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Jim Allen and Al Murray honored at EPC dinner dance

epc4470WOODLAND PARK, NJ — The Eastern Produce Council honored two longtime, dedicated and respected members of the fresh produce industry at the council's John J. McAleavey Dinner Dance, held Saturday evening, April 8, at the Westmount Country Club, here.

The annual event, named for the council's longtime executive director John McAleavey Sr., who died June 5, 2015, honored Jim Allen, who retired in January as president of the New York Apple Association and who joined New York Apple Sales in March, and Alfred Murray, who retired Nov. 30, 2016, as New Jersey's assistant secretary of agriculture.

Bill and Beth Litvin of Giorgio Fresh.

EPC Executive Director Susan McAleavey Sarlund welcomed everyone to the event before turning the microphone over to EPC President Vic Savanello of Allegiance Retail Services. Before his prepared remarks, Savanello asked for a moment of silence for two EPC executives who recently died: Sal Vacchia and Harold Friedman.

Savanello then thanked the sponsors for their support and introduced a few dignitaries at the dinner dance, such as John Toner, vice president of convention and industry collaboration at the United Fresh Produce Association; Cynthia Haskins, president of the New York Apple Association; and Tom Beaver, who was recently named director of marketing at the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

In keeping with its tradition of supporting local charities, Savanello presented $5,000 checks to the Lead New York Program, the Tomorrows Children's Fund and the New Jersey Agricultural Society.

Of course, the high point of the evening was the honoring of Jim Allen and Al Murray.

John McAleavey Jr. introduced Allen, saying, "I know my father would have like nothing more than to stand here and brag out Jim, as well as our other celebrity honoree, Al Murray. In his absence, for this moment in time at least, I hope the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

He added, "One of the many relationships he forged over the years was with Mr. Allen. I'm not exactly sure when they hooked up, but boy were they a perfect match."

Allen addressed the crowd by noting, "Twenty years ago, a dear friend said to me, 'You need to join the EPC. [That dear friend was John McAleavey Sr.] He said the best people belong, we have the best meeting, and we have the best shrimp.' How do you say no to that?"

Allen added, "When I attended that first meeting, my friend John took me around and introduced to me as many folks as possible. And the rest is history."

He continued, "Of course, after working with John for 20 years, the bonus was that with John, you got the entire McAleavey family. My love and admiration for Joann, Susan and John Jr. remains as strong as ever. Words cannot explain what it means to me to be honored tonight at the John McAleavey Annual Dinner Dance."

Art Brown, the former New Jersey secretary of agriculture who hired a young Al Murray right out of college, introduced the evening's other honoree.

"The relationship between Al and I goes way back," said Brown. "He was a quick study and grasped all the issues."

Secretary Brown formulated the state's Jersey Fresh promotional program back in 1984, and noted with pride that "it's still going strong." And while the Jersey Fresh program is considered the cornerstone of Brown's legacy, he declared that the popular program "is Al's legacy, too."

Said Brown, "Al and I spent a lot of good times together. We travelled the Northeast. We had strong support outside the state as well as inside New Jersey."

Brown also read a letter from New Jersey's current secretary of agriculture, Douglas H. Fisher, congratulating and praising Murray. Fisher could not attend the dinner dance since he was still recuperating from injuries he had sustained in an automobile accident back in late January.

Noting that he was "completely overwhelmed" by the honor, Murray stated, "When I consider all the great men and women of this industry who stood here and shared this same experience before me, I can't think of a better person to be sharing this honor with tonight than my good friend and compatriot, Jim Allen. And I would be remiss if I did not remember the third part of our little group -- John McAleavey -- who was a friend, mentor and brother to Jim and I."

Murray said that "through this council, I've made so many contacts and friendships; and the support that all of you have given to our farmers and New Jersey's agricultural industry is so very much appreciated."