To Wally

Here’s to Wally
farmer – military man – mentor

By Anthony Totta
I met Mr. Wally in 1991, shortly after I was named Produce Director of Affiliated Foods, Elwood, Kansas. My boss, Loren Hinds, came to me with a brochure on the Shurfine produce program Special Meeting to be held in Phoenix, Arizona. He stated that although they were members of Shurfine they had never purchased fresh produce through the consolidated program and requested I attend to determine if it was worth our while to participate in the program. At the program, Jay Nelson and Tuck Jasper introduced Wally Stauffer as the new Vice President for Shurfine Produce.
Wally spoke with passion, vision, and professionalism. I was impressed especially with his vision. I requested he come to Elwood, Kansas to visit me.

Shortly thereafter, Wally came to visit in his khaki pants, blue button-down collared shirt, red tie, blue sports coat, and spit-shined shoes. We walked the cooler as we discussed my challenges and vision, his vision, our competition, the mission, and goals. The result of the meeting was that we offered one another support. My company Affiliated Elwood began by throwing our purchases into his toolbox as part of the combined procurement buying power vision. Knowing I was young and had much to learn, I requested Wally to mentor me. He committed to doing so. It’s probably no surprise to you who knew him that Wally was a mentor extraordinaire. He had me meet him in San Francisco. We traveled all the major growing areas all the way to San Diego.

Ed Kershaw and Wally Stauffer at a PMA trade-show

The meetings along the way included several big-name industry grower-shippers like Dole, T&A, Ocean Mist, Grimmway, Sun View Marketing, Growling, ITO, Fowler Packing, Oceanside Pole and many more. It is a relationship business, and this was not only the first-hand experience of seeing farmland, product, and operations but I met who I wanted to meet, saw what I wanted to see, got the education I had only dreamed of getting. With Wally behind me and alongside me I was able to lead Affiliated Elwood in a tremendous turnaround. We had 100% sales growth for the first year!   While the entire company only grew by 9%. The three years I was there we averaged 46% growth in produce department sales while maintaining a healthy net profit that allowed us to give our cooperative shareholders a healthy rebate each year. Without Wally as my mentor, I do not believe we could have had the same results.

Wally was like a master teacher to me. Yoda comes to mind. This year, I was impressed, I believe by God, that it was high time to write a tribute to Wally to express my gratitude. I have had several mentors along the way, but Wally stood out from the rest. In his military-style, tough, firm and direct way, was just what I needed as an inspiring young industry professional.

Let me say that each time I’ve spoken to Wally recently and over the years I always, every time, hung up with nuggets of information that benefited me. He was a wealth of information, a great teacher/mentor, and a friend.

Wally would often share about how he and Kathy would go sailing the ocean blue venturing way north out of the Puget Sound towards Alaska eating for weeks and months out of the ocean, building relationships in the ports with others who love to sail as they came to dock.

He often proudly bragged a bit about Craig and his business acumen. All those stories were captivating to me. Passion and energy engulfed in zeal for life were what I saw characterizing Wally’s life.

I reached out by email to Wally asking if he would mind if I wrote a tribute to him. He promptly spoke to Craig his son, the CEO of the Vanguard International Group, a vertically-integrated globally-diversified grower, packer, and shipper with farming operations in Washington State and Peru, and procurement and sales offices around the world. and confirmed back that Craig thought it would be a good idea. He and Craig offered to send me some of the details as shared above. Mixed in the content of these emails from
Wally he shared how Craig and Kathy, his wonderful wife, surprised him with an 80th birthday party and he had some lifelong friends show up, including some of the guys that served under him in Vietnam. He was very happy. A few weeks later I received the impactful news that Wally had passed. I was devastated that I had not yet finished writing my tribute which was meant to honor him while he was living. Well, here I am sharing it now. I’m thinking the Lord is giving Wally the pleasure of listening in.
Wally, thank you!

Thank you for your outstanding and awesome service to our country, to our farming communities, to our industry, to our lives. You shall be greatly missed, my friend. All of us should aspire to be contributors in the manner Wally was. Rest in peace, my mentor, and my friend. I hope to talk shop with you again in our eternal abode.


To learn even more about Wally Stauffer, read thePATH’s special edition newsletter at this link.

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Jennifer Lawson

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