We lost one of our industry’s greatest visionaries on Saturday when Tom Van Wingerden, founder of Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, N.C, died in a utility vehicle accident early in the morning at the greenhouses. He was 63.
Born in Holland on Feb. 12, 1946, Tom was one of the eldest children of Art and Cora Van Wingerden, who are credited with building the modern greenhouse floriculture industry in the United States. Tom immigrated to the United States in 1971 and started Metrolina a year later in his mid 20s. Today, Metrolina Greenhouses is ranked at No. 6 on our Top 100 Growers with the largest single-site location in the nation with 5.4 million square feet of greenhouse production on a 150-acre site.
Beyond sheer size and excelling at serving the nation’s largest retailers, Metrolina has always been known for its pioneering use of technology, on the cutting edge of automation. Tom was an inventor and developed his own prototypes for transplanting machines, including the Metroplanter in the early 1990s, which extracted plugs from their cells with corkscrew-like coils, like augers. Greenhouse Grower featured Tom on the cover twice as an early innovator. While the July 1985 story written by Editor Jane Lieberth focused on innovations she saw touring Metrolina, the April 1994 story written by then Assistant Editor Delilah Onofrey zeroed in on the Metroplanter.
Tom sold the business to his children in 2006. He is survived by wife, Vickie, children Art, Abe, Helen, Michael, Rose and Thomas and 14 grandchildren.
His legacy in the industry is broad. “From greenhouse innovation to labor-saving technologies like a transplanter, to putting the right people in the right place to succeed, to his willingness to finalize a succession plan in 2006 when he was still young, all of these will be remembered,” his family said in a letter issued to friends in the industry. “Typically, he was years ahead of the norm. As someone told us yesterday, in the 63 short years Dad was with us on this earth, he packed about 125 years of life into it. While we are all sad, it has been uplifting to see how Dad impacted so many lives in a positive way. Dad was the visionary founder, a constant inventor, a generous businessman, a missionary in Haiti, a great leader, and most importantly, a great husband, father and grandfather to all of us in his family. Metrolina will continue to push forward and we now dedicate our work in Dad’s memory, as he would want it.”
Funeral arrangements are as follows:
Visitation will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22, at:
5801 Pineville Matthews Road
Charlotte, NC 28226
Services will be held 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, at Calvary Church and burial will follow after the services at Ramah Church Cemetery, 14401 Ramah Church Road, Huntersville, NC 28078.
The family recommends memorial contributions be made to Double Harvest, a charity the Van Wingerden family founded in Haiti:
Tom Van Wingerden Memorial Fund
55 South Main Street
Oberlin, OH 44074
Outside the greenhouse industry, Tom and his children were known in North Carolina for racing cars at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Here is the link to the story from the Charlotte Observer: