Mike Willett, manager of the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Commission, was crowned the 2019 Cherry King at the Northwest Cherry Growers’ Cherry Institute in Yakima, Washington, on Jan. 18. Willett is the 75th Cherry King to be crowned in recognition of an above-and-beyond dedication to the industry.
Willett began his long career in the tree fruit industry picking peaches in Orondo, Washington, in 1969, following an urge to head west from his native town of Detroit, Michigan. He returned to his home state and earned a degree in horticulture from Michigan State University, then came west again to earn an advanced degree in horticulture from Washington State University.
In 1980 Willett went to work for the Oregon State University Extension Service in Medford, Oregon, and in 1983 he took a job with the WSU Extension in Yakima as a service agent for tree fruit and integrated pest management. During this time he earned his doctorate in horticulture from WSU while working under noted sweet cherry innovator Ed Proebsting.
Willett later worked as the technical issues manager for the Northwest Horticultural Council and spent a decade battling for market access and free trade for Northwest cherry growers.
“During that time, one of his many crowning achievements was the relentless work he did to get the Australian market open for Northwest cherries,” said 2018 Cherry King Lynn Long, as he introduced Willett.
In 2015 Willett was hired as the manager of the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Commission. He will retire in June and plans to spend more time on the golf course, ski slope and with his wife, Laura Willett, and family.
Willett is also a past recipient of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s Silver Pear Award and in 2018 received the association’s Distinguished Service Award.