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Lawrence Kokx: Hard work, teamwork, frugality were key to his success

Lawrence Kokx was a self-made man who believed in hard work and teamwork which, along with his frugality, contributed to his success as a businessman.

He was born on April 26, 1904 in Hart, Michigan to Frank Kokx—a native Hollander who was raised in Hart—and his wife Catherine who hailed from Michigan. Lawrence attended elementary school in Hart and was later schooled in Southern California when the family moved to Placentia in 1919.

Lawrence Kokx, circa 1926  
Click/tap the image to see Lawrence Kokx's college days photo, circa 1926  

A few years after graduating from Orange High School, Lawrence completed a two-year course in commerce and graduated from Santa Ana Junior College in 1926.

In 1927, Lawrence began working as an orange grove rancher, and by 1929 was a partner with his brother Roy in owning the largest loquat orchard in California. The Kokx Brothers' orchard, which dated back to the early 1880s, had formerly been owned by pioneer horticulturist Charles P. Taft. (Click/tap here to view a 1913 image of C.P. Taft's loquat groves.)

On November 26, 1929, Lawrence married Adele Lutz of Illinois who came to Orange County in 1913 and attended Santa Ana High School and Santa Ana Junior College. She was employed by the Santa Ana County Courthouse prior to her marriage. The couple had four daughters: Karen, Janis, Rosalys, and Lauren.

By 1941 Lawrence made a career in the produce packing and shipping business, operating out of the abandoned Hewes Orange and Lemon Association packing house at the southwestern corner of LaVeta and Esplanade streets in El Modena. Four years later, he built a 13,000-square-foot packing house and an outdoor packing shed larger than 5,000 square feet in Olive, next to Olive Hillside Groves.

With the packing house in Olive operating year round, Lawrence began pursuing additional business opportunities. In 1947 he formed a partnership with oil producer and developer Oral Bolton of Santa Ana, drilling oil on leased property in Huntington Beach. By the following year, they had 24 productive oil wells in operation.

Lawrence Kokx, 1949  
Click/tap the image to see the Times photo of Lawrence Kokx in 1949  
Lawrence Kokx, 1950  
Click/tap the image to see the Times photo of Lawrence Kokx in 1950  

As the oil drilling business thrived, the packing house in Olive also enjoyed enormous success. Between 1947 and 1958 Lawrence Kokx became the largest cabbage shipper nationwide. The plant also shipped corn, tomatoes, and citrus fruit from Orange County, the Imperial Valley, and Phoenix, Arizona.

When the citrus industry began to decline in Orange County, the Kokx packing house closed and Lawrence retired in 1959 at the age of 55. However, the citrus rancher in him lived on. A couple of years later, he acquired 100 acres of oranges in Ojai, California, mostly Valencias, but also some navels. Meanwhile, surrounding his home in Orange, he still retained 12-and-a-half acres of groves on Tustin Street purchased years ago from Charles P. Taft. These groves were part of the largest loquat ranch in California. (Click/tap here to view a 1913 image of C.P. Taft's loquat groves.)

When asked about his success as a businessman, Lawrence mainly credited those who helped him throughout his career, but also believed hard work and frugality were contributing factors. For him, teamwork always won the game, whether in sports or in the business world. "Work hard and save" was one of his mottoes, along with another: "Set a goal early in life, work hard to attain it, and nothing can stop you. Be a gentleman 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Lawrence was a member of the Orange County Farm Bureau, Citrus Growers' of California, and Western Growers and Shippers. In his personal life, he spent much of his free time with his family, and also enjoyed fishing and helping the underprivileged.

Lawrence Kokx passed away in March 1966.

- Daralee, April 16, 2009

Sources courtesy of Tom Pulley: "The Kokx Story" from Orange Daily News (May 15, 1953), "Lawrence Kokx" biography in Orange County Historical Volume III (1963), and a synopsis about Lawrence Kokx and his packing house in Olive by Tom Pulley. Online resource: Rootweb Social Security Death Index. SAC News Service article by James Brett courtesy of Karen Carson. ProQuest Historical Newspapers, Los Angeles Times (1881 - 1986): "Big Loquat Orchard Bears Record Crop" by Harold E. Wahlberg (July 28, 1929), "Cabbage Crop Loss in Freeze Checked" (February 23, 1949).



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