John “Danny” Gebbers, 84, patriarch of the Gebbers family that has been growing apples near Brewster for more than 100 years, died October 21 of complications from a fall last summer during the region’s forest fires.
Gebbers Farms, with more than 5,000 acres of tree fruit, is one of the largest contiguous apple orchards in the world, according to the Gebbers Farms web site. The family has deep roots in the Brewster area.
Gebbers grandfather Dan Gamble established a sawmill in 1894, helped establish the town’s steamboat landing, a hotel, planted the first apple orchards in the area in 1910, and built an apple packing shed in 1918.
As an only child, Gebbers grew up during the Depression and remembered traveling south with his parents in the winter to sell apples on the streets of Los Angeles, California, and other southern cities. The “Danny Boy” label, still in use today, was created during Gebbers’ infant years from a rendition of a baby picture of the young boy.
He graduated from Brewster High School in 1948 and only briefly attended Eastern Washington State College. Later in life, he would become business partners with Ed Pariseau, a grade school friend.
In 1950 he married Reba Riggan, also from the Brewster area, and they had six children, five who grew into adulthood and four that are involved today in the family business. More than half of his 20 grandchildren have come home to work in the family business after college.
He planted the new Granny Smith apple variety in 1968, which is believed to be one of the first Granny Smith orchards planted in the nation. The orchard is still producing today. He converted his father’s cattle grazing leases from the Department of Natural Resources into Granny Smith orchards (P & G Orchards) and for many years it was the largest planting of Granny Smith in the world, according to the family.
Gebbers and partner Pariseau were early adopters of controlled atmosphere in their apple warehouse and also brought some of the first pre-sizer apple sorting technology from France to the area in 1974.
He also saw opportunity with late season cherries. After meeting Dr. Charles Lapins, cherry breeder at Agriculture Canada’s research center in Summerland, British Columbia, he planted some of the state’s first late maturing cherries more than 20 years ago. The variety, called Lapins, was novel at the time because it ripened after Bing and could help extend the marketing window.
He is said to have had an uncanny ability to see a bare piece of land and be able to visualize what it would look like when developed into an orchard, and knew the best way to lay it out.
Gebbers is survived by his wife, children Mac and Becky Gebbers, Cass and Alycia Gebbers, Peter and Jody (Gebbers) Crane, Tim and Sonya (Gebbers) Taylor, and 42 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The Wenatchee World‘s obit on Gebbers.