Jack V. Pandol

Delano grower Jack V. Pandol, a civic leader and internationally known figure in the produce industry, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Pandol was a fixture in worldwide agricultural and produce marketing groups, a Republican party activist and a dogged fundraiser for local charities, including the Southern Sierra Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

“He spearheaded our Century Club Dinner. He’d round up a bunch of ranchers and farmers who would all cook up a really good dinner, and then invite everyone in the ranching and farming community to come eat and write a check to the Boy Scouts,” said John Wagner, district director of the Southern Sierra Council, which serves Kern, Inyo and Mono counties.“He pretty much held court at those dinners and was able to raise lots of money.”

For decades, Pandol was an active member of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, serving on its board for four years. He was elected chairman in 1963, and in 1995 received the trade group’s Mentors Award for outstanding service to the industry.

“Jack was a man of so many talents,” said president Barry Bedwell. “He was a family man, a business and community leader and an industry visionary. He was truly an icon who will be missed.”

Pandol died in his sleep Wednesday after an extended battle with Alzheimer’s disease, according to family members. He was at home surrounded by relatives.

Business leaders recalled Pandol as a champion of not just his own industry, but business in general.

“He was an awesome, awesome man who was very supportive of the local business community,” said Ginda Adkins, assistant director of the Delano Chamber of Commerce, where Pandol was a lifetime member and past board member.

Governors Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson named Pandol to serve on a variety of state boards, committees and commissions. He was selected for federal appointments, too.

Pandol enjoyed cooking. A few salesmen in the office was an excuse to fire up the stove, and he used his culinary skills to support campaign fundraisers and activities of the Delano Chamber of Commerce, the American Slavonic Social Club, the Delano High wrestling team boosters and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

If the event was big enough, he drafted friends and family members to help, said son Jack J. Pandol, 56.

“I never had any formal cooking lessons, but I learned everything I know from watching him,” the younger Pandol said.

He was also a devoted father, never failing to attend his athletic children’s home games if he wasn’t traveling on business, his son said.

“He taught by example,” he said. “I never remember him losing his temper. I can hardly even remember him saying a swear word. He didn’t smoke, and the rare times he drank he did it during dinner with friends and family. He was just a very mild-mannered man who would always listen to you.”

The elder Pandol was best known for his leadership in agriculture, helping to build his family’s Delano farm into a behemoth that sells grapes, apples, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, persimmons and plums around the globe, and also imports foreign-grown produce.

Nephew John Pandol, 49, is director of special projects for Pandol Brothers Inc., the marketing arm of the Pandol and Sons farm. He called his uncle the most impulsive and fearless business man he ever knew.

“He didn’t know the meaning of the word risk,” he said. “When he wanted to do something, he did something. The words ‘can’t be done’ weren’t in his vocabulary. The bigger, harder and more oddball the endeavor, the more he embraced it.”

The elder Pandol developed the Produce Marketing Association’s international division, and put together partnerships and alliances in Asia and Latin America. One of many perks of his occupation, family members said, was that it allowed him to pursue his lifelong passion for travel. As recently as a couple of years ago, he was still visiting international destinations for both business and pleasure.

In October 2009, the Chilean government gave the older Pandol its highest honor, the Bernardo O’Higgins Presidential Order of Merit.

John Pandol called his uncle’s commitment to global trade pioneering, beginning decades before it was common to, for instance, market Chilean grapes in Asia.

“This is a man who had no formal higher education, but he’s lectured at Harvard Business School,” he said.

The elder Pandol was born in Orange Cove, Calif., the son of immigrants from the island of Hvar, Croatia, then part of Hapsburg, Austria.

He attended high school in Reedley, Calif., and served in the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division during World War II. The veteran saw combat in the Philippines, served in the occupational force in Japan after the war, and was awarded a Purple Heart on his 70th birthday.

After the Army, he joined his father and younger brothers on the family farm in Delano. In the 1950s, he transitioned to sales and marketing.

In 1948, he married his wife of 62 years, the former Winifred Zaninovich of Porterville. The couple had four children.

The elder Pandol is survived by his wife, Winifred Pandol; sons Stephen, Jack J. and Jim Pandol; daughter Maria Zebrowski, and five grandchildren.

Viewing is 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 10 at Delano Mortuary. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 11 at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield, followed by a reception at Stockdale Country Club.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Boy Scouts of America, Southern Sierra Division Council; Hoffman Hospice; All Slavonic-American Association, 112 W. Green Oaks Drive, Visalia, CA, 93277-7508, Hoffman Hospice or the charity of your choice.

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