Longtime American Fruit Grower Columnist Charlie O’Dell Dies

Longtime American Fruit Grower Columnist Charlie O’Dell Dies

If you have any fond memories of Charlie that you’d like to share, please do so in the reader comment section below. There are already several touching remarks.

Charlie O’Dell

Beloved longtime American Fruit Grower Columnist Charlie O’Dell, Professor Emeritus of Horticulture at Virginia Tech and the owner of Crow’s Nest Berry Farm in Blacksburg, VA, passed away recently. According to an obituary in The Roanoke (VA) Times, O’Dell died at his Blacksburg home unexpectedly and peacefully on Sept. 4. He was 82.


O’Dell earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Berea College in Kentucky in 1957, going on to earn his Master’s Degree in Horticulture from the University of Maryland in 1960. He was employed by the USDA before coming to Virginia Tech in 1968. Charlie retired as Professor Emeritus of Horticulture, Extension and Research, from Virginia Tech in 2001.

O’Dell was a favorite of American Fruit Grower® and Western Fruit Grower® magazine readers, as he was our expert on berries for 34 years. While he stepped aside as our full-time berry columnist in 2016, he still submitted columns from time to time. In his last column, he writes on the importance of precisely locating drip irrigation emitters.

O’Dell was approached in 1982 by then-berry columnist George McConnell to take his place as the regular berry contributor. O’Dell recalled the scene when he was presented with the National Raspberry & Blackberry Association’s 2016 Distinguishing Service Award following his presentation at the conference’s luncheon entitled “A Lifetime In Berries” on March 3 in Williamsburg, VA.

“He kindly visited me at my campus office in 1982 and asked if I would be interested in writing the berries articles for this respected national fruit industry magazine. I said ‘yes,’ and was very honored, traveled to Willoughby, OH to meet (Meister Media Worldwide Chairman Emeritus and Editor-At-Large) Richard Meister and staff and am so grateful to be able to continue doing these berries articles for the past 34 years,” O’Dell said. “I am still learning and sharing with berry growers what I learn. American Fruit Grower has provided me a voice for berries far beyond campus, way beyond Virginia, a dream come true!”

Following O’Dell’s speech, he received a standing ovation, and then the surprise presentation.

“It was a total surprise to me,” he said. “It is a beautiful plaque too that will hang in a prominent place at home!”

O’Dell loved Crow’s Nest Farm, which he and his wife of 61 years, Wilmoth Curtis Rumbaugh O’Dell, founded in 1972. The name of the farm, (CROW), is a combination of their initials. O’Dell often referred to himself as “The Ole Crow.”

American Fruit Grower Senior Editor Christina Herrick, who coordinates the magazine’s columnists and worked with Charlie for many years, says it was always a delight to talk to and to hear from O’Dell.

“Charlie would always write me a note with his column saying he wanted to retire from writing, but around the due date for his next contribution he’d send me something, remarking at how he still had plenty of advice to share,” Herrick said. “He kept this up even through this year! His enthusiasm for the berry industry and horticulture was infectious and it certainly helped fuel us to focus more on the growth of the industry.”

In addition to his wife, O’Dell is survived by his two daughters and son-in-law, Mary Jane and Amos Cordell, and Leah O’Dell Wilmoth; his five grandchildren, Jesicca Wilmoth Burgess (Mathew Burgess), Curtis Jack Lee, Meredith Jane Lee, Amanda Lee Wilmoth, and Abbagail Reide Wilmoth; and great-granddaughter, Lydia Grace Burgess.

Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. The family will receive friends at the reception immediately following the service. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Berea College, Department of College Relations, C.P.O. 2216, Berea Kentucky 40404.

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Paul Zmoda says:

Rest in peace fellow hort writer.

James Militello says:

My father and I relied on Charlie’s advice for many years while growing berries. I still have many articles of his saved for reference. He will be greatly missed

Laurie Hodges says:

Charlie was a kind person. He was always upbeat and looking forward to what new ideas he would share with growers. It didn’t matter who you were, color or gender, if you were interested in horticulture, he was interested in you and in being as helpful as he could. Bless you Charlie. I’m glad our paths crossed

Bob McConnell says:

We have lost an icon. I have known Charlie for many years and treasure the many discussions we have had over various aspects of growing blueberries. He has inspired me to be more analytical and observant on my own farm. He was an amazing person. I believe his own words above, “I am still learning and sharing with berry growers what I learn,” describe my best memories of him. The berry industry would not be what it is today without him. Rest in peace.

William Lamont says:

I had the privilege to know and interact with Charlie O’Dell throughout my career beginning at N.C. State Univ. when Charlie was my neighbor to the north. We shared a passion for plasticulture or the use of plastics in agriculture and Charlie was a promoter on the use of plastic mulch and drip irrigation for the production of strawberries and vegetable crops throughout his career. He was a fine gentleman and one of the “old school” extension specialist. I am glad that Charlie and I could share some of the trail of life together.

Wow what a shock – I thought Charlie would live forever. Charlie was responsible for bringing me to Virginia 31 years ago, as he was instrumental in hiring me as a horticultural specialist to educate tobacco growers in southern Virginia to grow commercial vegetable crops. Charlie and I worked closely together as he had a wealth of knowledge that he humbly shared with the rural community. One never became depressed around Charlie as he always had a “can do” spirit and a smile and a laugh to go with it, let alone his skillful bird calls!
Charlie was one on of a kind who made a significant impact on this earth. I will miss him greatly and the memories will never die.
Phil Ramsey

MaryJo Roden says:

Deepest Sympathy to family and friends