Neal Jack was born August 28, 1923, to Imperial Valley pioneers, Carol and Earl Jack in Los Angeles. Neal was an agricultural industry icon, pioneering innovator in the Imperial Valley, a founding member of Western Growers Association, and a leading force behind Jack Bros. He died peacefully December 15, surrounded by family.
After graduating from Brawley Union High School, he attended the University of Southern California when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Knowing he would participate in the war effort; he joined the Army. He became part of General Patton’s ground crew, pushing the Nazi’s out of France and sending them into retreat. Because of an act of bravery, he earned a field commission of second lieutenant. After Germany surrendered, he saw his fellow GIs return home while he had another year of service, because of the commission. He guarded German prisoners during the Nuremberg Trials, escorting the prisoners to their trials and back. In his spare time, he attended the trials of the more infamous German officers.
Once back stateside, he chose the University of Davis to major in agriculture, first marrying Brawley local, Virgene Sims. While at Davis, Neal made two friendships that lasted a lifetime, Andy D’Arrigo, and Archie Dessert.
Neal returned to his family’s farming operation, but when the Korean War broke out, he was recalled back into the Army. He was sent to Alaska to help keep an eye on the Russians in case they took advantage of the United States’ war with North Korea, this time with wife and 18-month-old daughter.
With his service behind him, Neal returned to lead Jack Bros. for nearly four decades, putting virtually every dollar earned during his tenure into improving the ground. Additionally, as a World War II and the Korean War Veteran, Neal radically modernized farming by bringing many of the innovations used in the military back to the ranch.
For example, Jack Bros. became one of the first farming companies in the Imperial Valley to have car-to-car radios — the radios very similar to the ones Neal used in reconnaissance missions during the war — to communicate with employees in the field. He also brought in one of the first drivable service trucks used to service equipment in the field. In the mid-1970s, Neal tried wheel line sprinklers, and a few years later was among the first to put in buried drip irrigation.
Neal also developed the Green Globe Artichoke seed still used by Ocean Mist during winter production.
Neal was an advocate for water conservation and served on numerous influential boards, including the Imperial Irrigation Board from 1973-1981, the California State Water Resources Control Board under Governor George Deukmejian, and the USDA Board at the Agriculture Research Station. Additionally, he played a significant role on the Western Growers Board of Directors as well as steered irrigation priorities as an active member on the Water Committee.
Neal served on the Pioneer Memorial Hospital founding committee to write the by-laws for the new hospital Foundation.
In 1955, Virgene contacted polio and spent a year and a half at Rancho Los Amigos in an iron lung. Upon being released she lived the rest of her life in a wheelchair and breathing on a respirator. Neal refused to let her condition tie them down and she became the first to travel around the world as a quadriplegic. They also traveled to England, Spain, Mexico, and Italy.
After Virgene’s passing, Neal married Shirley Benson. Neal’s traveling continued until Shirley passed in 2014.
Neal is survived by his children, Barbara and Dr. Richard O’Brien, MD, Steve and Janet Jack, Betty and Lloyd Miller, and Alex and Charlotte Jack; his grandchildren, Tiffany (Jared) Wingert, Toby (Leah) Jack, Marilee (Nathan) Davis, Carly (Derek) Alred, Whitney (Greg) Peyser, Jared (Holly) O’Brien, Marci (Mark) Christensen, Connor (Maggie) O’Brien, Audrey (Gustavo) Ramos, Russell Jack, Jeff (Amber) Jack, Brett (Amanda) Miller, and Courtney Miller, plus 37 great-grandchildren.
Neal is also survived by Shirley's five children, Brent and Debbie Benson and son David, Brenda And Dennis Buckley and sons, Colin and Kyle Grubbs, Brad Benson and sons Brooks and Brock Benson, Beth and Blair Swain, daughters Katie Wilson and Sarah Swain, and Blake and Sandy Benson with sons, Pierce and Chase.
“We are saddened by the news of Neal’s passing,” said Dave Puglia, president & CEO of Western Growers. “But we are comforted in the knowledge that Neal leaves behind an indelible legacy that will continue to shape the fresh produce industry for generations to come.”
Due to the COVID restrictions, a celebration of life will be held later. The family wishes to thank the loving care given to their father by Crystal Gomez, Esperanza Turner, and Kyla Arguilez.