Fresno Businessman-Philanthropist John Shehadey Lived a Robust, Action-Filled Life
John Lawrence Shehadey, a scion of the Producers Dairy family whose zest for life led to him to tackle numerous business activities, support nonprofits, climb Mt. Whitney, travel the world from St. Petersburg to Tahiti, certify as a scuba diver at age 72, and skydive at age 80, died Jan. 4 at a Fresno hospital. Mr. Shehadey was 83.
According to his obituary on DignityMemorial.com, Mr. Shehadey was born May 11, 1939 in San Francisco, the elder son of Larry and Elayne Shehadey. When Mr. Shehadey was age 10 his father bought into a small dairy and moved the family to Fresno. Some of Mr. Shehadey’s first work experiences were sweeping the dairy’s loading dock as a grade schooler in exchange for ice cream cones.
Mr. Shehadey credited his time as a Boy Scout — he earned Eagle Scout rank — with helping him to become the man he was.
After graduating from Fresno High in 1957, Mr. Shehadey attended Fresno State for one year before attending and graduating from the University of Southern California. He later earned a master’s of business administration from Fresno State and a Juris Doctor degree at San Joaquin College of Law in 1981.
After years of working in sales for Producers Dairy, in midlife Mr. Shehadey struck out on his own, working at Sears, in Ernest Kinney’s law office, and selling law books. He later returned to the family business and focused on Shop N Go stores. He franchised and partnered with McDonald’s and various oil companies, purchased the Red Triangle Oil Company and Cal Fresno. With the help of his sons Jim and Tom, Mr. Shehadey became an oil jobber and one of Valero’s largest West Coast distributors.
His sons joined him on projects including shopping centers and a mix-used development in a disadvantaged area of Fresno that will bring housing, retail, and a branch of Fresno City College to that neighborhood.
After the original Bar 20 Dairy Ranch, built by his father in the 1950s, became outmoded Mr. Shehadey and his son Steve built a mammoth, state-of-the-art facility across the street that not only prospered but won awards, including sustainability awards for removing methane gas from animal waste and converting it to renewable energy.
A Busy Life
Mr. Shehadey himself appeared to have boundless personal energy: In addition to his business interests, he was one of the original members of Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, fought to keep the downtown YMCA from closing and to keep Y camps open, and was a fixture on the Redwoods in Yosemite board.
His passions included running, and in addition to local races, marathons and ultra-marathons, he twice completed the 14j7-mile run across Death Valley, the Badwater. In 1993 after finishing the Badwater, he set out to climb Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. He began scuba diving on family trips to Aptos before licenses were required, and at age 72 he was certified at a Maui dive shop, reportedly the oldest diver ever certified there. Mr. Shehadey marked his 80th birthday by skydiving and talked of making another jump at age 90.
Growing up in Fresno he loved the mountains, boating, skiing, and hiking, and later enjoyed hunting and Alaskan fishing trips.
Later in life he and wife Mary traveled the world with friends in their group “The Drifters,” sailing to destinations around the world.
He is survived by his wife, Mary; sons Steve, Jim, and Tom Shehadey; daughter Nancy Fisher; stepchildren Kelly Kehlet and Brad Cordill; brother Richard Shehadey; and 14 grandchildren and step-grandchildren.
Hawaiian shirts became Mr. Shehadey’s late-life “uniform” that he and his family members will wear at his funeral. The viewing will be at Whitehurst Sullivan Funeral Home, 836 E. Nees Ave., in Fresno from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 29. Services will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 30 at New Covenant Church, 1744 E. Nees Ave., Fresno.