2012 Distinguished Alumnus - Richard Wilson
Richard Wilson has never been afraid to get dirty. Grounded by the Illinois roots of his mother’s farming family, he embarked on a career in the nursery business, and for more than 30 years he has made earning a living off the land a way of life.
Wilson founded the enormously successful Colorama Wholesale Nursery, choosing the name after seeing it on the side of a paint truck, he recalls. Colorama’s main office is in Azusa, with growing areas in the Coachella Valley town of Thermal, and Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara. In 2008, he bought Piru-based La Verne Nursery Inc., which supplies most of the fruit trees to major nurseries in the southwest region. Currently, his company employs about 350 people, including three ornamental horticulture graduates from Cal Poly Pomona, he reports.
Wilson arrived on campus in the mid-1970s after a three-year stint in the U.S. Army and a short time at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut. He received a B.S. degree in ornamental horticulture in 1975 and, after a six-year business partnership with another Cal Poly student, he struck out on his own with Colorama in 1984.
“I always knew I was going to start a company,” he says. “It was just a matter of time.”
Wilson’s success has allowed him to provide much needed assistance to Cal Poly Pomona. He serves on the Plant Science Department Advisory Board and through the years has given plants, materials and equipment to the department. Among the donations was a vertical outdoor strawberry production system. In addition, La Verne Nursery currently is working with the university on a plant-tissue culturing project that will offer an educational experience to future students and provide a monetary return to the department. He also has provided plants and materials to Mt. SAC.
Professionally, he served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen and is a member of the Nursery Growers Association of Southern California.
Wilson says he feels extremely fortunate to have been able to do what he loves all these years. “I never thought of doing anything else. It was just a matter of moving forward.”
2011 Distinguished Alumna – Lisa Alley-Zarkades
Ms. Lisa Alley-Zarkades graduated in 1982, summa cum laude and valedictorian of the Foods & Nutrition program at Cal Poly Pomona. Today, she is Vice President of the Animal Wellness Group at E. T. Horn. She and her Animal Wellness team focus on the improvement of the overall health, wellness and quality of life of animals. E. T. Horn is one of the nation’s premier distributors of raw materials and chemicals for use in a variety of products including animal foods and supplements. Ms. Alley-Zarkades has over 20 years of food industry experience in technical sales and technical sales management positions. The company’s culinary lab, established when she was Vice President of the FoodTech Group, is an outstanding example of how Lisa and her team set the standard for technical leadership in the specialty ingredient distribution industry.
Ms. Alley-Zarkades is a board member of the World Pet Association; a member of The Foundation for the Pure Spanish Horse; and a professional member of the Institute of Food Technologists. She has also participated in the University’s Professor for a Day program and is a member of the Dean’s Council for the College of Agriculture.
“Like many, I really didn’t know what I wanted as a career, but I’ve always had a passion for fitness, nutrition, and animals,” remarked Lisa, “and that’s what led me here to Cal Poly. As a polytechnic university, it provided me with excellent on-the-job training and a wonderful, very practical learning experience. I am just thrilled to be representing and giving back to my Alma Mater.”
Ms. Lisa Alley-Zarkades
2010 Distinguished Alumnus - Dale Stern
Agricultural Biology, 1984
Stern, Van Vleck & McCarron, LLP
Frequent visits throughout his childhood to his families’ farms and dairies planted a seed of interest in agriculture in Dale Stern. Years later, he is realizing his dream as an agricultural law attorney.
Stern serves as general counsel to more than 50 nonprofit organizations representing many sectors of California’s food industry, ranging from production agriculture to food processors to grocery stores. He also represents many individual members of these trade associations by negotiating and drafting agreements for the sale of agricultural commodities and facilitating their interactions with government agencies. He has served as an expert witness and regularly appears on behalf of clients before state and federal courts and administrative agencies.
After starting his family, and before returning to school at Cal Poly Pomona, Stern worked as a transmission lineman for Southern California Edison, constructing and repairing high-voltage towers throughout the state.
While studying at Cal Poly Pomona, Stern took science and law classes, which fueled his career aspirations. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural biology with an emphasis on government regulation of agriculture. During his undergraduate years, he played on the varsity soccer team and participated in the co-op child care center where his youngest daughter attended. He was awarded the Voorhis Alumni Scholarship for agriculture in his senior year. After college, he went on to earn his law degree from the Martin Luther King, Jr. School of Law at UC Davis.
Stern is a published writer and regularly presents seminars on topics such as the fiduciary duties of directors and officers of nonprofit organizations, and negotiating and drafting sales agreements for agricultural interests.
When he is not advocating for California agriculture, he likes to play golf and travel with his wife Sheree. They have two daughters and five grandchildren, and live just outside Sacramento.
2009 Distinguished Alumnus -- John E. Andrews
Food Marketing and Agribusiness Management, 1992
John Andrews runs his business, Trinity Farms, with an understanding of every aspect, literally from the ground up.
At Cal Poly Pomona, Andrews majored in agriculture business management where he learned the accounting side of his industry. A minor in agronomy taught him everything from plant biology to the mechanics of farm vehicles.
In addition to his work as CEO of Trinity Farms, Andrews works as office manager for the family farming operation that is owned by his parents and run by the Robert S. Andrews Company. The two San Joaquin Valley companies are major growers, packers, and shippers of lettuce, cabbage, melons and cotton.
As a leader in agriculture for the state, Andrews is a member of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board and the California Melon Research Board. He serves on the board of South Valley Cooperative Ginning and is a member of the Grower Board of Jess Smith and Sons Cotton Brokers. He participates in resolving California’s water issues by working with the Wheeler Ridge-Maricopa Water Storage District.
Continuing his involvement with the College of Agriculture, Andrews welcomes classes to his farming operations every year with additional stops at gins, dairies and other local growers. In 2000, he established the John E. Andrews Leadership Award, which is presented annually. Andrews is also involved in charity work for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
When he is away from the farm, Andrews enjoys cooking and spending time with his close-knit family.
“I’m most proud of my parents’ support and that of my brother, Danny, whom I work with on a daily basis,” Andrews says. “Our lives are work when needed, and family fulfillments when required, which gives me flexibility and balance.”
John E. Andrews
2008 Distinguished Alumnus -- Kelly F. Duke
Ornamental Horticulture 1982
Vice President, Pre-Construction Services
ValleyCrest Landscape Development, Inc.
A business strategy Kelly Duke developed has taken him to the top of his company and helped his company stay on top of its industry.
Duke prepares budget estimates on construction projects for ValleyCrest Landscape Development, Inc. The strategy he developed involves finding a solution to each customer's problem while operating within the limits of the company's procedural demands and limited tolerance for risk.
His clients include Disney, the Getty Center and the Huntington Library. Duke credits much of his success to his studies at Cal Poly Pomona where he prepared his first of many business plans for hypothetical horticultural venture.
"As students we were compelled to address those things that were not necessarily stated in the curriculum but were necessary and logical to anticipate in the real world," Duke said. "The practice business plans helped me better understand the workings of ValleyCrest and allow me to emphathize with the needs of our customers"
Shortly after graduation, Duke was offered a job with ValleyCrest as a senior estimator. In 1989 he was promoted to lead the Central Estimating Department. Now he serves as a vice president of pre-construction services and is responsible for the preparation of pre-qualification documentation, technical proposal packages and marketing tools for business development representatives.
"What my department constructs are, in essence, the very same financial models that were at the heart of all of those Cal Poly hypothetical business plan term projects," Duke said. "To be recognized by the College of Agriculture as a distinguished alumnus is both an unexpected honor and an inducement to furthering my support of this institution."
Duke shares his excitement for the field of landscaping with high school students as a volunteer for the national Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (ACE) Mentor Program at Van Nuys High School and the Pasadena School District.
Kelly F. Duke