When Josh Wunsch was telling a story – and he told a few – he’d often toss up a knuckle ball and wait for the inevitable awkward reaction. Just when a person began to squirm, he’d smile and let him off the hook.
“He was one of the good ones,” said Ben LaCross, who remembers Wunsch fondly after the third-generation fruit farmer, former Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) director and active farming promoter, died suddenly April 25.
“Whenever I talked with him or he was giving me advice, he’d throw something in just to keep me off-balance with his dry humor,” said LaCross, who was mentored in the fruit industry and MFB by Wunsch. “Then that sly smile would come out. His smile was his trademark, and you’d know he was just trying to see if you were paying attention.”
A third-generation Grand Traverse County farmer, Wunsch, along with his wife Barb, son Isaiah, and daughter Adele raised apples, tart cherries, and sweet cherries, both fresh and processed.
Today, Isaiah operates the farm, and Adele is in college.
Wunch’s passion for fruit was evident in his role on the Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association (MACMA).
“He was first elected to the MACMA board in 1988 and became Vice President in April 1999,” said Dawn Drake, general manager of MACMA. “He served in that capacity until his retirement in November 2011. As a member of the board, Josh was part of some difficult decisions facing the apple industry. Although it was painful at the time, those decisions helped get the Michigan apple industry back on the right track.”
Although Wunsch had transitioned to a higher percentage of fresh fruit on the farm, he “always understood the critical importance of collective bargaining and was eager to identify, encourage and mentor new leaders within the industry,” Drake said. “Josh was an active and enthusiastic participant in board discussions,” she said. “When he’d rock back in his board chair, clasp his hands and look up at the ceiling, everyone knew to take a deep breath, because we were going to be there a while longer.”
Well-known in Congressional offices and respected for his knowledge and expertise during his time on both MFB and MACMA boards, Wunsch was always willing to help.
“I always appreciated that Josh was only a phone call away,” Drake said. “No matter the situation, he was willing to listen to an idea or a problem. He was very forthcoming with his opinions and, again, was never at a lack for words. His straight-forward approach, dedication, leadership, and hard work made him one of the most respected growers in Michigan agriculture.”
“Josh was truly one of the good guys,” said MFB President Carl Bednarski. “He was passionate about fruit and all other areas of Michigan agriculture, and he always did his homework before he formed an opinion. We knew that when he took a stand, it was the result of research and his own aptly-applied experience. “During his long tenure on the Michigan Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau Insurance boards, he became a mentor to many individuals in defining and honing their leadership abilities,” Bednarski said. “Michigan Farm Bureau and the entire agriculture industry is better for knowing and working with Josh Wunsch.”
On the MFB board, Wunsch was District 9 Director from 1988-2011. He served as MFB Vice President from 2006-2009, the MACMA Board from 1989-2011, and served on its Executive Committee and as Vice President from 1999 to 2011.
He received the MACMA Apple Division Distinguished Service to Agriculture award in 2012, was on the MFB Group Purchasing Board from 1988-1997, and was currently serving on the MFB State Study Committee since last year.
He also was a board member of Shoreline Fruit Inc., Sleeping Bear Co-op, Traverse City Cherry, and Cherrco Inc., a tart cherry cooperative.
“Josh Wunsch was a true leader in Michigan agriculture,” said former MFB President Wayne Wood, who served on the board with Wunsch for many years.
“It didn’t matter if he was serving on the MFB board, the industry as a whole or the people of Michigan, he always had the best interest of agriculture at heart,” Wood said. “Farm Bureau was blessed to have Josh active in our organization for many years, on the county level, state level and during his term on the MFB board. His wisdom, analytical mind and ability to counsel not only those of he served with, but the future leaders of our industry, will certainly be missed.”
Wunsch could exude a gruff exterior on first meeting him, but when people got to know him, it became apparent that his heart was tender and service-oriented, LaCross said.
“He was an incredibly wise man who cared deeply about all kinds of agriculture, not only fruit, but ag across the state,” he said. “I admired him from the get-go because he had an attitude of service toward all kinds of ag. We farmed across the bay from each other, and when he and Pat McGuire got me involved in Farm Bureau, I learned that Josh’s perspectives could help me make decisions for my farm. I made a point to call him and pick his brain every couple months. He was very loquacious, so I always had to pencil in an hour, but it was always time well-spent. I will always remember his wisdom.”