State ag leader Fred Plath dies at 89
Longtime president of Washington Fruit and Produce pushed company to forefront of state industry
Dorothy and Fred Plath walk down a stretch of the Yakima Greenway in December, 1994. That section of the Greenway was named the Plath Pathway thanks to a large contribution by the Plaths.
YAKIMA, Wash. — Fred M. Plath, whose leadership helped propel Washington Fruit and Produce Co. of Yakima into a leader in the state fruit industry, died Wednesday (January 19th) at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.
He was 89.
Plath served as president of the family-owned company until his retirement, but remained active as an orchardist.
He was the son of Fred B. Plath, who founded Washington Fruit in 1916 and worked as a teenager at the company on Yakima’s fruit row making wooden boxes.
Plath joined the company full time in 1947 after serving in the military and became its president.
Washington Fruit and Produce is among the largest fruit packers and marketers in the state, selling about 12 million boxes of fruit annually in domestic and international markets. Its operations include a 222,000-square-foot state-of-the-art packing facility on River Road and a series of orchards stretching from the Yakima Valley east to Basin City and south to Hood River, Ore.
Friends and acquaintances described Plath’s grace and kindness, calling his death a loss for the industry and for the Yakima community.
“He was one of the greatest men I have ever known,” said Bill Evans, owner of Cowiche-based Evans Fruit Co. and a contemporary of Plath. “He was helpful to everyone. He would work with you and share the knowledge he had with you. He was a special man.”
John Borton of Borton Fruit Co. of Yakima, another family business that grew with the industry, said Plath was a member of the generation that set the stage for the growth that has occurred in the Washington fruit industry.
“It’s sad that that generation is not going to be with us much longer when they were certainly the major drivers of the family fruit business,” Borton said. “They gave us all a good base.”
Craig Mendenhall of BBM Financial of Yakima said he often had lunch with Plath and other industry leaders at the 26A Club at the former Towne Plaza, now the Red Lion Hotel on East Yakima Avenue.
When asked about the business or the current year’s crop, Mendenhall said Plath was always upbeat.
“He always had a smile on his face. He would say things couldn’t be better and he meant it,” Mendenhall said. “He was a happy guy. He loved what he was doing.”
John Baule, head of the Yakima Valley Museum, recalled Plath’s grace and kindness as well as his devotion to family, but also his business acumen.
“He knew that business. I don’t think anyone grows a business like Washington Fruit without being able to not only be a good businessman but also stay abreast of the times and the changes.”
Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council of Yakima, said Plath was held in high regard in industry circles.
“He laid the foundation of a great fruit industry firm that is one of the most important in our industry,” Schlect said.
The Plath family contri-buted to the three-mile section of the Yakima Greenway that bears their name. He and his wife, Dorothy, also were active in a number of community organizations, including the museum.
He was a member of the Yakima Downtown Rotary Club for more than 60 years.
He is survived by his wife; three sons, Peter Plath, Roderick Plath and Clifford Plath, all of Yakima; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.