Don Nugent, a former Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) board member, a founder of Graceland Fruit, Inc. and former Michigan State University Trustee, died March 5.
“We honored Don with Michigan Farm Bureau’s highest award, the Distinguished Service to Ag Award in 2010, because of his significant contributions to Michigan agriculture,” said MFB President Carl Bednarski. “Regardless of the role he served - as an MFB Board member, as a member of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture, or as an MSU Board of trustee – he made an undeniable contribution that positively impacted Michigan agriculture.”
At the age of 19, Don Nugent purchased his first farm and entered Michigan State University on the “six-year plan” – taking classes in the fall and winter quarters and farming the rest of the year.
He graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and was a successful agribusinessman. In 1963, Don formed a partnership with his father to farm 360 acres of fruit and raise cattle. Eventually the farm specialized in apples and cherries.
In 1973 Nugent purchased Elberta Packing Company and formed Graceland Fruit Cooperative Inc. As orchardist and chief executive officer of Graceland, Nugent was an industry leader, developing new products and innovative processes for processing fruits and vegetables. In 1976 he pioneered a study on drying cherries to expand the market for sour cherries.
In 1988, Graceland installed the first commercial drying tunnel and contracted with Ocean Spray to dry cherries, cranberries and blueberries, bringing these products to market in 1989. Graceland went from a three-employee operation in 1988 to the largest employer in Benzie County. Today, the company prepares infused dried fruits such as cranberries, cherries, wild and cultivated blueberries and apples.
“When you think about Don Nugent you have to think about a pioneer. Don started the drying operation at Graceland Fruit and from that point on, dry cherries became a key part of our industry”, said Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute in Dewitt. “His contributions to the cherry industry on innovation with new technology in drying cherries moved the industry forward by leaps and bounds and was key to where we are today.”
A lifetime loyal Spartan, Don served as an elected member of the MSU Board of Trustees for 16 years, beginning in 1994. He was a member of the second Kellogg Young Farmer’s Study Program and credited the experience with the development of his leadership skills.
Don also served on the Michigan Commission of Agriculture for four years (1991–94), the governor’s Farmland and Agriculture Development Task Force (1993–94), and as a member of the Michigan Farm Bureau board for 14 years (1972–86). He was also a member of the USDA Federal Cherry Marketing Order of the Cherry Administrative Board and a member of the American Farm Bureau Fruit and Nut Advisory Commission.
Nugent was recognized for his business knowledge with awards ranging from the Michigan Exporter of the Year, the Michigan Manufacturer of the Year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Edward R. Madigan Excellence in Agriculture award, and the National Agricultural Marketer of the Year.