Father of IFTA, Wallace Heuser, Dies

Father of IFTA, Wallace Heuser, Dies

Greg Lang, the first Wallace Heuser Presidential Lecture Award recipient, poses with Wallace Heuser during the 2016 International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in Grand Rapids, MI. Lang gave his lecture during the conference on the evolution of precision orchard systems. (Photo: Christina Herrick)

It was a “small” gathering of fruit growers in Hartford, MI, that forever changed the trajectory of fruit growing in the U.S. and world.  And one family in particular was at the center of it ― the Heusers.

Growers gathered at the apple storage facility of Hilltop Orchards operated by the Heuser family to discuss the pros and cons of dwarfing trees and rootstocks. “Small” turned out to be an understatement as it’s estimated close to 300 people attended. If there’s ever a sign of how far the fruit industry has come, it’s the key influence that Wallace Eugene Heuser and his family played on that fateful date ― March 4, 1958.

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The group decided to make the meeting an annual affair and Heuser was named the first president of the Dwarf Fruit Tree Association, which later became the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association, and later simply the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA).

When describing Heuser, former IFTA President Evan Milburn said, “I consider [him] the most brilliant horticulturist in the country today, if not the world.”

Wallace Eugene Heuser, 90, passed away on Tuesday, Feb. 5, in Lawrence, MI.

He was president of Hilltop Orchards & Nurseries for nearly three decades. He was instrumental in introducing dwarfing fruit tree rootstocks into the U.S. in the 1950s. He introduced such apples as ‘Smoothee Golden Delicious,’ ‘Red Chief Red Delicious,’ ‘Paula Red,’ ‘Bucky Gala,’ and more than 130 varieties. Heuser was active in bringing the Gisela sweet cherry rootstock into North America.

When Hilltop Orchards was sold in 1989, Heuser founded Summit Tree Sales and International Plant Management. In 2012, Katie Schuld and Jan Melvin, two long-time employees, took over ownership of Summit Tree Sales and Wanda Heuser Gale, Wally’s daughter, took over ownership of International Plant Management.

Wallace Heuser (center) is surrounded by attendees from Nova Scotia including Andrew and Timothy Stirling (left), Lisa Genereaux, and Alex Sarsfield at the young grower reception during the 2016 International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in Grand Rapids, MI. Heuser was the guest of honor for the event. (Photo: Christina Herrick)

His horticultural knowledge was recognized across the globe. He was a former president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society and director and past president of the National Peach Council. He was honored with the Wilder Medal from the American Pomological Society for fruit variety improvement, the Michigan State University Distinguished Service Award for Agriculture, the Centennial Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan State Horticultural Society, Outstanding Service Award from the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association, Fruit Man of the Year Award, Michigan Association of Pomesters, Michigan Farm Bureau Distinguished Service Award, Cherry Industry Person of the Year, and he was the first recipient of the International Fruit Tree Association’s Hall of Fame Award.

“I know of no other individual who has so greatly influenced the present commercial tree fruit industry,” Jerome Hull, professor emeritus in the horticulture department at Michigan State University, said of Heuser upon Heuser being presented the Michigan Farm Bureau’s Distinguished Service Award.

Heuser was preceded in death by his loving wife Laura, his parents, three brothers, Kenneth, Robert, Earl, sister Joan and daughter-in-law Lori.

Wallace E. Heuser is survived by five children: Gary Heuser, Wanda (Dan) Heuser Gale, Stephen Heuser, Jeffrey Heuser, and Roy (Rachel) Heuser; nine grandchildren: Laura Lee Gale, Michael Heuser, Jack Gale, Rachel (Nick) Heuser, Susan (Terry) Gale Phillips, Barbara Gale, Helena (Pat) Mengel, Christopher Heuser, Thomas Heuser, Samuel Heuser, Emily Heuser; 10 great-grandchildren, Vincent Krohne, Hayle Krohne, Elizabethe Hallan, Jessica Hallan, Summer Phillips, Grace Gale, Taylor Philips, Macy Boyer, Joshua Gale, Daniel Gale; and two great-grandchildren, Alison Cornell and Beverly Cornell.

A memorial service will take place on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, at 11 a.m. at the Hartford United Methodist Church. There will be a visitation prior to the memorial service at 10 a.m. with lunch following.

The family asks that memorials be made to the Hartford United Methodist Church, 425 E. Main, Hartford MI 49057, or to the International Fruit Tree Association in Wallace Heuser’s name.