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Life's Given Him Lemons as Head of Citrus Dynasty : Agriculture: Alan Teague runs his family's multimillion-dollar business in Santa Paula.

May 19, 1990|PSYCHE PASCUAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The patriarchs of television's dynasties have nothing on Alan Teague.

Standing in a lemon grove in cowboy boots and blue jeans, he is the real-life head of one of Ventura County's pre-eminent families, one that helped found and nurture area lemon farming into a multimillion-dollar industry more than a century ago.

"We have been around a long time," Teague, 52, said of his clan. The Teague dynasty, which began growing lemons in the late 1800s, has always been at the helm of Limoneira Co., the largest lemon-growing company in the world.

Following in his forefathers' footsteps, Teague is chairman of the board of directors of Limoneira, a $20-million-a-year corporation.

The company packs 18,000 tons of lemons a year out of a 4,000-acre ranch in Santa Paula. Because of Limoneira, Ventura County has squeezed success out of lemon production and is counted as the largest lemon-producing county in the world.

Teague also heads the family's farming and oil operations and, of course, more lemon groves. The family companies also grow alfalfa, avocados and grapes on holdings that stretch from Ventura County to Tulare and Monterey counties.

Teague doesn't care to discuss his personal fortune, a trait shared with other wealthy ranchers. "One thing about ranching, you never ask how many acres a person has and how many cattle they have," he said.

Teague said he was not initially groomed for the life of a gentleman rancher. In his earlier years, he had a fast-track political career that led him to a City Council seat at age 28 and the mayor's office in Santa Paula at 32.

He was widely considered to be the heir apparent to the congressional seat once held by his father, the late Charles McKevett Teague.

But the Santa Paula rancher, who feels more comfortable in boots and jeans than business suits, withdrew from politics to concentrate on agriculture and business. He still pursues what he loves the most: his horses and his ranch.

Born in Oxnard and raised on a horse ranch in Ojai, he graduated with a degree in business administration from the University of Arizona but had no plans to go into the family business, the Teague-McKevett Assn.

After his graduation, he wound up working in the company's packinghouse.

"When I first started, one of my first jobs was 'swamping,' hauling full lemon boxes to the packinghouses," which meant lifting 40-pound crates to a truck, Alan Teague said. "I don't miss it a bit."

For many years, Alan Teague said, he kept the company books by hand until he became president and general manager, posts he still holds. When his uncle Milton Teague died in 1986, he was considered to be the only family member in line to manage the business.

Alan Teague has a friendly relationship with his workers, who call him by his first name and know him by the modest Chevrolet van he drives to the Teague-McKevett ranch.

Standing at just over 6 feet tall, Alan Teague vaguely resembles actor John Wayne, with a drawl and a love for horses to match. But this imposing figure casts a regular-guy image.

"He probably has . . . one tie, but he probably has more than one pair of boots," said Santa Paula Councilman Les Maland, a former mayor who lives on a street named after the Teagues. "He's not part of the jet set."

But Alan Teague belongs to an exclusive riding club, the Rancheros Visitadores. The group's yearly outings in Santa Barbara are attended by some of the wealthiest growers, businessmen and politicians, including former President Ronald Reagan.

Better known to fellow riders as a cowboy rancher, Alan Teague "can ride on a horse all day," fellow horseman Jim Clark said.

Those who have ridden with Alan Teague in the Rancheros Visitadores equestrian club and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department posse think the lemon grower is most comfortable in a saddle, Clark said.

When members of the riding club gather each year in Solvang, Alan Teague always brings the lemons for the bar, Clark added.

The Teague-McKevett ranch includes the one-story house at Rancho La Cuesta, where Alan Teague keeps his horses. Among them is his favorite, Benny, a black quarter horse that actually belongs to his wife, Rebecca.

His low-key approach to life contrasts with the lifestyles of his forefathers, who include a U.S. congressman, a South American adventurer and the founder of the citrus cooperative that eventually became Sunkist.

W. L. Hardison, who founded the Limoneira Co., turned over the management of the ranch to his grandnephew Charles Collins Teague when he decided to travel to Peru.

It was Charles Collins Teague who proved that irrigated land in the Santa Clara Valley could produce the most bountiful crop in the county. C. C. Teague also pioneered cooperative marketing for citrus growers, heading the California Fruit Growers Exchange, now known as Sunkist Growers Inc.

Alan Teague's father, Charles McKevett Teague, served as a lawmaker in Washington for more than two decades before he died. He was succeeded by Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura).

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