In sports, teams have the on-field stars — and the mostly unsung support staff on the sidelines. The same can be found in the Valley’s agriculture industry. There are well-known names; and then there are the less-heralded players behind the scenes. As with sports teams, the ag industry can’t function without the supporting cast. Imagine the Seattle Seahawks without a training or medical staff!

JoAnne Daniels is one of those supporting cast members who works at the heart of the fruit industry as the Treasurer/Controller for the Washington State Fruit Commission. It develops, markets and promotes soft fruits grown by more than 2,500 farmers here in the Northwest, such as peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries. The agency’s goal is to increase consumption across the nation and internationally, and it works to educate growers and standardize the fruit they produce. The commission also publishes Good Fruit Grower magazine, which is read avidly by growers around the world.

JoAnne is charged with accounting operations in addition to a host of other responsibilities. She says it’s quite complex. “Being a state agency, the commission is required to follow state and federal accounting requirements and regulations which greatly differs from private business.” There’s so much work, it takes a support group of five to help her get it all done. She’s responsible for the reporting of multi-million dollar budgets and sometimes writes checks for more than a million dollars.

Like many in local agriculture, JoAnne was born and raised in Yakima. Her father was a cattle rancher, and later, a land developer. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom with five children. JoAnne graduated from West Valley High School in 1978. Since then, she and her husband Russ have raised two daughters, Jolene Vesey and Vickie Wasser. Her passion for more than 35 years is photography — and judging from her website, jojo-photography.com, she does some great work. She’s also involved in the community. One of the activities she participates in is called Pick Up A Mountain, an annual campground and trail cleanup and maintenance program. “Come rain or shine, we would head out on different trails and/or forest service roads on either Chinook or White Pass and pick up garbage, and/or repair damaged trails,” she explains. JoAnne also enjoys outdoor activities such as fishing and camping.

Her very first job was working for the West Valley Weekly. This was a newspaper started by Ron and Becky Day, which ran out of a corner of the Clasen Fruit Warehouse. Its focus was the West Valley Community. There, she was tasked with designing and implementing a circulation system, and would occasionally help lay out pages and design ads. It was a wonderful time for JoAnne and she says “I have a great deal of pride from being involved in that project.”

After the newspaper job and during her senior year in high school, she went to work for Turner Implement and Datsun, which later became Evergreen Datsun. After a three-year stint working in their accounting department, she went to work for the Capitol Theatre. When she arrived, they handed her a few boxes filled with papers and told her to “set up a system.” So tasked, she set up and ran their bookkeeping system alongside Ron Stark, who was at the time a CPA for Moss Adams. She says “This was a fun job because I really got to dive deep into the accounting world. Plus this was my first exposure to a Board structure.” That exposure would benefit her years later.

After having her first child, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. It was during this time she started her own home-based business doing bookkeeping for several companies around town. She also did some typing for court reporters and says it “was enjoyable because every report was like reading a good crime or legal novel.” Fast forward several years and she found herself working full time for All Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning. She recalls “This was heavy on my heart because I wasn’t sure that going back to work away from home was the best idea for my kids.” Still, she enjoyed her time there and gained valuable experience. After just six months, she was promoted to office manager. She says “this was the start of computers in the office and moving from the hand bookkeeping systems to computerized programs.” One of her major responsibilities was setting up a new computer system and designing a job-costing system along with implementing an inventory tracking system.

After several years there, she transitioned to Doubl-Kold, Inc. as the office manager. Doubl-Kold, an industrial refrigeration and controls contractor, worked closely with many of the fruit companies in Eastern Washington and a few overseas. During her nine years at that job, Doubl-Kold went through four different computerized accounting systems. She notes “anyone working with computerized accounting programs knows that not one computer program shines in all categories.” The fourth program is the one they use to this day.

After leaving Doubl-Kold in 1999, Joanne went to work for the Washington State Fruit Commission. Since then, the commission has taken over accounting operations along with financial and budget reporting for a number of other ag agencies including the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, the Washington Cherry Marketing Committee, the Processed Pear Committee, and four others. With so many commissions to work for, she routinely reports to a number of different boards of directors. She explains “With the team at the commission, we are able to share our staff as well as the cost of equipment and office space, providing a centralized location which helps minimize the cost to the growers,” adding “because of the multiple businesses to whom we provide accounting services and the fact that we are a state agency who works with federal funding, our accounting systems and internal controls are audited a minimum of eight times per year.”

How does she manage to keep all these various plates spinning? She says it’s due in part to the self-discipline she learned on her father’s ranch. “I think my work ethic originated from the cow pen. Come rain or shine, freezing cold or snow up to your hips, you had to get up and feed the cows, locate a lost bull, or nurse a sick calf.”

JoAnne tried many jobs before she found her calling. What has she learned along the way? She answers “Over the years, in my profession, I have never shied away from a challenge. I would do what I could to meet the demands. However, one important lesson I learned when coming into a new position was instead of making changes and revamping a certain workflow on day one, I would seek to understand, then be understood. I needed to learn why things were presented the way they were or why processes were performed a certain way. Once I understood that, then working closely with my staff, I could suggest my changes and direct them with more clarity.”

She adds “With my strong family support and the many colleagues I have met along the way, they all have given me great direction and support. I learned something unique and valuable from each and every one of them. It is they who have made my journey rewarding.”

With her unique outlook, skill set, and job responsibilities, JoAnne is certainly one of the unsung heroes of our ever-growing ag industry.