Wilbert “Bill” Hansen was an exception to the rule about many successful fruit industry people being born and raised in the Midwest, because Hansen grew up right in the Yakima Valley on a small hardscrabble farm near Harrah, Washington. Everyone in the family, including Bill, worked hard to make ends meet. Following graduation from Wapato High School in 1931, Hansen decided to enlist in the Navy. On the way up the courthouse steps to the enlistment office in Yakima, Hansen met his high school principal. Asked why he was going into the courthouse, Hansen replied that he was enlisting in the military because he didn’t have enough money to go to college. The principal said he could probably help arrange for a scholarship as well as convince the Yakima YMCA into providing a room in exchange for work. Bill Hansen took him up on the college suggestion and graduated from Yakima Valley Junior College in its first graduating class of 1933. Just a few seconds later and the principal and Hansen would never have met on the courthouse steps; Hansen would have joined the United States Navy and probably never would have become involved in the fruit industry.
Following college, Hansen became a potato and onion buyer for the W.F.G. Rice Co., then a year later became a buyer for the Safeway Grocery Store chain, which eventually promoted Hansen to manager of its produce-buying office in Yakima. Following a successful tenure in this position, Hansen became the general manager of Stubbs Fruit Co. until 1942 when he opened his own fruit brokerage office. During his seven-year stint as a fruit broker, Hansen acquired the Apple A Day label from a local grower named Carl Behnke who had been using this label on his produce all during the 1930s. Throughout Hansen’s career, the Apple A Day label was his prime brand, and apples are still being packed under this label today.
In 1949, Bill Hansen formed a partnership with Ralph Sundquist in a packing-shipping organization, but the partnership lasted only five years because, by then, Bill thought he was ready to fulfill his dream of being an independent fruit grower, packer, and shipper. He had purchased his first orchard in 1948 and now had the capital and experience to establish a place to process his and other growers’ fruit. Therefore, in 1954, Hansen built a small packing house and a 200,000-box cold storage facility on Mead Avenue in Yakima. Hansen Fruit and Cold Storage went from being a dream to a reality, and success followed quickly. From apples, Bill expanded into pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, and prunes. Bill Hansen created special labels to market his fruit. Besides Apple A Day, Hansen Fruit & Cold Storage adopted Hy Valley as a second primary brand. He also sold fruit under the Pat Hand (Fancy Grade packs) and First Blue labels.
Business snowballed because of Bill Hansen’s strong work ethic, his commitment to high quality fruit sold under recognizable labels, and his superb salesmanship. He started buying more land and planting more orchards at the same time he expanded his packing and storage facilities.
However, on February 28, 1967, Bill Hansen died suddenly at age 57 of a heart attack, but his sons Gary and Harley took over immediately and began a new era in the company’s history. Today, Hansen Fruit & Cold Storage is still an independently owned family business selling millions of boxes of fruit every year and farming over 4,000 acres of orchard under the names of Valley Roz and Radar Heights Orchards. Harley Hansen and his son Eric Hansen are continuing to implement the dreams of Wilbert “Bill” Hansen—their father and grandfather, respectively.