May 20, 2013
It is with great sadness that Wish Farms announces the loss of Lester Wishnatzki. Lester passed away on Sunday, May 19, 2013 from age-related causes. Lester was 96 years old and survived by his two daughters, Eleanor and Susan. Services will be held at Temple Emanuel in Lakeland on Wednesday, May 22nd at 11 a.m.
Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Lester moved to Florida in 1929 and began working for the family business in 1955. As co-president of Wishnatzki & Nathel (now Wish Farms) with his brother Joe, based in Plant City, he was one of the first in the industry to use mechanical refrigeration in packinghouses, as well as trucks. Lester and Joe were instrumental in creating a market for strawberries in the Northeast and helped put Plant City on the map as the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.”
Lester and his late wife, Selma, donated much their time and resources to a number of local organizations, especially those that support education, the arts and health care. Over the years, their contributions have benefited the Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, Lakeland Regional Cancer Center, All Saints’ Academy, Temple Emmanuel, Central Florida Speech and Hearing, Imperial Symphony Orchestra, Peace River Center, Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE), the Polk Theatre, Lakeland Regional Medical Center (LRMC) Foundation, Florida Southern College, and others. In 2004, Lester was inducted into the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Mr. and Mrs. Lester Wishnatzki were named the Philanthropists of the Year by Lakeland Regional Medical Center. In 2009, Lester received an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Florida Southern College.
A gift of strawberries to his many friends and associates was Wishnatzki’s signature, said Carl Grooms, a Plant City strawberry grower who knew him for 55 years, and Chuck Hollenkamp, executive vice president of fresh sales at Wish Farms, where he has worked for 28 years.
“It just tickled him to give strawberries,” said Grooms, who often provided Wishnatzki with the gift fruit. “He was a very personable man. If he liked you, he was your friend for life.”
Today, Wish Farms, in business since 1922, is owned and operated by Gary Wishnatzki, Lester’s nephew.