Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Terry Vorhees, Southeast Produce Council.
Originally printed in the June 2021 issue of Produce Business.
If it hadn’t been for Terry Vorhees, there might not be a Southeast Produce Council (SEPC).
Vorhees, who died in 2014 at age 64, brought the Southeast’s produce industry together. This was no small feat, as the council was one of the first to unite key states in a geographically large region.
“Without Terry, there would have been no SEPC,” says Dave Parker, retired produce industry marketing adviser and former director of merchandising for the California Tree Fruit Agreement (CTFA), who helped form the council with Vorhees.
Vorhees is universally credited with expanding the presence of southeastern U.S. grower-shippers, distributors, brokers and retail and foodservice buyers. He was a true visionary whose selfless leadership was instrumental in forming one of the largest and most influential U.S. produce industry trade groups.
In the late 1990s, Vorhees and Cece Krumrine were working for several commodity boards. Krumrine and Arthur O’Leary, former longtime northeastern regional manager for the Pear Bureau Northwest, helped create the New England Produce Council. As CTFA’s southeastern regional merchandiser, Vorhees was highly interested in talking with them about how something similar could be started in the Southeast. He put so much thought, passion and commitment into the process that Krumrine knew it would be a success.
“He started the entire SEPC,” says Krumrine, retail account manager of the National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB). “Although there was much excellent support from the council board, Terry was the catalyst who drove the success of the constituents.”
In a fall 1999 meeting at the Atlanta State Farmers Market, Vorhees discussed forming the council with Cathy Carney, then of Ziegler Apple Cider, Andreas, PA; Ken Lanhardt, Cub Foods’ Atlanta division (now deceased); Tom Page, now retired from Supervalu’s Lakeland, FL, division; and Heidi McIntyre and William Watson, formerly of the NWPB.
Because SEPC members and participating retailers were not within driving distance of each other, others were skeptical the council would be successful. Vorhees, however, always remained optimistic.
“His leadership style brought people together and he worked very hard to see this come into fruition,” says McIntyre, now of McIntyre Marketing. “Throughout the years, I watched him become a great leader who excelled at bringing people together under a common purpose and vision. He was always upbeat, optimistic and a true visionary. He was very important and helped to put this region on the map. Many Southeast growers and suppliers have greatly benefited from the council.”
Kevin Dunleavy, president of Super Marketing Promotions, Orlando, FL, attended an early SEPC formation meeting at a Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit. “Terry was the man with a plan,” he recalls. “He helped us to believe in what we were doing. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and the SEPC has been really flattered.”
Vorhees’ influence is shown in the council’s large membership and numerous programs. Since that first meeting, it has blossomed to more than 2,500 members and continues to expand.
In addition to the spring Southern Exposure expo and fall Southern Innovations expo, two of the council’s major events, the council cultivates member relationships and promotes consumption of fruits and vegetables through numerous industry training and programs.
Those programs include many charitable causes, scholarships, the Southern Roots women’s networking program, and training programs such as LINKS (Learning, Interaction, and Networking with Key Players in the Supply Chain) and STEP-UPP, the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals.
“Terry had his vision of what he wanted to do and where we wanted to go,” says Page, a close friend of Vorhees. “He wanted to turn it into a give-back organization. The big thing I think Terry brought was he kept pushing and pushing. There was a lot of expertise on our board and he would go to those people. Terry had a way of doing that. He would go to the people he knew who could make a difference and get a program off and running.”
Vorhees created a platform where people could interact in less stressful, but more productive, environments, says David Sherrod, the council’s president and CEO.
“Terry had a passion for produce, but his real passion was for people,” says Sherrod. “Terry also knew that when people were willing to give up getting the credit, so much more can be accomplished together. I think that is what set our course over 20 years ago and still defines what we do each and every day.”
A native of Logan, OH, located in the southeastern Ohio Appalachian foothills, Vorhees worked in a variety of retail and produce industry roles for more than 30 years. After high school, Vorhees moved to Annondale, VA, in the Washington, DC, area, to attend community college. While in college, he worked part-time at Safeway. In the mid-1970s, Vorhees relocated to Pennsylvania and managed Safeway stores in Carlisle, PA, and Chambersburg, PA, and was produce manager at Safeway and Grand Union stores.
In the mid-1980s, Vorhees headed training and education for Four Seasons Produce. He ran his own produce training and consulting company and also worked for the NWPB and the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.
During the council’s early days, Vorhees headed it without compensation before becoming its first full-time director in 2005.
Characteristically, he downplayed taking credit for the group’s formation. “We owe a lot of our success to our members, the ones that have volunteered on committees and have served as officers,” he told this writer in 2009.
John Shuman, of Shuman Farms, Reidsville, GA, was the council’s president from 2010 to 2012, and calls Vorhees a “good friend.”
“Terry’s leadership built the council and laid the foundation for what it is today,” says Shuman. “His passion, innovation and, above all, his kindness and friendship help guide the culture for which the SEPC is known.”
In 2015, to recognize produce industry leaders’ excellence, the council instituted the Terry Vorhees Lifetime Achievement Award.
Vorhees’ founding work and his creative vision continue to inform and inspire the council’s work. He has left a true and lasting legacy.