Bruce Hollabaugh on the farm during pear harvest at Hollabaugh Bros. near Biglerville, Pennsylvania, last September. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)
Bruce Hollabaugh on the farm during pear harvest at Hollabaugh Bros. near Biglerville, Pennsylvania, last September. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

The April 1 issue of Good Fruit Grower focused on the International Fruit Tree Association’s tour of Adams County, Pennsylvania. One of the stops was Hollabaugh Bros., where co-owner and production manager Bruce Hollabaugh talked apples, peaches, pears and research partnerships with his visitors. 

After the April 1 issue went to press, we learned that Bruce Hollabaugh died on March 13 at the age of 41, a sudden and tragic loss for his family, friends, fellow growers and the fruit industry at large. 

After learning of Hollabaugh’s passing, I reached out to his colleagues in the Pennsylvania fruit industry, who remembered him for his leadership, drive to succeed, willingness to take risks and support for research and his fellow growers.

Adams County Nursery president Jen Baugher said Hollabaugh never hesitated to volunteer his time to serve the industry, share his knowledge or support important research. 

“His passion for horticulture was evident in the work he did every day at his family farm, and the partnerships he built with extension and industry over the years,” she said. “Our community of growers, and community at large, will miss him greatly.”

Hollabaugh graduated from Penn State University in 2002 with degrees in horticulture and Spanish. Retired professor Rob Crassweller, Hollabaugh’s academic advisor at the time, said Hollabaugh was a great student who wanted to learn as much as possible about horticulture and pomology. Early on, Crassweller suggested Hollabaugh pick up Spanish. He assumed his student would take the two agricultural Spanish courses, but Hollabaugh immersed himself and made Spanish his second major. 

In class, Hollabaugh always pushed Crassweller for the reasoning behind orchard production practices, and he continued to do so at extension meetings long after graduating. Hollabaugh always applied scientific reasoning and investigation in the orchard, participating in Penn State trials and even creating his own experimental research block, Crassweller said. 

Penn State extension educator Dan Weber said Hollabaugh was “truly a standout among his peers.”

“To this day, I can see Bruce sitting directly across from me during my interview with Penn State Extension faculty, and recall how penetrating his questions were,” Weber said. “I was struck then by his keen insight into the business of growing fruit, and his clear intellect.”

Hollabaugh was chair of the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania’s research committee, which funded research projects for the Mid-Atlantic region. A willing collaborator in a significant number of projects, Hollabaugh championed Penn State and University of Maryland research, and the benefits they could bring to all growers, Weber said.

SHAP President Ben Keim said Hollabaugh helped form Penn State’s Young Grower Alliance, which allows new growers to interact with their peers in an informal setting.

“Bruce has always been a pillar of the industry, and he will be deeply missed by everyone,” Keim said.

SHAP Vice President Andrew Schwalm said Hollabaugh was always promoting both SHAP and the Pennsylvania apple industry. He and his family often hosted tours of their operation for different groups, where visitors saw many forward-thinking approaches to growing fruit. 

Hollabaugh and his family always volunteered to sell fruit during the Pennsylvania Farm Show, because he knew that’s where a good chunk of SHAP’s research funds came from. He also used that opportunity to introduce the public to the latest varieties, said SHAP board member Matt Strite. 

Penn State pomologist Jim Schupp said Hollabaugh’s roles as chair of SHAP’s research committee, as bridge between the fruit industry and Penn State, and as industry spokesman were pivotal. 

“We will miss that terribly,” Schupp said. “I don’t see, immediately, how we will be able to replace his role. He was really good at what he did.”

Hollabaugh is survived by his wife, Amanda; their three children, Gabriel, Evangeline and Fineas; his parents, Kay and Brad Hollabaugh; his sister, Ellen Hollabaugh Vranich; and many other relatives. 

by Matt Milkovich