Fritz Wafler 1928-2011
Fritz Wafler, the founder of Wafler Nurseries in Wolcott, New York, died March 11, five days after turning age 83. A memorial service is being planned for May 21 at Wafler Nurseries.
Wafler was an innovator in the apple nursery business during a time of transition to higher densities and smaller trees. He began his farm in 1958 and his nursery shortly after.
Wafler turned over management of Wafler Nurseries and the family fruit farm to son Paul in 1994, but continued to work there, “running errands,” according to Paul’s wife, Sue. Last August, he had just started chemotherapy when he met with visitors on the International Fruit Tree Association tour to New York, she said.
Last fall, even while ill, he ran a tree planter in the nursery, Paul said. “He took a lot of pride in driving a straight row,” he said.
He also liked working with customers. “They’d come here with 20 questions,” Paul said, “and he always help them find the answers.”
“Fritz Wafler had many connections to Cornell,” according to Cornell University horticulturist Dr. Terence Robinson. “He was a strong supporter of the Geneva rootstocks breeding program. He purchased a license to propagate the new rootstocks in 1991, which he maintains to this day even though he buys all of his rootstocks from West Coast producers.
“He donated $50,000 to support our work on orchard systems and rootstock evaluation about five years ago. He was a cooperator on many trials at his farms from nursery branching studies to rootstock trials and thinning trials.
“He was a leading proponent of high density orchards in the New York apple industry and led many overseas tours to learn about high density orcharding.
“He grew many trees for experiments at Geneva with rootstocks, scion varieties, and management trials.”
Cornell fruit pathologist Dr. Herb Aldwinckle, who works with fireblight resistance in rootstocks, added, “He personally helped my research for several years with direct grants. He will be sorely missed by the apple growing community and the apple research community.”
Wafler came to New York from a small vegetable and dairy farm in northern Switzerland, taking a two-year trip through Canada, Washington, California, and Michigan looking for land he could afford, Sue Wafler said. He left Switzerland with $200.
He bought the apple farm in Huron, New York, and then learned budding and grafting. That led to neighbors wanting his help, and he started the nursery. He worked with dwarfing rootstocks early on and was one of the first to use M. 111 interstems with M. 9 roots, she said. The nursery will produce about 550,000 trees this year, most of them apples. The farm grew to 450 acres, all apples except for 50 acres of tart cherries.
Fritz and his wife of 54 years, Lois, have three children, two of them still involved in the nursery and farm: daughter Kathy Madison, who is part owner, son Walter (who is not involved in the business), and son Paul and his wife Sue, who actively manage the business. Paul is a designer and inventor of orchard machinery as well.
Fritz has two brothers and two sisters who live in Switzerland.
In addition to his continual search for progressive methods of fruit growing, and sharing his knowledge with growers, he was an avid traveler, outdoorsman, and a skier. Son Paul said his father’s avid devotion to skiing came later in life in New York, not from his Swiss roots. “He skied somewhere in the world almost every month of the year,” Paul said.