Merlin Kraft, a lifelong apple grower on Michigan’s Fruit Ridge and a leader in the fruit industry, died July 16. He was 88.

He is survived by his son, Gary, with whom he farmed in Kraft Orchards near Sparta, Michigan; a daughter, Nancy Momber; and grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

Extension fruit educator Phil Schwallier said that Kraft was a significant leader, horticulturally and politically, in the Michigan apple industry for more than 50 years.

“When someone at Michigan State University wanted to talk to an industry leader, Merlin was on the short list of people to call,” he said.

Neighbor fruit grower Harold Thome, a friend of Kraft’s for many years, said he was a good friend of Congressman, and later President, Gerald Ford. “He was a good grower, up on the latest technology, but he was also a watchdog for the fruit industry,” Thome said.

He recalls that Kraft was involved in a lot of product testing on his farm, working with Michigan State University scientists and extension people, hosting spray meetings, keeping a weather station on his farm and reporting weather data.

He was president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society in 1987.

Kraft was noted for his wit and sense of humor, and wrote poetry. “Merlin was always an early riser,” Thome said. “Early in the morning, he’d write poetry.”

In the death notice in the Grand Rapids Press, Kraft is credited with writing this verse:

When the time does come to leave this chair

And I take that journey—over there

I ask you friends, if you wish to please

Find me a shady spot 'neath some apple trees.