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Respected mushroom industry leader and innovator Joseph D'Amico, founder of To-Jo Mushrooms Inc. in Avondale, PA, died Jan. 17 after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 53.

Mr. D'Amico began his career with his family's business in 1974. In 1980, he established To-Jo Mushroom, named after his two sons, Tony and Joe, to pack and distribute fresh mushrooms.

According to To-Jo, the D'Amico family started growing mushrooms in 1932 after purchasing a stone quarry in Avondale that came with a small mushroom farm. Focusing on quality for the fresh market in a time when other mushroom growers were selling to canneries, the small farm carved out a niche and path to expansion. Joseph D'Amico Sr. grew the business for two decades, and in 1994 he saw the need for value-added mushroom products that resulted in the founding of To-Jo Food Products. The new business offered national distribution of value-added mushrooms in a variety of packs, flavors and marinades.

Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo, told The Produce News Jan. 27 that Tony and Joe D'Amico have essentially been running To-Jo since their father became ill. Tony is the executive vice present of the firm, and Joe D'Amico Jr. is vice president of transportation and growing operations.

"There are really no changes planned" for To-Jo operations, Mr. Frederic said. The late Mr. D'Amico "was the president and CEO of the company, but in reality, the kids were running the business for the last five years." There may be title changes now at To-Jo, "but that is not something anyone has thought about and it's not important in terms of the operations of the business."

"Joe was a great example to live by and was loved by his employees and family," said Bernie Ciuffetelli, the company's vice president of processing operations and a long-time friend of the late Mr. D'Amico. "He was a man highly respected among his industry peers and a leader with great vision."

"What strikes me about this whole thing is that the D'Amico's are such incredibly wonderful people and they are so close to their employees," Mr. Frederic added. "The community just loved Joe D'Amico. As an example, at the viewing there were 1,500 people who waited for two-and-a-half hours to get into the church, and it was not a warm day. The next day the church opened early so more people could come [to an early viewing]. There was an incredible turnout. If you talk about someone who was loved and respected in the community, Joe D'Amico had no enemies on earth. Everyone loved him."

This past year, To-Jo was recognized for its new retail product line, "On- The-Spot Gourmet," which received the 2008 Impact Award from the Produce Marketing Association for Excellence in Packaging. More recently, the company received numerous awards at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January, as well as being awarded the coveted Best Overall award for mushrooms.

Joseph D'Amico is survived by his wife of 33 years, Louise; two sons, Anthony and Joseph Jr.; one daughter, Anita D'Amico; two grandchildren, Tiara and Alexa; one brother, John D'Amico; and five sisters, Theresa McMillan, Angela Miller, Elaine Wright, Deanna D'Amico and Deb D'Amico.