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Dean Thonesen, longtime executive at Sunwest, loses battle with cancer

Dean Alan Thonesen, who enjoyed a 34-year career at Sunwest Fruit Co., rising to vice president and general manager, died Oct. 29. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in May of 2018.Thonesan

Mr. Thonesen is credited with developing and expanding Sunwest into a year-round growing, packing and shipping operation, distributing the company’s stonefruit and citrus to U.S. and world markets.

Born March 10, 1952, in Reedley, CA, Mr. Thonesen grew up on his family’s farm and starting working at a young age with his father and siblings, tending to the peaches, plums, nectarines and grapes the family grew.

In 1973, Mr. Thonesen married his high school sweetheart, Mary, and the couple soon welcomed two children, and later five grandchildren.

Mr. Thonesen was a member of the Fresno County Farm Bureau for more than 40 years. In the 1970s, he chaired the FCFB Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, eventually serving as chairman of the state YF&R program, then as vice chairman of the American Farm Bureau's YF&R Committee.

In 1982 he was selected as a member of Class XII of the Ag Leadership program and continued his leadership education with his participation in the many seminars, travel and networking opportunities that they provided. The leadership skills he learned in these two organizations prepared him for his career with the Britz family, owners of Sunwest.

During his career, he was a member of many industry organizations and advisory committees, most recently the California Fresh Fruit Association, where he served on the board and Executive Committee. He also served seven years as a member of the Big Fresno Fair Board of Directors, working hard to improve the grounds and experience for fairgoers.

Though he faced long odds in battling his affliction, Mr. Thonesen maintained a positive attitude and did everything he could to move forward in his treatment. He was excited to be starting a clinical trial at City of Hope on Nov. 4 and took solace knowing that if he wasn't meant to be cured he would at least be a part of the solution through research. He was especially thankful that this past summer he was able to attend the high school graduations of his two granddaughters and the eighth grade promotion of his youngest grandson.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Thonesen is survived by his son, Greg and daughter-in-law Hannah; daughter Amy Thiesen and son-in-law Kevin; his father Leslie; his sister, Joan Taff and brother-in-law Charlie; sister-in-law Joyce Thonesen; and grandchildren Elise Thiesen, Morgan Thonesen, Aidan Thiesen, Tommy Thonesen and Trenton Thonesen.

Memorial donations may be made in Mr. Thonesen's name to City of Hope, 1500 E Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010-3000 or The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 1500 Rosecrans Blvd, Suite 200, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266.