SANTA CLARA – On May 3, Wanda Frei – known to many as “the fruit stand lady” – turned 98 years old. A Santa Clara native with an impressive posterity, Wanda Frei is a mom of four, grandmother of nine, great-grandmother of 21 and a great-great-grandmother of five.
As a child, Wanda Frei was known for her athletic prowess. She was a fast runner who beat all the boys including Landon Frei, the man she grew up with and would eventually marry, said her daughter, Vicki Lasswell.
“I could beat all the boys,” Wanda Frei said, “including my husband, I could outrun him too.”
The only two people she could never catch, she said, were a man named Earl Tobler, who was her same age, and her son, Dennis Frei.
But Landon Frei did catch her, if only once. The two were married for 75 years and together they had four children – two girls and two boys – started Frei’s Fruit Market, and worked side by side until Landon Frei’s passing in October of 2011.
“I asked my mom once how she and dad met,” Lasswell said, “and she said: ‘oh I don’t know, we grew up together, we were in the same school and primary together.’”
The couple that grew up together did almost everything together, including going hunting and fishing.
“Her and dad were best fishing partners,” said Wanda Frei’s son, Bryce Frei.
Their favorite fishing spot was Lake Mead where they had a little area and they took their boat down and would fish, Lasswell said. They were also very good dancing partners who danced together all the time.
“I never thought I would get too old to dance,” Wanda Frei said, “or to fish, I have fished so many times in my dreams.”
One of the biggest things the couple did together was open Frei’s Fruit Market.
The Freis started the fruit stand in 1956 and the two worked in tandem – Landon Frei in the garden, Wand Frei at the stand – growing and selling as much of their own produce as they could.
It was a busy venture. The fruit stand is located in the Santa Clara valley on Old Highway 91, which, until 1973 when Interstate 15 was cut through the Virgin River Gorge, was the only road between Salt Lake City and California.
“There was a lot of traffic on this road,” Wanda Frei’s grandson Nick Adams said, “there were almost 20 years of really strong business here.”
Adams recalled the times when he would come visit his grandparents in the summer:
I grew up in Las Vegas so my memories are of coming up here in the summer time, just being at the fruit stand with all the fresh fruit and vegetables, when I was here my grandma was working a lot because the fruit stand was really busy so I would put my feet in a ditch and sit in the shade of a Sycamore tree.
Wanda Frei was well liked by her customers and was known for her honesty, her ability to pick out the best produce, and her memory, Lasswell said.
“People loved mom at the fruit stand,” Lasswell said, “she can, to this day, remember what kind of peach some lady buys every year.”
Landon and Wanda Frei ran the fruit stand until they were 90 years old and then they handed over its care to their children, but not before creating a lasting legacy in the community and beyond.
“There is not a day goes by that people don’t come to me and say: ‘I remember stopping at the fruit stand on my way to California,’” Laswell said, “they always ask about my mom, they call her ‘the fruit stand lady.’”
As a mother, her children recall Wanda Frei as being very loving, always there for them, always a good mother with a giving heart.
“She supported us in whatever we did,” said Bryce Frei.
Born of Swiss descent, Wanda Frei passed on many Swiss traditions to her family including dyeing Easter eggs the way the Swiss do and cutting intricate cards out of paper.
“I can’t do it,” Lasswell said, “but my sister has mastered it.”
Wanda Frei is also remembered for her food and gathering her family at mealtime.
“She was a really good cook,” Adams said, “I remember coming in from cutting hay with grandpa and there would always be really good food.”
The family always ate their biggest meal at noon and then something light for supper, he Adams.
“It could be bread and milk and onions for supper,” Lasswell said.
After Landon Frei passed away, Wanda Frei’s family thought that she would shortly follow but at 98 she is still that same caring mother, grandmother, great grandmother – and great-great-grandmother.
“She still worries about us,” Lasswell said, “which is why she is still here, she thinks she needs to be here still.”
“He left me here to guard the kids,” Wanda Frei said of her late husband, “I still boss them a little.”
Wanda Frei celebrated her 98th birthday with the family that she loves and cares for so much.
“They kept coming even when I was in bed,” Wanda Frei said, “They knew how old I was going to be, I didn’t think I would make it through the day, but I perked right up.”
To this day, Wanda Frei loves to know how her posterity is doing, Bryce Frei said. She asks for updates on every sport they play, even golf, everything they are involved in, and every baby that is about to be born, Bryce Frei.
“We have a talented and busy family,” Wanda Frei said, “I wait to hear from them everyday.”
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