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Jack V. Pandol dies at 87; pioneered produce importing

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Jack V. Pandol, a leader of the California produce industry whose innovations included pioneering global partnerships that made fresh fruit available to North Americans year-round, has died. He was 87.

Pandol, who had Alzheimer's disease, died Wednesday at his longtime home in Delano, Calif., his family said.

He was a second-generation farmer who thought far beyond the borders of the San Joaquin Valley land that he had worked since the 1940s.

"When everybody else just saw problems, he saw opportunities," said Bryan Silbermann, president of the Delaware-based Produce Marketing Assn. "He had a vision, and at heart he was a trader."

After Pandol took over sales and marketing for the family business in the 1950s, the company became an industry leader mainly because of his cutting-edge ideas.

In the 1960s, he was among the first to use refrigerated trucks instead of the railway system to deliver produce across the country, according to a company biography.

By the 1970s, Pandol had gained a foothold in export markets by employing cargo jets — which was unusual at the time — and turning to inventive refrigerated containers for traditional ocean-liner crossings, his family said.

In a move that helped shape the global produce industry, Pandol was instrumental in creating and expanding the produce trade between the U.S. and Latin America as well as Asia, according to Silbermann.

The expansion of global trade essentially defied Mother Nature and brought produce to consumers at any time of year.

Last year, Pandol received the Bernardo O'Higgins Award, Chile's equivalent of the Medal of Freedom, for his role in developing the produce industry in Chile.

Nephew John Pandol said his uncle "was a guy who acted first and evaluated risk later. 'Champion of optimism' was a good title for him."

He was born Jacob Vladimir Pandol on June 20, 1923, in Orosi, Calif., to Steve and Margaret, immigrants from what is now Croatia. His father had a partnership in a raisin vineyard before buying 160 acres near Delano.

After graduating from high school, Pandol started working on the farm, tending the grapes the family business is still known for and introducing other crops.

During World War II, he joined the Army and saw combat in the Philippines. He returned to Delano after the war.

Pandol and his brothers, Matt and Steve, gradually took over the farm in the late 1940s. When their father died in 1961, he left behind a diversified fruit and vegetable farm that smoothly passed to the next generation, California Business reported. Steve died in 1981 and Matt in 1998.

Jack Pandol's creative streak helped build his father's $56,000 investment into a multimillion-dollar empire that covered thousands of acres. Besides grapes, the farm grows and sells many other fruits in addition to importing foreign-grown produce.

"We would get so many truckloads of Chilean produce, we called our place Disneyland north," said his son, Jack. "He had this vision of worldwide, year-round supplies and mostly accomplished it."

A Republican Party activist, Pandol was appointed to a variety of state boards, committees and commissions by governors Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.

The "exuberant" Pandol "loved people," his son said. "That's what made him such a good salesman."

Besides his son Jack, Pandol is survived by his wife of 62 years, Winifred; two other sons, Stephen and Jim; a daughter, Maria Zebrowski; and five grandchildren.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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