Fred Plath 1922-2012
Fred Plath, former long-time president of Washington Fruit and Produce Company in Yakima, Washington, died on January 25 at the age of 89.
Plath was born in Yakima and attended Yakima High School, where he met his future wife Dorothy Davis. They both attended Yakima Valley Community College for a year before transferring to the University of Washington in 1940.
In 1943, during World War II, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in Europe until 1945.
His father, Fred B. Plath, had formed the packing company Washington Fruit and Produce in 1916. The younger Plath returned after the war to pursue a degree in business and economics, but during his senior year at the University of Washington, his father became ill and he decided to go home.
When his father died in 1947, Plath decided to join the firm, starting as a sorting boss and later becoming packing boss. He and Dorothy married in 1948. In 1950, he joined the sales office, working alongside partner John Bloxom, and then became company president.
In the early 1980s, the partners decided to begin growing fruit as well as packing and selling it for other growers, and over the years the company became one of the largest vertically-integrated fruit operations in the state.
John's son Jack Bloxom, who joined the company in 1956, said Fred was one of the unique generation of people who served during World War II and brought back the qualities of leadership, compassion, confidence, and problem solving, and who had a desire to involve themselves thoroughly in their businesses and communities.
"Fred was probably the best fruit man I've ever been around," he said.
He was a great salesman. With his warm smile and eye contact, he engaged people in conversation and made them feel they had his full attention, Bloxom said. He was also savvy about technology. He involved himself in every detail of the construction of the company's packing and cold storage facilities. At the same time, he was extremely knowledgeable about the orchard side of the business.
"He was ahead of his time," Bloxom said.
In 1993, Rick Plath, one of Fred’s three sons, took over as company president, but Fred never stopped working. A few years ago, he cut down to weekdays. He enjoyed all aspects of fruit growing and continued to work at the Plath Ranch orchard near Union Gap, Rick said. Fred evidently had no plans to retire, since he had cherry trees on order to plant this spring, in 2013, and 2014.
Rick said Fred helped keep the company up to date with new varieties. “He was more progressive than his younger partners were in keeping the orchards genetically modern and encouraging us to have the best genetics, even though we may still find an older strain profitable.”
Fred also insisted on keeping the warehouse updated with the latest technology and on having the best sales personnel to market the fruit.
The company now sells about 12 million packs of tree fruits annually. Its operations include a new state-of-the-art packing line in Yakima and orchards in the Yakima and Columbia Basin areas of Washington and Hood River, Oregon.
Plath is survived by his wife and sons Peter, Rick, and Clifford.