Cowiche Growers President and General Manager Laurie Knebusch joined the WAEF Board of Directors during the board of directors meeting in August. We asked Laurie to share a bit about her tree fruit industry journey, personal life and aspirations for impacting the mission of WAEF.
Laurie grew up on an apple farm in the Cowiche area as one of seven kids. She shares about her early experience in agriculture, "Growing up a farm kid, I did the usual stuff like irrigating, thinning and picking apples, bailing hay, etc. So, the one thing I DIDN'T want to do was work in the ag industry. I figured getting an accounting degree was a safe bet at a completely different career path."
Laurie graduated from Highland High School, went on to community college at Yakima Valley Community College, and later transferred to Central Washington University where she earned a bachelor's degree in accounting.
"I graduated college in 1982 during the Carter era recession so jobs were tough to find.", says Laurie, "Although my plan was to move far, far away, I soon met my husband Jim and settled down in Yakima. I took a job working for Orchard Rite in Yakima as a bookkeeper." She later began working in the accounting department at Independent Food Processors. "It was there that I learned the other side of the tree fruit industry and realized how impactful it was as an industry. I had found my niche!", says Laurie. During this time, Laurie and Jim bought their first home, had their first son, and Laurie began her 29 year career with Cowiche growers starting as controller. Seven years ago, she became the president and general manager. Laurie shares her connection with the industry, "I feel so blessed to work in an industry that has been a part of my whole life."
Laurie heard about WAEF upon its inception in 1994. In the 1990's Cowiche Growers began offering a scholarship each year to a graduate from Highland High School that was managed internally. A few years ago, the company began working with WAEF for administration of that scholarship. Laurie shares, "Because ofreputation and the growth it was going through, our board of directors made the decision about six years ago to turn over the selection and administration of the scholarship to WAEF."
Laurie has been an involved, committed volunteer board director for the Washington State Council of Farmer Cooperatives for the past six years. Laurie shares her board experience, "Because I work for a tree fruit cooperative, I am very familiar working with a board of directors, and have extensive experience with internal audits and strategic planning. I think because of my accounting background, I tend to be very analytical when approaching a challenge or problem."
Laurie not only comes with extensive board experience, she also comes with a personal connection to the mission of WAEF, saying"WAEF's mission touches me on a personal level. My Dad passed away when I was 16 years old and my stay-at-home Mom was left to find a way forward for our family. I knew that if I wanted to get to college, it was up to me to make it happen. If it weren't for scholarships and grants that I received when I graduated high school, my road to gaining a college education would have been extremely tough. The fact that WAEF is giving that same opportunity to a multitude of students is so impactful, and is something that I want to be part of as my way of paying it forward."
Laurie is inspired by those who overcome adversity, saying "...it reminds me that any problems I might think I have can be overcome with hard work and determination. That ties with my favorite quote which came from my Mom: You are stronger than you know."
In her personal life, Laurie has been happily married for 32 years. Laurie and Jim have two wonderful sons and are learning to adapt to a "nest" that now includes three dogs, one cat and five chickens. She enjoys outside activities such as gardening, hiking and snowmobiling. She is an avid Seahawks fan who cherishes spending time with her family, friends and travelling with her husband. Her favorite tree fruit to eat is a good Honeycrisp apple.
We appreciate all of the men and women that volunteer to serve the tree fruit industry's charity.
WAEF Board of Directors