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Retirement beckons Gerry Anderson

After working more than 40 years in the produce industry, interrupted only by a stint in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1970, Tan-O-on Marketing Inc. founder Gerry Anderson has hung up his potato and produce salesman's hat.

Mostly, that is.

Mr. Anderson, who told The Produce News Jan. 15 that he had officially retired Jan. 1, was actually sitting in the office of the Albuquerque, NM-based brokerage firm, filling in for the operation's new president, Shannon Casey, who was traveling on business.

And when contacted the following week, the new retiree was again at an office desk, although he insisted he was working only a few hours each week. "I've been in the business a little over 40 years," he said later in January. "I started when I was 20 as a warehouse receiver for Pacific Gamble Robinson in Duluth. The company was huge in the produce industry at that time, and I worked unloading trucks and cleaning coolers."

That position eventually led to the job of truck driver, and when he became a member of the armed forces, his trucking experience was put into play in an Army transportation company stationed in Germany.

"In 1970, I went back to Gamble Robinson, again as a truck driver, and then worked in sales. After a while, I was promoted to assistant branch manager," he said.

Working his way up through the produce ranks, Mr. Anderson joined Gateway Foods in the Great Lakes area and was director of produce from 1978 to 1979. From there he moved to the much different climate and surroundings of McAllen, TX, serving as a field buyer for Topco Associates.

"I loved it down there," he said of his stay in south Texas. "And I was there for two years, then transferred to Chicago, where I was a sales manager until 1984."

Whether it was coincidence or destiny Mr. Anderson can't say for sure, but in the mid-1980s, he saw a newspaper ad for a produce industry opening in Monte Vista, CO. Although he'd never even heard of the town, he replied to the ad and flew to Denver. "I drove down there, looked at those mountains and said, 'Colorado, here comes Gerry Anderson.' "

The job of selling potatoes for Sargent Produce, which was located across the road from Sargent High School and the 1-A winning football team, the Sargent Farmers, ran from 1984 to 1992. Mr. Anderson again relocated, this time to Albuquerque, where he founded Tan-O-on Marketing and where he'd been doing business since leaving Colorado's San Luis Valley.

His connection to the valley and its potatoes remained strong, however: Tan- O-on has been handling potatoes for two Monte Vista grower-shippers -- Carl Worley of Hi-Land Potato Co. and Bill Metz of Metz Potato Co. -- since it started brokering in 1992.

Over the past 15 years, the company has seen significant growth, taking on several New Mexico commodities that include onions, cabbage, apples, pumpkins, watermelons and peppers. Tan-O-on also markets corn for the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe in the Four Corners area of Colorado, and an Idaho office recently opened in Idaho Falls.

All those ties that took years to develop won't be severed abruptly, Mr. Anderson said, noting that he'll work as a consultant with Tan-O-on and is still president of the company's board of directors.

Lauding Mr. Casey, who joined the staff five years ago, Mr. Anderson said, "Shannon is very good at this, and he is also on the board of directors, as is my wife, Julie, and Jay Simon."

Expressing an unabashed love for the industry, Mr. Anderson said, "The produce business has been my life for a long time. I would work long hours because I loved what I did. I loved the challenges, and I loved acquiring a lot of friends through the years."

He described changes to the produce industry as "sweeping" in the last four decades, particularly the increase in technology in the last 20 or so years. "The biggest change for an older person is that of electronics," he said. "I'm a telephone guy. And there is also a change in the number of customers. The industry is growing, but it is also shrinking. The number of buyers and suppliers is shrinking, and you have to be sharp and give good product and good service."

Many companies have downsized their staffs as well, he said. "Years ago there were lots of people in offices, and now staffs are much smaller." He continued, "There is a huge increase in the information compared to years ago as well. Customers are much more aware of quality product and nutrition."

As he reflected on his long career, Mr. Anderson also looked forward to a time in the very near future when he will be spending much less time behind a desk and more time in other pursuits, such as traveling.

"I love to cruise, but unfortunately Julie hates it," he said. The solution comes with another family member. "My daughter, Robyn, likes going on cruises."

The fitness buff is also looking forward to spending more time in his favorite Albuquerque health club, and he said he will also have the luxury of being with his children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

"It's been a very good 40 years," Gerry Anderson said, "but I can't believe it's been 40 years."