September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Generations of loyalty

Sobieski Co-op Creamery celebrates centennial
Sharon Hegna, manager of Sobieski Co-op Creamery, is putting together a celebration for the creamery’s centennial from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 18 at the creamery. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
Sharon Hegna, manager of Sobieski Co-op Creamery, is putting together a celebration for the creamery’s centennial from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 18 at the creamery. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN

By by Missy Mussman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

SOBIESKI, Minn. - After 100 years in business, the Sobieski Creamery is still going strong.
"It takes generations to make 100 years," said Sharon Hegna, manager of Sobieski Co-op Creamery. "It's the people that made this place, not just the machines."
The Sobieski Co-op Creamery is celebrating its centennial this year from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 18 at their general store in Sobieski, Minn.
The creamery was started when farmers purchased five-dollar shares to buy into the creamery. Those shares gave the farmer the right to vote and earn equity within the creamery.
"We still have the original record of shares," Hegna said. "People still come in and we will still cash those for them."
Other farmers borrowed money to the creamery in order to have revenue to work with.
The original name of the creamery was Farmers Co-op since the town was not yet named Sobieski. The butter was manufactured under the name of Swan River Valley since the name of the community was Swan River until 1916.
"The town has changed names three different times," Hegna said. "By 1916, the town changed its name to Sobieski."
The creamery originally served as a cream stop where patrons had their milk stored before being taken to the processor.
By 1947, they added onto the creamery to start taking whole can milk and processing butter. The co-op housed three vats that held the cream and a seven-foot by seven-foot butter churn.
The cream would be cooled to 40 degrees overnight and employees would fire up the boiler in the morning to heat the cream to nearly 100 degrees. It was then pumped into the butter churn to be churned for 45 minutes and then the buttermilk was drained and picked up or thrown out.
The employees would rinse the butter, add the salt, churn for another 20 minutes and fill boxes with 50 pounds of butter. It was then cooled until it was picked up once a week.
During that time, workers made nearly two churns of butter daily equaling close to 500 pounds of butter.
The Sobieski Co-op Creamery was purchasing milk from nearly 240 milk can customers with three stake rack trucks picking up the cans at the time. Most farmers would have between three to seven milk cans each time the trucks stopped.
"I remember when they would drop the can milk off," Hegna said. "There would be a whole line of trucks all the way down the street waiting to drop off their milk."
Each patron was given a number as well.
"Most of our patron numbers are passed down from generation to generation," Hegna said. "Those numbers are engraved in their memories and never forgotten."
One of their older patrons celebrated a milk can birthday when she turned the age of her patron number on her milk can.
"It's amazing how attached people are to their numbers," Hegna said. "That's what makes it so fun."
The Sobieski Co-op Creamery was also the very first dairy processing plant to assist their Grade B producers in applying for certification inspection ordered by the state.
The creamery also did meat processing, holding the packaged meat in a locker since so many people didn't have freezers at the time.
As the years progressed, farmers became bigger and produced more milk, which introduced the bulk system. This eventually caused bulk customers to use Sobieski Co-op Creamery as a cream stop.
A state law was passed that each dairy farmer needed a milkhouse.
"When people stuck their money into a milkhouse, they got a bulk tank, too," Hegna said. "It ended up ending the use of cans."
The creamery's last canned milk came through in 1988.
Even though milk is no longer coming into the building, the creamery is still purchasing milk from 25 patrons providing nearly 68 million pounds of milk per year.
With the focus off of processing milk in the building, the creamery looked ahead to see what farmers needed in order to keep the business going and profitable. The creamery now sells farm and general supplies. They also issue burning permits to the people of the community.
"We grew as a store," Hegna said. "We are now in the process of installing diesel gas pumps. It's nothing fancy. It's more than just a creamery."
There is also a cooler in the grocery section with dairy products from Land O' Lakes, which is the creamery their patron's milk is shipped to, and other creameries.
"Our goal is to promote the dairy industry," Hegna said.
The building the store is in was built around the old creamery, and the creamery was tore down inside the new building.
John Kruzel, a past patron of Sobieski Co-op Creamery, helped build the new building, tear the old creamery down and lay down tiles between the grocery and supply store.
"We remodeled the old into the new," John said. "I was able to help carry on that history. I remember the old creamery and how it has changed."
With their centennial celebration just around the corner, they are focusing on the experiences from people involved with the creamery.
"The centennial is not about the antiques," Hegna said. "It's about the people and their stories they bring to share. I want those people to see what they have started and what it is doing now."
Since the creamery turned 100 years old, Hegna has heard from many past patrons.
"A customer said when they see the yellow tiled walls, they can actually smell the milk and hear the noise of the cans banging on the conveyor," Hegna said. "They associate those things with this place even though it has been years since there has been any milk here."
The stories are not the only focus. Hegna also hopes to develop loyalty to the creamery with the younger generations.
"The biggest thing is the loyalty to the creamery that has really kept it going. We hope to continue to develop that loyalty," Hegna said. "It's a good feeling that our small town and surrounding area continue doing business with the creamery after 100 years. It's a part of history that can't be replaced."
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