Two undeniable facts of growing older are the passing of your good friends and colleagues and that many you’ve known and worked with for years finally decide that it’s time to retire. Such is the case of my long-time friend, William (Bill) Troxell, executive director of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association (PVGA) who retiring on Dec. 15, 2023 after completing an outstanding career of 40 years with the association.

The PVGA contracted with Wanner Associates of Harrisburg to manage the association beginning on Sept. 1, 2023. Tammy K. Linn will serve as deputy executive director during the transition period until Bill’s retirement.

Given the tremendous impact that Bill had on the development and growth of the PVGA and on the lives of countless growers, Extension professionals, researchers and others, I wanted to share his story.

On Dec. 5, 1983, the Board of Directors of PVGA hired Bill as the executive secretary of the association on a part-time basis. Bill had recently completed his master’s degree in horticulture at Penn State and was working full-time on the farm of Dale Whitenight, the president of the association at the time.

The PVGA was founded in 1926 and operated for the first 52 years with volunteer officers assisted by Penn State Extension personnel. Bill’s major responsibilities at the time of hire were coordinating arrangements for the annual Vegetable Conference, publishing the monthly newsletter and promoting membership.

On New Year’s Day 1984, Bill received a call from Rudy Grob, who managed the PVGA’s booth at the PA Farm Show, telling Bill that he would be unable to work the show that year because of health issues. Would Bill be willing to take his place for the week? He agreed, and the booth earned a profit of $842 selling only vegetable soup.

According to Bill, the balance in the treasury at the end of January 1984 was a whopping $7,566; the registration number for the 1984 Vegetable Conference was 308 persons. In 1984, the association had 265 members.

Cheryl and Bill Troxell. Submitted photo

Bill wanted to make sure that I mentioned his wife Cheryl’s tremendous contribution in helping him with his work all these years. Cheryl was a fixture at the conventions over the 20-plus years that I was involved in helping, along with others, to prepare the educational program. He also mentioned that his stepmother helped him initially when he worked at Whitenight’s. He usually wrote letters and things out by hand and then she would type them with carbon copies while he was at work until Cheryl and he were married in 1994 and they moved to Richfield in 1997.

Shortly after they moved to Richfield, Cheryl moved from working full-time to three days a week so she would have more time to help with the PVGA. Bill said that as the work for the association and PA Vegetable Marketing & Research Program (PVMRP) increased, they hired some additional part-time help as well.

The association under Bill’s administration and leadership has grown greatly in terms of numbers, budget and the value of the PVGA to its members and the industry. Bill told me that ultimately, that value in terms of educational opportunities for members, research funding, representation of the industry on legislative issues and promotion of growers’ products is the only real reason for the existence of the association.

According to the records, PVGA membership grew from 265 members in 1984 to an average membership of 1,005 for the five years prior to the pandemic (when membership dropped to 793). The association’s monthly newsletter has been expanded from an equivalent of eight pages to a minimum of 24 pages – some months with as many as 36 or 40 pages. For the past several years, the PVGA has also added a weekly email update for members.

The association’s paid registration for the Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention (as the Vegetable Conference is now known) grew from 308 in 1984 to an average of just over 1,000 for the five years prior to the pandemic; the PA Farm Show booth has grown tremendously in size and offerings and is an important revenue source for the association.

Bill said another thing he was especially proud of was in 1991 the association began budgeting $10,000 or more annually for research. That allocation grew over the years as the Farm Show Food Booth and the convention became more profitable. Over the past 31 years PVGA has contributed over $1.3 million to vegetable and berry research.

Another area Bill had responsibility for was establishing and maintaining the aforementioned PVMRP, which is actively promoting Pennsylvania produce. In recent years it has become a member of the United Fresh Produce Association and been represented at United’s annual Washington Conference, where personal visits are made to Pennsylvania legislators in Congress.

It was my pleasure to work for over 20 years with Bill and his wife Cheryl when I was an Extension specialist at Penn State. Bill has provided legendary professional service to the association for 40 years as an independent contractor, along with his wife and part-time employees. For me to say that this will be a major transition for the PVGA is an understatement.

At the end of our conversation, Bill told me that he and Cheryl very much value the many friendships they built over the years – and look forward to continuing to build more in the coming years.

As he approaches this Christmas season and his pending retirement, Bill said he is very thankful to the Lord for all his blessing over these past 40 years. For us that have known and worked with him over the years, all we can say is God bless your retirement years and thank you for your dedicated and professional service these many years.

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