Robert Earl Smittcamp
May 29, 1941 – March 4, 2021
Robert Earl “Bob” Smittcamp passed away peacefully on March 4, 2021 surrounded by his family. His last hours were filled with sweet memories and sentiments of gratitude from his siblings, children and wife.
Bob was born at the old St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno to Earl and Muriel Smittcamp on May 29, 1941. Earl was a United States Marine, serving in the Pacific theater when Bob was born, so he was raised in his early years by Muriel and her parents. After Earl returned from WWII, the family added three more children, Carol, Betsy and Bill.
In 1945, Earl purchased the Wawona Ranch from Muriel’s father, R.F. Schmeiser, whom Bob was named after. Planted on the ranch were 40 acres of peaches, which became the nucleus of what would become the Smittcamp Family Businesses.
Things were not easy for anyone in the 1940s, including the Smittcamp’s. Early mornings, long days and a strong work ethic were the staples of life on the ranch being raised by a decorated U.S. Marine veteran. All the children worked from an early age.
From childhood, Bob was inquisitive about how everything worked. From toy trains to heavy farming equipment, and on to packing lines and cold storage facilities. Bob was always learning, always teaching, and always mentoring others to share his knowledge and abilities. He loved driving a forklift and had it mastered by the time he was ten years old.
In 1953, Bob was diagnosed with Polio. His condition was life threatening and he spent several months in an iron lung, which was set up in the living room of his parent’s ranch house. When he recovered, he became an acolyte in his church, which further developed his faith in God, and also planted a seed for the need for good health care, and later played a major role in his philanthropic donations to local hospitals.
Bob graduated with honors from Clovis High School in 1959. He was an avid horseman and was very involved in FFA, where his hard work led him to win several local and national awards. A photo in his yearbook was captioned, “Bob Smittcamp, already a success in agriculture, sets his goals even higher.” He went on to attend California State University, Fresno. He was a life-long learner, continually challenging himself, his siblings and his friends to be excellent at whatever they chose to do. In 1964, Bob graduated from Fresno State with a BS in Business-Economics, and continued to support his Alma mater with endless generosity throughout his lifetime.
That same year, Bob was by Earl’s side as he founded Wawona Frozen Foods and purchased a plant in downtown Fresno. The frozen fruit business proved to be successful and in 1965 a freezer plant was built on Alluvial Avenue in Clovis. Today, Wawona Frozen Foods is run by Bob’s brother, Bill Smittcamp and his children.
Bob was a patriot, and he enlisted in the United States Army Reserve from 1965-1966. It was difficult for Bob to leave the ranch, but he enjoyed his time at Fort Ord. Bob was so dedicated to serving his country as his father did, while still contributing to the success of the family businesses, that he drove back and forth to Monterey on the weekends to complete boot camp. Many say that Bob’s exquisite culinary skills and love of fine food developed during his time in the service. He was entrusted to drive an Army General to and from military events in San Francisco, and would spend time with the chefs in the kitchen while waiting for the General to finish his meetings.
For many years, Bob worked tirelessly, side by side with Earl, to grow the Wawona companies. Their agricultural operation included fruit farming, packing, frozen-food production and eventually food processing. Bob’s mother Muriel was a big part of his world. Bob was happy to answer the dinner bell every time she rang it and join his family for a hot meal at the end of a long work day. In 1966, Bob married Janell Robinson and they started a family. Brent was born in 1968 and their daughter, Lisa, in 1970. That same year, when his father ran for State Senate, Bob began a life-long interest and commitment to local, state and national politics. Over the decades, Bob has supported and given sage advice to many candidates and elected officials at all levels of government. His passion for good, sensible policy was sought after by many, as Bob could often find an innovative solution to any problem.
Bob’s daughter, Lisa, shared his passion for politics. With Bob’s encouragement, Lisa moved to Washington D.C. after college, and has had a very successful career in politics. Currently, she is the Chief of Staff for Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Bob could not have been more proud of her accomplishments. Bob hosted many fundraisers over the years at his home in support of political candidates. He would frequently call Lisa to share information, thoughts on policy, and discuss issues, candidates and elections that were affecting our country.
In 1971, Earl and Bob acquired San Francisco based Lyons-Magnus and moved the company to Clovis. Bob worked countless hours to build Lyons from its humble beginnings. Earl had so much faith in Bob’s business acumen that he mortgaged everything he had to purchase the company and continue to expand the family enterprise.
Lyons began simply by making ice cream toppings, fudges, fruit toppings, and non-carbonated drink bases. Bob served as President and CEO of Lyons Magnus for over four decades, turning it into an internationally renowned food manufacturing giant. The growth of Lyons Magnus was nothing short of remarkable. In 1979, Bob was at the cutting edge of technology, pioneering the development of aseptic processing with fruit particulates.
In 1982, Bob and Janell completed their family with the birth of their second son, Brandon. While growing his family, Bob also continued to grow his business. In 1983, Lyons-Magnus leased a manufacturing plant in the state of Kentucky to be able to reduce distribution costs to their growing number of customers on the east coast, not knowing if sales would support two plants.
In 1985, Lyons in Clovis installed and operated the first aseptic bottle filler in the United States. In 1989, the Clovis plant was moved to its current location in downtown Fresno. The new plant was a state of the art manufacturing facility and allowed Bob to expand production into the juice and thickened beverage market for the healthcare industry. In 1999, Bob built a new plant in Kentucky, that was more modern and accommodating to the needs of their growing customer base, proving that Bob was a true visionary, an excellent businessman and grew to be an expert in every aspect of his operations.
Bob personally called on accounts all over the country, helping his sales team establish and solidify accounts with companies like Starbucks, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Carl’s Junior and Dairy Queen, to name a few. Lyons continued to grow and expand its product line to schools, hospitality and healthcare segments.
Although Bob was known to work 80-100 hour work weeks, he still found time to serve his community. The list of Boards he served on throughout his life is too numerous to list, but ones he was most proud of were Community Regional Medical Center, St. Agnes Hospital, Stanford Medical Centers Cardiovascular Institute, the Board of Governors of California State University, Fresno Finance Committee, and the California Institute of Food and Agriculture Research, UC Davis. He generously donated to numerous non-profit organizations throughout the Valley, and strongly supported the Smittcamp Family Honors College at Fresno State which was founded by his parents.
In 1995, Bob’s eldest son, Brent, began to work in sales at Wawona in Clovis for his Grandpa Earl. Bob was excited that his son was interested in the family business, and he was going to have the chance to mentor him and return to his agricultural farming roots. Just as Earl started Bob in the business, Bob now had the chance to start Brent. Bob saw early on that Brent had the desire and ability to carry on the Smittcamp standards of hard work, dedication and excellence that had been instilled in him by both his father and his grandfather. Bob and Brent purchased their first 160 acres together in 1997 and affectionately named it the “B & B Ranch.”
Over the next 17 years, Bob and Brent built Wawona Packing Company to be one of the largest and most successful tree fruit packing companies in the world, farming over 8,000 acres and selling fresh tree fruit nationally and internationally.
In 2011, Bob’s youngest son, Brandon, followed another one of Bob’s passions, and got into the restaurant business. Bob assisted him in acquiring The Lime Lite, a Fresno-based steakhouse. Since that time, Brandon and his partners have opened numerous restaurants with varying concepts and menus. Butterfish, Heirloom and Mayd were added to the list of Smittcamp Enterprises with Brandon at the helm.
In 2015,Bob married his second wife, Annette, and enjoyed traveling, playing golf, and cooking with her. Bob also welcomed Annette’s two sons, Michael and Steven, into the family. They shared many holidays and family trips with Bob, his children and grandchildren. Bob was very supportive of their educational endeavors and helped mentor them into becoming the fine young professionals they are today. In 2017, both Bob and Brent decided it was time to switch gears and sell their companies. Ironically, they both sold to the same private equity company, yet they both remained on the Board of Directors for both entities.
This gave Bob the opportunity to do one more thing he had always dreamed of, to work in the same environment with both of his sons. Bob, Brent and Brandon acquired an office where they each directed their own business entities, yet were located in the same space. It allowed for the continuation of the mentoring, consulting and advising that Bob had done his entire life. The only ones happier than Bob, were the boys who had the opportunity to spend quality time with their father day in and day out. To have the person whom they respected most be in the office next door was a true blessing.
In addition to running a number of successful businesses, Bob was also a well-known philanthropist who realized the value of supporting the community. He donated generously to many causes, hospitals, universities, nonprofits and educational institutions in the San Joaquin Valley. He was a job creator, an architect of how to best create a functional health care system, and fostered educational opportunities for many students in the region. He was always ready, willing and able to mentor anyone who looked to learn from his experience and wisdom.
Bob Smittcamp was a thinker, a planner, and an absolute visionary. Above all, Bob was a family man and a kind human being. He loved planning trips for his children, cooking holiday dinners, planting vegetable gardens, and watching his grandchildren play sports. He was always a well-dressed, classy gentleman. He instilled values in his children and grandchildren that will ensure his legacy lives on for generations to come.
Bob is survived by his wife Annette; his son, Brent Smittcamp and his wife, Lisa; his daughter Lisa Goeas and her husband, Ed; his son Brandon Smittcamp; stepsons Michael and Steven Ruocco; grandchildren Emma, Robert and Bennett Goeas and Nicole and Jack Smittcamp; sister Carol Copeland and her husband, Lee; sister Betsy Kimball and her husband, Bob; brother Bill Smittcamp and his wife, Linda; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Visitation will take place on Monday, March 15, 2021 from 3:00 to 5:00 pm at Whitehurst, Sullivan, Burns & Blair Funeral Home located at 836 East Nees Avenue, Fresno, CA 93720. COVID-19 restrictions apply. A private, family graveside service will be held on Tuesday, March 16, 2021.
A Celebration of the Life of Bob Smittcamp will be held on Saturday, April 10, 2021 at 10:00 am at Trinity Community Church, located at 12168 North Willow Avenue, Clovis, CA 93619.
In lieu of flowers, the children of Bob request that donations be made to: Community Regional Medical Centers, 1530 East Shaw Avenue, # 116, Fresno, CA 93710. Please note in the memo: “Bob Smittcamp Family Neurosciences Institute”. The Smittcamp Family Honors College, CSU, Fresno Foundation, 4910 North Chestnut Avenue, Fresno, CA 93726.
Monday, March 15, 2021
Celebration of Life
Saturday, April 10, 2021
Robert Earl Smittcamp
April 3, 2021
I am so grateful to have known Bob and to have worked for Lyons Magnus. Those were truly some of the best years of my professional career.
Bob always welcomed me into his office when I visited Fresno, even if he was on a call, would discuss personal issues with me and didn't judge me too badly on the golf course. (Although I was doing plenty of self judging.)
I wanted to call him several times after leaving Lyons, just to check in and see how he was doing, but then would think, "Why would he want to hear from you? " Now I wish I had.
Bob always walked tall. Cheers Bob...
March 28, 2021
My son's Facebook post about Bob:
"Central California friends:
You lost a great man yesterday. Many don't know the community titan, as Andreas Borgeas put it, that Bob was. His companies employed hundreds of people and his philanthropy was little known, but few men built up an entire region the way Bob did.
His employment of Dad 35 years ago brought us to California
I won't go on to list all of the generous things he's done for our family as there are too many to count. Here are a few memorable ones:
- After Dad's funeral, he invited everyone (an open invitation to hundreds of people in attendance) to a banquet lunch
- He gave me a job in a seasonal strawberry plant as a teenager, allowing me to work full time in the summer, save up for college and my mission, and enjoy lunches and car rides with Dad at an important inflection point of time in my life
- He chartered a private jet and gave us tickets to the AFC Championship game in 2001. I was 16 and sat in the copilots seat of a private jet heading to one of the biggest NFL games of the year! I haven't done either since!
- When we visited Washington DC during spring break of my sophomore year of high school, through his daughter, who was a Chief of Staff or a US Senator, we got a 1:1 tour of the White House with a Secret Service agent. He also provided a limousine tour of the entire city. Also something I haven't done since! That trip and tours helped to inspire my love for history and government and eventually led to me working 5 years in politics.
The Central Valley and our family was better off because of Bob Smittcamp."
Bob touched each person in our family's life in so many ways there isn't enough room to list his impact. We were blessed by his life and his trust.
Bob is legend.
He is missed.
March 24, 2021
I didn't know Bob very long, only 2 years, but he sure made an impression on me. To be able to hand over the reigns of a business that he built and to do it in such a class manner, was just exceptional and says a lot about Bob. He didn't love all my accounting changes, but always treated me with respect. We had some great talks at dinners at the Limelight, especially about how he and his dad bought Lyons. Lyons was long maraschino cherries and he had stone fruits in his plan. He made the right call!!! A truly humble and successful man who did it his way and I will miss him very much!!
March 23, 2021
I started working for Bob in May of 1983. My dad said you hired on with a good man and family. Stay with him, it’s NOT about just pay but insurance and what he will give you. My dad was right! Bob gave me the great opportunity to buy my first house, which never wouldn’t of happened if wasn’t for him. A career even when I left and came back. Bob and I had a couple plane rides together eating his cheese, fruit and crackers finally, lol, after never getting to eat all day! I have too many stories to share about Bob. I just wish I could pick up the phone and call him like I use too!
My dad was my greatest idle, Bob was right behind! They both taught me my work ethics... and to be a good person!
Sorry for your and our loss!
I love them both today and miss them both tremendously!!!
March 23, 2021
Very nice guy and always said Hi when passing and one Christmas my Husband who had cancer went to a Christmas party and Bob came over and spoke to my husband and they chatted for a second and My husband thought that was pretty cool...He will be missed...
March 18, 2021
Bob I never got the chance to thank you in person time goes by so fast Augustine Guardado passed away and that was my daddy he was such a great man and I loved him with all my heart and I thank you and your family for having a heart for Him you paid for the full funeral service and let my family grieve in peace with our Great Loss and I'm very grateful for that thank you with all my heart may you rest in peace in God heavenly present
March 16, 2021
We are so sorry to hear of your loss. We were your neighbors and went to Dry Creek together.
Gary and Carolyn Rogers
Sister Emily Demuth, C.S.C>
March 13, 2021
To all members of Robert Earl Smittcamp's family. Please know that my prayers are with you at this time. and I thank God for the many many lives Robert Smittcamp touched by his Generosity. May he now rest in peace and may God Bless his family and extended family with peace. Sister Emily Demuth C.S.C.
March 12, 2021
Bob was a fine, caring individual. In my career, I never worked for a better boss. Bob taught me a lot and I know he will be missed by everyone. He leaves behind an enduring legacy.
March 12, 2021
My condolences to entire Smittcamp family.You will be missed my good friend.
March 11, 2021
My condolences to entire Smittcamp family. Just want to say thank you for being who you were. Had some good conversations with you and the laughs were unforgettable. Thank you for your generous contributions that my family and I were able to benefit from. Being a single mother of four I would not have been able to afford to take my children to the many events we attended. Because of you and your generosity we were able to. So thank you! You will be greatly missed. RIP BOB!!!!!!!!!
March 10, 2021
Things I learned from Bob:
1. Keep it simple. Too much explanation causes a headache.
2. Be honest. Sugar coating goes against Rule #1.
3. Be grateful. A simple Thank You goes a long way.
I am going to miss him.