Aug 6, 2012
Bob Gregory named Cherry Industry Person of the Year

The Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) has named Bob Gregory as its 2012 Cherry Industry Person of the Year.

“Bob Gregory has been a pioneer in the cherry industry,” said Phil Korson, CMI’s director. “He is a great example of how hard work and determination can pay off.”

Bob is one of the owners of Cherry Bay Orchards in Leelanau County, Mich. He and five siblings grew up on a dairy farm in Sebewaing, Mich. After traveling to the Traverse City area in 1970, Bob became “mesmerized” with the cherry industry. Two months later, he borrowed $10,000 for his portion of a down payment on two cherry farms in Leelanau County, purchased with business partners, he said.

The summer of 1971 was a busy one for Bob. He graduated from Michigan State University, got married and started shaking cherries for the first time. By 1972, Bob and his partners Norm, Dean and Gene Veliquette, had organized their operations into Cherry Ke Inc. Bob’s brother, Don Gregory, eventually joined the operation as a full partner.

It was a time of transition in the cherry industry. Mechanization was taking over. The young cherry growers came up with some pretty outlandish ideas for the time, like harvesting 24 hours a day, Don said.

In 1995, Cherry Bay Orchards amicably split from Cherry Ke, with Bob and Don taking over management of the former. Today, Cherry Bay Orchards grows tart and sweet cherries, apples, pears and wine grapes on 2,400 acres in Leelanau and Van Buren counties. The crop mix is about 60 percent tart cherries, 20 percent sweet cherries and 20 percent apples and other fruit. Up to 125 workers are hired during the cherry and apple harvests.

“(Bob) and his partners have developed a vertically integrated operation that is built on hard work and dedication,” Korson said.

Bob and his wife, Dianne, have four children, Matthew, Peter, Carrie and Andrew; and five grandchildren.

As for the award, Bob said it’s much bigger than him. It’s about the Cherry Bay team “that has planted and cared for more than 300,000 cherry trees in the last 40 years,” along with the staffs at related companies Great Lakes Packing Co., Triple D Orchards and Shoreline Fruit, he said.

“Bob has always believed that ‘You can’t go it alone,’” Korson said. “He has put that philosophy to practice throughout his career and encourages young farmers to do the same.”

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor

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