninovich of Porterville and settled in rural Delano, having four children over the next 11 years. During the 1950’s, Jack began to work in selling grapes for the farm as well as selling wine from the local growers’ cooperative.

Jack was part of waves of innovation of the produce industry. In the 1950s, he began with direct FOB sales, a radical departure of the terminal market auctions of the era. In the 1960s, Jack loaded the first refrigerated trucks cross country, bypassing railroads. By the 1970s, Jack established a foothold in export markets, utilizing cargo jets, traditional refrigerated ships and the innovative ocean containers for both import and export.

In the 1980s, Jack put together partnerships and alliances in Asia and Latin America, committing product, money and expertise to develop international produce trade. So unique was his contribution that the Produce Marketing Association kept him on the board for an unprecedented 4 years while he developed the international division of PMA.

In the 1990s, Jack embraced the new selling environment whereby Pandol Brothers Inc was actually managing customers’ inventories and utilizing the then new internet-based tools to manage customer accounts, although he himself did not use computers.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, Jack Pandol was a fixture in central California politics. Jack hosted, cooked for, or sold tickets to countless campaign events, and was on a first-name basis with a generation of politicians. He was appointed to a variety of state boards, committees and commissions by Governors Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson as well as several federal appointments.

Jack was well known as a globetrotter and spent as much as 4 months of the year abroad. Jack embraced what is today called Public Diplomacy. The items collected on the walls and shelves of his office were as much testament to his travel as the stamped passports and piles of foreign coins in his desk. Pictures of Jack with several foreign heads of state adorn the walls. It seemed Jack liked being out in the world more than being stateside.

Two events in the US Jack didn’t attend because it conflicted with international travel: a 400-person reception Gov. Deukmejian held for Queen Elizabeth II and Ronald Reagan’s presidential inaugural.

Foreign governments acknowledged Jack’s contribution. In October of 2009, Jack was bestowed Chile’s highest honor, the Bernardo O’Higgins Presidential Order of Merit from the Chilean government. The Order of O’Higgins is awarded by Chile to foreign citizens that have displayed extraordinary contribution to the arts, sciences, education, industry, business, or humanitarian and social cooperation. The order has five ranks of honor, and Jack was awarded the highest rank, the rank of Grand Cruz (Grand Cross) putting him in the company of heads of state, high ranking diplomats, Nobel laureates and other distinguished persons.

Pots and pans were his hobby. Jack loved to cook for a crowd, the bigger the better. For decades Jack was part of groups such as the Delano Agribusiness luncheons and the Superb BBQ Committee, where a dozen or so volunteers cooked for hundreds. A few salesmen in the office on Saturday was an excuse to fire up the stove. Campaign fundraisers, the chamber of commerce events, picnic gatherings of the central California Slavs, the Delano High wrestling team boosters, St. Mary’s Catholic Church and countless other charities benefitted from Jack’s willingness to put on an apron for a cause.

If there is one charity that stands out in Jack’s life, it would have to be the Boy Scouts. Jack cooked for the annual BSA Southern Sierra Council dinner for decades and donated to Scouting in lieu of flowers for many funerals. In May, 1998 the Boy Scouts of America awarded Jack the Great American Award, Scouting’s highest honor.

Yet, after knowing Jack for decades, we came to really appreciate the majesty of this man when right after 9/11, Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS, sought out veterans in the industry to discuss their service to the nation. Mira Slott, now Investigator and Special Projects Editor for the Pundit, spoke to Jack Pandol for a piece we titled The Produce Industry’s Voices of War:

Straight out of high school Jack Pandol was driving a tractor, wiping dust and dirt from his eyes as he tilled crops in the Central California Valley. Produce was the only thing he and his father ever knew. “We were packing and shipping grapes to sell for $2.50 a box at auction in Chicago when my world changed,” remembers Pandol, a partner at Pandol Brothers in Delano, CA. That hot summer day in 1944 Pandol got the news he was drafted.

He said goodbye to family suppers and local dances, never imagining what was to come. Pandol, now 78, pauses, choked up as he reopens the memories inside the war-torn letter his parents had tucked away:

August 10th, 1945 11:00 pm

My dear folks,

I just don’t know how to express my feelings tonight. This night is truly one of the happiest of my life. Forty-five minutes ago, as I was nearly asleep, the yelling and whistles started to blow. We didn’t know what was going on, and then it came. The war is over.

My heart began to beat and a funny feeling began to crawl over me. My first action was to say a prayer for the help God had given me in battle and for the souls of the departed ones. We are the ones who know the meaning of bullets, blood and shells, and also what it means to go home and live a happy peaceful life.

Just now everyone is up. The ones that have any whisky are passing it around. One person, if caught sleeping, is dumped out. The bugle is blowing, not taps but to get up. We have a very rigid inspection in the morning, but no one seems to care now.

My first thought was of you, my brothers and of my old place at the table. Mom, I remember that sweet voice that called me, and not the rough method we use here. I recall the days of hard work that I put in, and the sweat that rolled down my back. That is the sweat I want to see again.

There are a lot that won’t come home. Many will come crippled. Many that came over with me never got to see this glorious night. Those are the boys we must remember and honor. For because of them, this night is a happy and joyous one.

Today and everyday, we are told about tactics and problems, “This is a dry run but the next one will be for keeps.” That wet run is one of the most feared runs a combat soldier can fear.

Well dear folks, it won’t be long now. Before many months, I’ll be there to say, “This is my chair, get your own,” or “Pop, how about $10 to go to the dance?” It won’t be long now. You better get my suit cleaned and pressed and my ties clean because your son is coming home.

Please keep this letter, as I want to remember it as long as I live.

Lots of love and God Bless You.

Your loving son, Jack

Pandol’s faith was tested only days after being thrown into combat. From his foxhole, he watched as his platoon sergeant got killed. “I had to hold the line with hand grenades and rifle shots,” he remembers. “Four of our men were hit on the side of a ridge and I just kept walking and shooting,” says Pandol.

Among his keepsake letters and war medals, including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Pandol finds the enemy flag of a Japanese soldier. The symbol of courage now represents a sign of hope for Pandol that America will again find the courage to protect what it holds dear.

As an adult, we became friends with one of Jack’s sons, Jim Pandol, now President of Pandol Associates Marketing, and one of Jack Pandol’s nephews, John Pandol, now Vice President, Special Projects at Pandol Bros. We met Jack’s wife, Winnie. We were invited to various events hosted by Pandol Bros. and remember several boat rides when conventions were in San Diego. We remember Jack insisting that the event should include the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.

To us, that was Jack — this deeply patriotic man, winner of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, who saw past the hatred of war to a world made both more prosperous and more peaceful by trade.

Our deepest condolences to Jack’s wife of 62 years, Winifred Pandol, his sons Stephen, Jack J, and Jim Pandol, his daughter Maria Zebrowski; grandchildren Jenny, Andrew, Jack J Jr, and Cici Pandol and Matt Zebrowski; and to his extended family.

The family provided the following viewing and donation information:

Service Schedule
Viewing Visitation
Delano Mortuary, Tuesday, August 10th from 4pm to 8pm
707 Browning Road
Delano, CA 93215

Funeral Mass
St. Francis Church, Bakersfield, Wednesday, August 11th at 10am
900 H Street
Bakersfield, CA 93304
*Internment (Graveside service at a future date-Private/family only)

Stockdale Country Club, immediately following the Funeral Mass
7001 Stockdale Hwy
Bakersfield, CA 93309

*Flower arrangements can be sent to Delano Mortuary or St. Francis Church

*Donations may be made to charity of your choice or:

South Sierra Council of Boy Scouts of America
2417 “M” Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301

All Slavonic-American Association
c/o Bronzan, 112 Green Oaks, Visalia, CA

Hoffman Hospice
8501 Brimhall Road, Building 100, Bakersfield, CA 93312

In all cases write name of person to be remembered in “memo line”

Those in need of accommodations during their visit, can call to make reservations and ask for the Pandol Corporate rate ($89/night):

The Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center
801 Truxtun Avenue
Bakersfield, CA 93301

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