Sue Naumes will present “Pear Box Labels: the History of the Rogue Valley” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, in the Hannon Library’s Meese Room, Southern Oregon University. This event is free and open to the public.
Pear box labels tell the story of Southern Oregon’s agricultural history, its economic wealth and, thanks to Sue Naumes, the story of Southern Oregon.
By 1910, Southern Oregon was in the throes of a land boom, the result of commercial pear cultivation and the railroad that brought those pears to national markets. Every box of pears packed had a label on its side, a bright and colorful label that pronounced the quality of the fruit and the excellence of a Rogue Valley’s company brand.
Naumes has been collecting pear box labels for most of her adult life, and each tells the story of a Rogue Valley grower, packer or shipper. Her collection is brilliant, graphically compelling and a fascinating insight into the politics and power struggles that began at the turn of the century. She’s found labels in burned out buildings, old warehouses, on eBay, at shows and in thrift shops. Her collection is extraordinary in its comprehensiveness and beauty, and Naumes knows the story behind every label.
Thanks to a 2017 Library Services and Technology Act grant to Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library, Naumes’ pear box labels are being digitized and will made available through the Southern Oregon Digital Archives (SODA) in the Stories of Southern Oregon collection.
Naumes’ grandparents, John Peter and Dillie Naumes, settled in the Rogue Valley in 1929 and helped start the Associated Fruit Co. and began an agricultural enterprise that would become one of the largest in Southern Oregon. Naumes, Inc. was established in 1946 as the Nye & Naumes Packing House by Naumes’ father, William Joseph "Joe" Naumes Jr. and Stephen G. Nye Jr. selling product under the NANPAK label at 619 South Grape Street in Medford, Oregon. It was the first ground level fruit packing plant in the northwest setting a new efficiency standard in fruit packing house design. David Lawry bought up Associated Fruit in 1950 and in the mid-late 1960s Joe Naumes bought out Nye’s interest. In the 1970s, Joe Naumes’ children, Mike and Sue Naumes, returned to help manage the company.
Joe Naumes died on July 4, 1989. At the time of his death, the Naumes family owned 7,000 acres of fruit and nut trees in Washington, Oregon and California and was said to be the largest producer of Bosc pears in the world. Today, Mike Naumes, Laura Ernest Naumes and their children, Joe, Cynthia and Sean manage the family enterprise.
The Southern Oregon Digital Archives can be accessed at http://soda.sou.edu. For more information on the Feb. 1 program at Hannon Library or the Southern Oregon Digital Archives, call 541-552-6442.