Dr. Earl Smittcamp, a Fresno State alumnus who grew a 200-acre orchard into one of the region’s most successful business enterprises, passed away early Monday morning at age 96. Dr. Smittcamp was a well-known national agribusiness leader, a generous philanthropist and a passionate supporter of Fresno State.
Born in 1918 and raised in Fresno County, Dr. Smittcamp attended local schools in Kerman and earned a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State in 1939. While studying at Fresno State, Dr. Smittcamp met his wife, Muriel. He was known to say that his education at Fresno State rivaled that of any Ivy League school.
“Earl Smittcamp was a man of great character, strength and wisdom,” said Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro. “He loved his family and his community. He and Muriel fell in love as Fresno State students before starting their family. My wife Mary and I send our heartfelt condolences to the Smittcamp family during this time of grief.”
Castro ordered all flags on the Fresno State campus flown at half-staff on Friday, Oct. 24 in honor of Dr. Smittcamp’s contributions to the University.
As owner and operator of Wawona Orchards and Wawona Frozen Foods, Dr. Smittcamp oversaw the production and processing of fresh and frozen foods through a multimillion dollar Clovis-based business that remains a leader in the development and distribution of fruit and fruit products.
In 1997 Dr. Smittcamp and his wife, Muriel, gave Fresno State land and cash valued at $2 million to establish the Smittcamp Family Honors College and the Smittcamp Alumni House. At the time, it was the fourth largest gift in the University’s history.
The Smittcamp Family Honors College began in 1998. Unique in the CSU system, students are admitted as a cohort and receive full four-year scholarships for tuition and housing. The Smittcamp Family Honors College was designed to attract the region’s brightest students. They take part in an intensive and specialized undergraduate experience designed to rival the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.
“The continued support of Earl and Muriel Smittcamp, and other family members, has led to Smittcamp Family Honors College’s current status as one of the best of its kind in the country,” said Dr. Saeed Attar, director of the Smittcamp Family Honors College. “Earl and Muriel Smittcamp touched countless lives in the Valley and beyond, and changed them forever in the most positive way.”
Now in its 16th year, the Smittcamp Family Honors College has admitted 875 students. The next class will be announced at the start of the 2015-16 academic year.
When the Smittcamp Alumni House opened in March 2000, it was viewed as the finest alumni house in the CSU system. As University’s official welcome point, the Smittcamp Alumni House is home to several meeting rooms and the offices of the Fresno State Alumni Association. According to Jacquelyn Glasener, executive director of the Alumni Association, this building is a bridge between the campus and the community.
“Building the Smittcamp Alumni House on campus was a defining moment in the Fresno State Alumni Association’s 100-year history,” Glasener said. “Earl and Muriel Smittcamp’s generous gift, coupled with additional private donations, led to building a beautiful on-campus presence for our 200,000 alumni. The transformation it created for the Alumni Association has been remarkable, to this day.”
Dr. Smittcamp received an honorary doctorate from Fresno State in 1995.
His service to the University included the chairmanships of the Agricultural Foundation Board of Governors, the President’s Advisory Board and the University Foundation Board of Governors. He also served on the School of Business Advisory Board and the Athletics Corporation Board of Directors.
Dr. Smittcamp served during the Nixon and Ford administrations as a member of the Federal Farm Credit Board. He also was chairman of the California Plum Advisory Board, an industry-financed promotion agency for California-grown plums.
Dr. Smittcamp’s community leadership included involvement in the creation of the California Bowl postseason football game which benefited local charities, and service as chairman of the board for Saint Agnes Medical Center. In 1993 he was named the recipient of the Leon S. Peters Award, presented by the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce in recognition of his civic and business leadership.
Dr. Smittcamp lost his wife, Muriel, in 2009. He is survived by their four children, Robert Smittcamp, Carol Copeland, Betsy Kimball and William Smittcamp, who now serves as president and CEO of Wawona Frozen Foods and will be honored with the Fresno State Alumni Association’s Top Dog Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2014.
“It would be impossible to quantify the enormity of Earl and Muriel’s impact not only here at Fresno State, but throughout the entire region,” Castro said. “They and their children have left a lasting legacy that will touch countless lives in the present as well as for generations ahead.”