Michigan’s cherry industry lost a visionary leader with the death of Gene Veliquette. The influential grower died June 7 in Traverse City. He was 67.
After buying his first farm in 1970 with his brother Norm and twin brother Dean, Veliquette began raising cherries and quickly became an industry leader.
“Gene was a fabulous guy—a fabulous friend,” said Phil Korson, executive director of the Michigan Cherry Marketing Institute. “He had a vision for both the production side and the marketing side. He had a vision for the future of the industry, and he was all about working together to accomplish things.
“He always challenged other people to do their best, and he lived that model. He led by example and was generous to a fault.” His penchant for innovation transformed Michigan’s cherry industry, Korson said, providing the vision and inspiration for the growth at Cherry Ke, Cherries R Us, Great Lakes Packing, Shoreline Fruit, and Triple D Orchards.
Over the years, the Veliquettes worked closely with brothers Bob and Don Gregory at Cherry Bay Orchards, keeping separate growing operations on opposite sides of Grand Traverse Bay but working together on packing and marketing. They had all been college friends at Michigan State University.
The two families created Shoreline Fruit, a cooperative with 6,000 acres of fruit that harvests more than 25 million pounds of Montmorency tart cherries each year. They created Great Lakes Packing Company.
Veliquette served on many cherry industry boards over the years. He also loved soccer. He and Dean helped create the Cherryland Youth Association, and soccer players, past and present, were encouraged to wear their soccer jerseys at the funeral.
“Gene taught us all to be smarter, and he challenged us to go the extra mile,” Korson said. “Not many people have his willingness to share or his passion for cherries. Short of his family, that was his closest passion. He will truly be missed.”
Veliquette and his wife, Linda, lived in Williamsburg for 37 years, raising children Rachel (Chance) Bunner of Traverse City, Charlotte (Kevin) Ball of Elk Rapids, and Tyler Veliquette of Williamsburg. They have nine grandchildren.
After growing up on a Michigan dairy farm, Richard Lehnert began writing about farming in 1962, while still a junior studying journalism at Michigan State University. He worked at newspapers for a year before joining the staff of Michigan Farmer, where he spent 26 years, the last 15 as chief editor. He was a member of the staff of Good Fruit Grower from 2010 until 2015.Read his stories: Story Index