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Tree Fruit Industry Honors Standouts

Cornish Apple – The tree fruit industry, holding an awards banquet for the first time in two years, raised a glass to industry leaders at the awards banquet that accompanies the Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting.

And all received a standing ovation. Jacqui Gordon Nuñez, director of training, education and member services for the association, received the Latino Leadership Award.

Jacqui Gordon Nuñez, left, is presented with the 2021 Latino Leadership Award by Jordan Matson during the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s awards banquet on Tuesday, December 7, at the Yakima Convention Center in Yakima, Washington. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Gordon Nuñez hails from Ecuador, where she studied food sciences, and holds a Master’s degree in horticulture from Washington State University. She previously interned for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and served as the food safety director at a Ecuadorian children’s hospital. In 2016, she joined the Tree Fruit Association, where she develops workshops related to food, worker and pesticide safety, as well as training materials for the tree fruit industry in both Spanish and English.

“Many of you have used the videos Jacqui has developed,” said Flor Servin of Washington State Department of Agriculture as she presented the award to Gordon Nuñez.

Gordon Nuñez expressed gratitude to her family and the industry leaders that have helped her help the workers that make the industry go. “This is a recognition of their work as much as mine,” she said. Dave Gleason of Kershaw Fruit and Cold Storage was awarded the Silver Apple Award.

Dave Gleason, left, is presented with the 2021 Silver Apple Award by Jordan Matson. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

“If the average farmer gets 40 harvests in a lifetime then Dave Gleason is on his bonus round,” said Sean Gilbert, a Tree Fruit Association board member presenting the honor. “He has seen more than 60 harvests, if you count from when his parents put him in an apple crate at 6 months while they picked apples.”

Gleason was lauded for a lifetime that links faith, family and farming. He began his working with his father and has managed farms and consulted from the Canadian border to Milton-Freewater, Oregon. He and his wife Babas have four children and some grandchildren. He is known for mission trips to Cuba, his Quincy farm and his YouTube channel, Gilbert said.

“In my career, I’ve been able to work with wonderful people,” Gleason said. Chris Peters, horticulturist for Gilbert Orchards, received the Silver Pear Award.

Chris Peters, left, is presented with the 2021 Silver Pear Award by Jordan Matson during the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s awards banquet. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Peters grew up on an orchard in the Yakima Valley and has worked at many different fruit companies over the course of 32 years, including Legacy Fruit Packers in Yakima, Montague Fruit in Australia and Auvil Fruit Co. near Wenatchee. He has served on the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, the Yakima Pom Club and the International Society of Horticultural Science.

“Grow more pears at high density and planar,” he told the crowd.

Jim Doornink, a Wapato grower and long time member of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, was granted the Washington Tree Fruit Distinguished Service Award.

Jim Doornick, left, is presented with the 2021 Distinguished Service Award by Jordan Matson. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Doornink was born in Seattle but raised in Wapato where he farms land first cultvated by his grandfather. He and his wife Rena have two children and two grandchildren. His son Phil and daughter-in-law Karen also work on the Doornink Fruit Farm, which comprises about 250 acres of fruit, including apples, apricots, cherries and pears. However, Doornink considers himself a cherry grower at heart.

“Which is a disease and can cause severe mental difficulties,” Gilbert said to a chorus of laughs. Doornink, a graduate of Washington State University, is best known in the fruit industry for his 37 years on the Research Commission — 25 of those years as the chairman. He and his wife are past winners of the Cherry King and Good Fruit Grower of the Year awards.

Doornink said he has tried to follow the advice of his father, a physician: “You always need to keep learning.”

Shannon Dininny, managing editor of Good Fruit Grower, the banquet sponsor, presented Mike Robinson of Double Diamond Fruit with the Grower of the Year Award.

“This year, the focus is on you, as it should be,” Dininny said.

Shannon Dininny, left, presents the Good Fruit Grower of the Year Award to Mike Robinson. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Robinson, known for being helpful in research collaboration and outspoken about industry issues, is a partner in Double Diamond and owns his own orchards. He recently postponed his retirement from the packing side of the business for a second time to lead a company that suddenly lost its president, Warren Morgan, to a car crash in 2019.

“I’ve learned from some really smart folks,” Robinson said.

To cap the ceremonies, Gilbert and the tree fruit industry presented Jennifer Witherbee with a decorative plant and warm round of applause for her 20 years of service as the retiring executive director of the Washington Apple Education Foundation.

Sean Gilbert, right, thanks outgoing Washington Apple Education Foundation executive director Jennifer Witherbee for her service to the industry. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Witherbee helped the Foundation grow from a group that awarded under $100,000 in scholarships each year to $1.1 million, and created a network that helped support the recipients with ongoing relationships throughout their educational career, Gilbert said.

“I loved every minute of my 20 years,” Witherbee said.

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