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Mindy VanVleck works hard, plays hard to keep life interesting

Work hard, play hard. If 25-year-old Mindy VanVleck had a life motto, that would sum things up nicely.

This is the same person who approached Frank Davis, vice president of sales and marketing for Borton & Sons in Yakima, WA, to get an "informational interview" that turned into an internship. And it's the same person who set up a 280-foot slip-and-slide in her yard last year to give party guests a wet and wild time.

Ms. VanVleck, who is now assistant director of sales at Borton & Sons, grew up in eastern Oregon in the small community of Brogan. She was one of 11 children who helped out on the family's ranching operation. She learned the meaning of hard work at an early age.

"We had a lot of chores," she told The Produce News. "Now looking back, my parents instilled in me the value of hard work."

The high school valedictorian decided to move away from the small agricultural community to McMinnville, OR, and attended Linfield College, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in international business with a minor in French.

Ms. VanVleck was learning French in college and was actually studying in France on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. "I was outside looking in," she said. "When September 11 hit, it was very difficult to be away from home."

She characterized the French people as "very cultural. But they are more private. An American saying 'hi' on the street is very bizarre." Despite their reservations, Ms. VanVleck said that people had questions about the tragedy. "You would tell people were really curious."

Being an American in France was also interesting to Ms. VanVleck because the country has such a large Muslim population.

Between her junior and senior years, Ms. VanVleck decided she wanted to intern as a way to get a jump on employment. "I approached Frank Davis [about an informational interview] through a mutual friend," she said. By the end of the interview, Ms. VanVleck asked Mr. Davis about an internship. She said that Mr. Davis jokes that he was actually interviewed by Ms. VanVleck.

Following her graduation in June 2003, Ms. VanVleck was offered full-time employment at Borton & Sons. "Here I was full circle back in agriculture," she said.

She settled into her new position with a sense of passion and invigoration. "My parents said you can do anything you set your mind to," she said.

"I'm proud of what I've accomplished," Ms. VanVleck added. "When I first started out, I wanted to learn everything about everything." When asked about the secret of her success at Borton & Sons, she stated simply, "I just pay attention. I really want to learn as much as I can."

She appreciates the confidence Mr. Davis has shown in her. "Frank has taken me under his wing and given me a lot of opportunities," she said.

Last year, she enjoyed attending the Produce Marketing Association convention in Atlanta. And this year, she's really been enjoying the Borton & Sons' NASCAR co-branding program.

SmartFresh recently sponsored a racing event with driving legend Richard Petty, and Ms. VanVleck had a chance to drive around the track with a race car driver and then take a turn at the wheel.

"I do a lot of fun things. Everything is fun to me," she laughed.

Ms. VanVleck plays just has hard as she works. "Growing up in my family, sports were a very big thing," she said. Her competitive spirit is deeply rooted in her love of sports, especially basketball. She played on the junior varsity team during high school and participated in a number of summer camps. "I love competitiveness and the high speed of the game," she said.

Playing sports through college helped her gain a competitive edge with her academics and on-the-job performance, Ms. VanVleck stated. "You have to manage your time," she confided. "I use coach analogies a lot. I try to approach [supervisory responsibilities] like a coach. A lot of things correlate to sports."

While in college, Ms. VanVleck met her future husband, Jeramy, whose family owns Gilbert Orchards in Yakima. They were together for three years before getting married, and today the couple are remodeling their home.

The work began a little over two years ago, and Ms. VanVleck couldn't be happier. "I really love [Yakima]," she said. "I love pulling ideas together to my own style."

The 2.5-acre property blooms annually with flower and vegetable gardens. It also blooms with unique party ideas. Last year the couple threw a bash for friends which included a 280-foot slip-and-slide down a hillside.

"People had to walk to get back up the hill," Ms. VanVleck said. "We are fun people."