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Alan Mills, former head of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, dies at age 88

by Rand Green | February 24, 2010
E. Alan Mills, who retired as manager of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League in 1979 after 28 years with the organization, died Feb. 15, two weeks before what would have been his 89th birthday.

According to information furnished to The Produce News by Bruce Obbink, past president of the California Table Grape Commission, Mr. Mills was born in Granada, MN, on March 2, 1921, the next to youngest of nine children of Joel Webster Mills and Ida Jane Stewart Mills.

After high school graduation, Mr. Mills attended junior college in Virginia, MN, and then went to work for Lockheed Aircraft Corp. in California, where he worked on the Constellation and Constitution aircraft in the engineering department.

Mr. Mills served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, he attended the University of California-Los Angeles and then transferred to the University of California-Berkeley, where he received a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics in 1947.

Following graduation, he worked as an appraiser for the Bank of America until 1951, when he was hired as assistant manager of the newly established California Grape & Tree Fruit League, which was formed in 1950 by the consolidation of the California Grape Growers Association and the Tree Fruit Shippers League.

Mr. Mills assumed management responsibilities for the organization in 1968 upon the retirement of its founding manager, Harold Angier. The league's offices were located in San Francisco until the mid-1970s, when they were relocated to Fresno, CA.

"Al Mills was a highly dedicated worker for the grape and tree fruit industry," said Mr. Obbink. "He had some of the industry toughest times on his plate during the boycotts and strikes of the 1960s and 1970s. He served the industry well. Alan Mills was a true leader in the California agricultural industry."

During his tenure with the league, Mr. Mills served on various state agricultural committees. He was also a member of the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

In 1980, following his retirement, Mr. Mills received the California Grape & Tree Fruit League's Mentor Award.

Following his retirement from the league, Mr. Mills went to work for Ryan Instruments, manufacturer of temperature recording devices for use in produce transport. He continued with Ryan until the 1990s.

Mr. Mills continued to live in Fresno until the death of his wife, Marilyn, at which time he moved to Placerville, CA.

Herb Kaprelian, owner of KCC Holdings Ltd and a long-time grower, packer and shipper of California tree fruit and grapes, told The Produce News that he was involved in the league at the time Mr. Mills was there. "He did a wonderful job for the league," Mr. Kaprelian said.

Martin Zaninovich, board chairman of Jasmine Vineyards Inc., who served on the board of directors of the league when Mr. Mills was its manager, recalls him as "a very industrious and knowledgeable young man."

"He was a great guy. I liked him," said Don Fazio, a founding partner in Fazio Inc., who has been in the grape business since around 1960.

Mr. Fazio recalled Mr. Mills as "a leader and a gentleman and very involved in what he was doing" in the organization. "He treated everybody very nicely," whether one of the top people in the industry or someone just starting. "He treated everybody equally. He was a very good man. He would take [new] people under his wing and try to help them."

Mr. Mills was "always aggressively trying to find the right solutions for the problems that were out there," Mr. Fazio said. "But probably the best way to describe him is a true gentleman."