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Kurt Zuhlke Sr., leader in produce packaging industry, dies at age 88

by Terry Sokol | April 01, 2011

Kurt W. Zuhlke Sr. of Stroudsburg, PA, died March 19 at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, PA. He was 88.

Mr. Zuhlke founded Kurt Zuhlke & Associates Inc. in 1955. He served for many years as president and chief executive officer of the Bangor, PA, firm, which evolved under his leadership and with the support of his wife of 63 years, Frieda (Maichin) Zuhlke, into a major produce packaging supplier. He was well known in the industry.

Kurt Z
Kurt Zuhlke Sr.

Mr. Zuhlke had been in failing health for several months, according to his son, Kurt W. Zuhlke Jr., current president and chief executive officer of the company.

Born Dec. 15, 1922 in Bremerhaven, Germany, he was the only child of the late Gerhard and Johanna (Custer) Zuhlke. The family immigrated to the United States when he was six months old and settled in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, NY, where he was raised. "He was a New York boy growing up in Hollis Woods," Mr. Zuhlke Jr. said.

Mr. Zuhlke Sr. grew up loving horses and was a good rider, his son said. He enlisted in the 7th Calvary Regiment -- "General Custer's regiment," Mr. Zuhlke Jr. pointed out -- of the U.S. Army shortly after the United States entered World War II. But times were changing, Mr. Zuhlke Jr. said, and the army "took him off a horse and put him on a motorcycle." Mr. Zuhlke Sr. continued his military service in the Army's 36th Reconnaissance Squadron, seeing action during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in December 1944 through January 1945. His recon group went on to liberate a number of prisoner of war camps holding American servicemen, as well as Nazi labor and death camps, including Birkenau and Buchenwald, Mr. Zuhlke Jr. noted.

After the war, he became a chiropractor, having earned his degree at the New York Chiropractic Institute. His first job in produce was with a packaging company on the old Washington Street Market in lower Manhattan in New York in 1955.

Mr. Zuhlke Sr. had been a resident of Monroe County in Pennsylvania since 1974.

He was a member of the Produce Marketing Association, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, as well as other trade organizations, Mr. Zuhlke Jr. said. Additionally, he was a member of the American Legion in Bangor, the B.P.O. Elks in Bangor and the American Association of Retired Persons.

Mr. Zuhlke Sr. retired when he turned 80, according to his son, but he maintained an interest in the company and in the industry.

As for horseback riding, he eventually gave it up. "He was busy raising a ton of kids and building a company," Mr. Zuhlke Jr. said fondly. "He was instrumental in a lot of things in packaging in the produce industry.

"And he was married to the same woman for 63 years."

In addition to his wife, Frieda, he is survived by three children, Juliann Temer and her husband, Robert, of Stinson Beach, CA; Barbara Zuhlke of Port Charlotte, FL; and Kurt W. Zuhlke Jr. and his wife, Cindy, of Roseto, PA; eight grandchildren, Cristina, Sam, Garner, August, Alexis, Anthony, Angela and Christopher; two great-grandchildren, Chloe and Mickey; and many nieces and nephews.

A funeral service was held March 23 at the William H. Clark Funeral Home in Stroudsburg with the Rev. John Harding officiating. Burial followed in East Bangor Cemetery in East Bangor, PA.

The family requests that memorial remembrances be made to the Monroe County Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 144, Stroudsburg, PA 18360.