TROY — On Monday, the community lost one of its own — a man of integrity, insight and of tender heart, according to those who knew him well.
William D. Fulton, 83, of Troy, the owner of Fulton Farms, passed away on Monday, May 2, at his residence, following a period of illness, according to his wife of 63 years, Joyce.
“Bill Fulton is a community leader. He has produced so many benefits to so many in the Miami County area and beyond — a wonderful individual,” Troy Mayor Michael Beamish said. “Obviously, the Strawberry Festival comes to mind and U-Pick always comes to mind when you think of Fultons. The legacy will continue and Fulton Farms will continue, but certainly Bill will be remembered as that person who really developed and contributed to the life of the farming community and just the entire community in terms of the benefits.”
Bill Fulton started Fulton Farms with his brother Tom in 1977, when he purchased the 2,100-acre Trojan Farms, which was adjacent to their 600-acre tract on State Route 202, outside of Troy. Fultons Farms, then 2,700 acres strong, quickly became the largest strawberry producer “this side of the Mississippi,” according to Joyce.
Joyce said Bill’s grandfather — a successful farmer in Sidney, who also owned a plantation in Cuba prior to its uprising in the late 1940s — was Bill’s mentor, along with his father, also a farmer.
In 1977, a festival also was coming to fruition in the city, and organizer Steve Hamilton and others had first considered a German-type festival with beer and bratwurst, or even a sweet corn or apple festival. But when approached about the possibility of a sweet corn festival in honor of Fulton’s corn, Bill offered his opinion about the particular crop to be celebrated. At the time, Fulton Farms was one of the biggest strawberry producers in the country.
“Bill had deeper insight than most people,” Joyce said. “He thought if it was a beginning, that it should be early and spring forward with the strawberries, not at the end to wrap things up with the sweet corn.”
Dee Mahan, longtime festival volunteer and 1991 chairwoman, agrees with the history.
“He was honest. He said, ‘Guys, that’s just not a good idea, let’s do something in spring or summer. What about strawberries?’” Mahan said.
And so the Troy Strawberry Festival was born.
The Fultons continued to support the festival throughout the years, according to Mahan. Mahan said the Fultons, grand marshals of the parade in 1991, would provide strawberries for festival purposes — day or night — and also funded the festival’s queen float to be built back then, just to name a few of their contributions.
“For it to be the 40th annual celebration this week and for him to pass this week …” Mahan said. “We have lost a tremendous man, a tremendous partner to the festival.”
Current Troy Strawberry Festival Manager Corie Schweser said she, along with the festival committee, was saddened to hear of the passing of Bill.
“Here we are on the 40th anniversary of the festival, and he is not here to share that with us, and this breaks our hearts,” Schweser said. “Not to have both he and Joyce together as part of this festival family makes us incredibly sad.”
Schweser said Joyce already was part of the 40th anniversary film created in honor of the festival’s history, “Troy Strawberry Festival: 40 years in 40 minutes.” However, a memorial clip in honor of Bill now will be added to the film that will be available to the public for viewing at the Mayflower Arts Center during festival weekend.
“(It’s) in honor of Bill and everything he meant to the festival through the years,” she said.
For Joyce, she has lost her soul mate, the man who first walked her home from school at 13 — and straight into her heart. The family, including their two sons, James and Benjamin; two daughters, Janet and Elizabeth; and many grandchildren also will greatly miss the man they looked up to.
“He has been a life-long mate for sure,” she said. “I have had stability in my life like you can’t imagine thanks to him.”
Reach Melody Vallieu at (937) 552-2131 or email at [email protected]