Last Exeter Emperor grape farmer Glaze dies at age 92

Victor C. Glaze farmed the once world-famous Emperor grapes off road south of town named after his pioneering family

The Sun-Gazette

EXETER – The last man in Exeter to farm its once famous Emperor grapes and whose family had a road named after them has passed on.

Victor Charles Glaze of Exeter died on Jan. 21, 2020 following a short illness at the age of 92. Victor was the fifth and youngest child of parents Charles Glaze and Elizabeth Florence Glaze. He was born on Sept. 20, 1927 in Exeter and lived on the family farm south of town on a dirt road that was later paved and renamed Glaze Avenue after his family. 

During his youth, Vick spent his summers in the mountains of Wilsonia, Calif. and delivered the mail there by horseback. His horses were Sandy and Dan. After his father passed away, he and his mother moved to San Diego leaving the family farm to his older brother-in-law. He was a boy soprano and sang in weddings and church.

While in San Diego, Vick attended the John Brown Military Academy in La Jolla, Calif. His wife of nearly 68 years, Norma, said he often recalled roller skating to school each morning. He returned to Exeter during his high school years. He played football (left guard and defense) and was voted Most Valuable Player in the Valencia Cup rivalry game against Woodlake. He graduated from Exeter Union High School in 1945. Victor served his country during World War II. Initially, he was in the Merchant Marines and sailed on the S.S. Geronimo across the Pacific Ocean to places like Fiji and Okinawa, Japan. After more than two years at sea, he joined the US Army and was stationed at Ft. Ord in Marina, Calif. until the end of the war.

“He never really wanted to travel outside of the country when we got married,” Norma said. “He said he already seen so much of the world.”

Victor returned to Exeter after the war to farm. He married Norma Joan Higgins on February 16, 1953. Together, they raised their daughters Valerie and Vanessa. Norma and Vick enjoyed many years of growing a variety of fruits including emperor grapes and oranges. Norma recalls about half of their acreage being dedicated to Emperor grapes 

at one time. The Glazes were among the 30 local families that farmed, shipped and packed most of the world’s supply of the large purple grape from the 1920s through the 1950s. The Emperor Grape was sought out because of its durability in shipping. It had a thick skin and was not bruised or compromised easily. Its seeds were cumbersome but people looked past that for some time. The grapes were such a part of Exeter’s history that the town’s largest celebration Fall Festival was called the Emperor Grape Festival from 1931 to 1953. Vick also managed plum, pistachio and pomegranate acreage for other growers. After an unseasonable rain wiped out the harvest of grapes one year, Norma said Victor took them out and replanted with citrus. She said Victor farmed up until five years ago and lived on the ranch until coming down with pneumonia a little over two years ago. 

Victor’s contribution to the town went far beyond growing two of its most important crops. As a young adult living at a local boarding school, Victor was active in community groups including the Exeter 20-30 Club and the Lions Club. He sang in the Lions Club Quartet. He was also a member of the Elks Club in Visalia. Norma said he loved the Lions Club’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show so much, that he once made the nearly two-hour trip from Wilsonia for the day just to be a part of it.

“He was very involved in the community and he liked living here in Exeter,” she said.

Norma and Vick enjoyed skiing vacations during their early married years. When the girls were young, the family spent every August in Cayucos, Calif. In his later years, Victor spent leisure time at the Heiskell Cabin in Wilsonia. He also resumed skiing at Badger Pass. 

“We had a great marriage and he was a lot of fun,” she said. “He loved to ski and really missed that as he got older.”

Victor is survived by his wife of 67 years, Norma, his daughters Valerie Melton (Brad) and Vanessa Jungwirth (Michael), grandsons Jonathan Melton and Devin Melton, brother-in-law Bud Higgins, niece Sue Montgomery Porter, niece Donna Jean (Balaam) Stillfield, nephews Jere Schultz and Dave Schultz. He was preceded in death by his parents, sisters Vera, Velma, Vernetta and brother Virgil. 

Victor lived in a retirement community in Exeter for the last two years. His family wishes to express the deepest gratitude to the residents and staff of the Manor House for their friendship, dedication and loving support. We would also like to thank Kaweah Delta Hospice and The Open Arms Home in Visalia for providing Victor’s final care. 

A Celebration of Life Memorial Service will be held at the Exeter Church of Christ, located at 320 E. Firebaugh Ave. in Exeter on Friday, Jan. 31 at 10 a.m. Arrangements entrusted to the Smith Family Chapel. In lieu of flowers, donations in Victor’s name may be made to the Exeter Church of Christ Ladies Auxiliary. Condolences: smithfamilychapel.com.

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