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
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
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
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."