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 »  Home  »  In Memoriam  »  (E) William Sambrailo - California Agricultural Pioneer
(E) William Sambrailo - California Agricultural Pioneer
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  02/4/2004 | In Memoriam | Unrated
(E) William Sambrailo - California Agricultural Pioneer

 

Watsonville packaging pioneer William Sambrailo, 1927-2004

The following story concerns Croatian-American William Sambrailo and
appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. John Kraljic

February 4, 2004


Watsonville packaging pioneer William Sambrailo, 1927-2004
By DONNA JONES
Sentinel staff writer
William King Sambrailo, whose idea revolutionized the way berries and
other agricultural products are packaged for market, died Saturday while
skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyo. He was 76.

Sambrailo was chairman of the board of Sambrailo Packaging, a
Watsonville-based company started by his father in 1923.

A former cattle rancher and rodeo bull rider, he never lost his love for
adventure or his passion for skiing.

"You never had to slow down for Bill," said Frank Capurro, a longtime
skiing buddy and business associate. "You had to catch up."

Sambrailo was born in Watsonville and raised in a small house on Lincoln
Street. His father was a Croatian immigrant, and his mother came from a
family that settled in Castroville after emigrating from Portugal in the
1860s.

He raised Hereford cattle and apples after the family purchased a ranch
in Aromas in 1952, and entered the family packaging business after his
father died in 1962, He was highly regarded as an innovator and
supporter of Pajaro Valley agriculture.

Grower Nita Gizdich said she relied on Sambrailo and his company for 50
years to provide packaging for her apples and berries.

"If you weren't sure what kind of box or container to buy, (he) was
there for you," Gizdich said. "He would go to conventions and come back
with new ideas. (Sambrailo) was really for the farmer. To have somebody
like that, that's why our valley's so great today."

Sambrailo developed the idea for clamshell packaging, the ubiquitous
clear plastic containers used for berries and other produce, after he
was served lunch in a similar container, said Miles Reiter, chairman and
chief executive officer of Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.

In the late 1980s, raspberries were packaged in cardboard containers and
a plastic cover held on with a rubber band. The packaging caused the
berries to "squash and leak," limiting shelf life, Reiter said.

"The raspberry business wasn't going any further without new packaging,"
Reiter said. Sambrailo's idea "made raspberries the No. 2 or 3 crop in
the county."

He grew Sambrailo packaging as well, building facilities in Salinas,
Santa Maria, Oxnard and in San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico, and
employing up to 250 people during the growing season.

He was a founding director of the Pajaro Valley Bank, and served on the
board from 1983 to 1991. He remained a director with the new owner,
First National Bank, until 2001.

He contributed to numerous charities, including the Community Foundation
of Santa Cruz County, St. Patrick's Church Building Fund, Moreland Notre
Dame School, St. Francis Central Coast High School, Mora High School,
Watsonville Community Hospital Foundation and the American Cancer
Society.

Sambrailo also was remembered Tuesday for an adventurous streak that
sometimes got him in trouble. In 1974, while skiing in Canada, he got
caught up in an avalanche and escaped by jettisoning his skis and
jumping feet-first over an embankment. The same year he got trapped
under a raft during a river trip and nearly drowned. He attended the
2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and broke his ankle while doing
some skiing of his own on a mogul run. He recovered during the summer
and strapped his skis back on when the new season started.

"He had a zest for life," said son Mark Sambrailo. "He didn't want to
quit."

He enjoyed biking, hang gliding, kayaking, stained-glass art, sculpture
and hiking. He recently took up marathon walking, and finished first in
his age class in a South Carolina race a few months after a minor heart
attack. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2000.

His passion was skiing, and he didn't miss a season in 60 years. He
started in the sport when wood skis and cable bindings were the rule.
More recently he used a mono-ski and a pair of twin tipped pocket
rockets, a kind of ski favored by young riders who spend hours doing
tricks in resort terrain parks filled with jumps and half-pipes.

Capurro, who grows vegetables under the family business name, Topless,
had accompanied Sambrailo to Jackson Hole. Though Capurro said he is
"20-some years" younger than Sambrailo, he considered him a close
friend. His sense of fun and his upbeat outlook even made strangers
gravitate toward him, Capurro said.

"He was 76 in age, and 36 in spirit and heart," he said.

Contact Donna Jones at djones@santacruzsentinel.com .


William K. Sambrailo
BORN: June 17, 1927, in Watsonville.

DIED: January 31, 2004, in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

EDUCATION: Graduated from Watsonville High School in 1945 and from Santa
Clara University in 1950.

OCCUPATION: Board chairman, Sambrailo Packaging.

SURVIVORS: Wife Eileen Sambrailo; stepmother Ruth Sambrailo; sons Mark
Sambrailo and Michael Sambrailo; daughter Judy Sambrailo; stepsons Kevin
Bromber and Brian Bromber; and 10 grandchildren.

SERVICES: 11 a.m. Friday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 721 Main St.,
Watsonville. Friends may call 3-9 p.m. Thursday at Mehl's Colonial
Chapel, 222 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville.

CONTRIBUTIONS: St. Francis Central Coast High School Foundation,
Moreland Notre Dame School, Pajaro Valley Historical Association, The
Jean & Ed Kelly Foundation, or charity of donor's choice.

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