Calavo Growers Inc. announced Thursday that Lecil Cole, former chief executive and chairman, will step down from the board of directors effective March 1.

Cole retired a year ago as head of the Santa Paula avocado grower and as chairman. He has served on the board since 1982.

Board Chairman Link Leavens said that Cole’s contributions to Calavo cannot be overstated.

“For decades he was an exceptional steward of our company, building on our proud legacy as the first name in avocados,” Leavens said in a statement. “He set the stage for remarkable growth, taking us from a small grower co-op to a $1 billion company.”

Cole served as chief executive starting in 1999 and led the board as chairman since 1989.

Shares of Calavo (CVGW) closed down $2.18, or just less than 3 percent, to $75.25 on the Nasdaq, on a day when that market closed up a fraction of a percent.