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Ken Martin, Rio Grande Valley citrus veteran, dies at 77

Ken Martin, a citrus farmer and businessman, who spent most of his life in the produce business in McAllen, TX, died Aug. 7, at the age of 77 while in Napa, CA.Ken-Martin

Mr. Martin was born in southwest Missouri and grew up on his family’s dairy farm. He went to Southwest Baptist College and then later to Dallas Mortuary College, after which he became a funeral director and mortician in Fulton, MO. In Fulton, he met his future wife, Sue Ware, and they were asked by her father to move to South Texas to care for citrus orchards he had purchased. This marked the beginning of the family’s venture into the citrus business. They moved to the Rio Grande Valley with their two young children in April of 1970.

In Texas, Mr. Martin managed the groves, drove the tractors, irrigated the soil, and the small company yielded 17 loads of citrus in its first year.

Fast forward 40 years and Mr. Martin ran one of the largest and most successful citrus and onion farming and packaging companies in Texas, shipping produce around the world. He was an early proponent of the famous Rio Star grapefruit that many Texans have come to know and love. The family business also grew into a leader in the onion industry with much of its production coming from their farms in Texas. He served on countless industry committees and boards throughout his career.

The Martin family sold their citrus company in 2012 and purchased a vineyard in Napa, CA, for what would be known as Italics Winegrowers in 2014. Italics is a project that truly highlighted Mr. Martin’s passion for agriculture and keen eye for cutting-edge farming and production.

Although Mr. Martin spent most of his life farming in Texas, he truly loved nothing more than enjoying wine with family in beautiful Napa Valley. He spent his last days tasting wine, enjoying his time with his grandchildren, and preparing for another harvest season -- the things he loved most.

Mr. Martin was a beloved husband, a kind father, a loving grandfather and great grandfather who knew how to live his life to the absolute fullest. He will be deeply missed by his family, his friends, and all who had the opportunity to know him.

Mr. Martin is survived by his wife, Sue; his children, Mike and his wife Anna, and Jeanie and her husband Jeff; his grandchildren, Taylor, Mary Kathryn, Wilson, Mikenley, Maisen, Harden, Gairsen and Natalie; a great granddaughter, Aubrey; and siblings Freddie, LaVena, and Robert and his wife Tina.

A funeral service is scheduled on Aug. 20 at the First United Methodist Church in McAllen, TX. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donating to Saving Hope Animal Rescue ( or the American Heart Association (