Bio: Schwantes Family
Contact: Dolores Mohr Kenyon
----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) July 28, 1999, Page 5
Lynn Dairy ‘99
"Keeping it in the family for 50 years"
By Mick Kuzjak
By all accounts, Lynn Dairy has been aging well in recent decades, much like the fine cheddar cheeses that it has been making since before the turn of the last century.
A familiar sight just off U. S. 10 in southern Clark County, it has been owned by the Schwantes family for as long as they can remember, the oldest of old-timers in the area would probably say. Actually, it’s been 50 years as of 1999.
Lynn Dairy and the Schwanteses were likely destined for each other long before 1949, however. The present owner, Bill Schwantes, is the fourth generation of a family of cheesemakers. His great-grandfather worked in a Colby cheese plant in the early pat of this century, and with his own young children already expressing interest in the family business, there appear to be more generations of Schwanteses who will someday build on the family cheesemaking tradition.
It was Schwantes’ grandfather, Walter, who first brought the family to the sleepy hollow that was Lynn in 1949, purchasing the small and quaint green-roofed dairy with the white farm-style house off to the side.
"The plant was about a quarter of the size that it is now," said Schwantes, 43, who still runs the family business out of an office in what used to be his father’s home next to the dairy.
Lynn Dairy quickly became very much a family business, with everyone pitching in.
Back in 1951, Walter (left) and Bill Schwantes made cheese the old fashioned way, starting the process by first dumping cans of milk into the measuring tank by hand. (Contributed photos)
Schwantes never got to know his grandfather who died in 1956 at the age of 52. But Schwantes was told by his father, also named Bill, of those early years when two small trucks hauled canned milk to the dairy. The plant processed about 15,000 pounds of milk back in the early ‘50s, coming from about 60 small dairy farmers primarily in the Lynn, Granton and Chili areas.
With the help of four employees, the Schwantes family managed to produce about 1,500 pounds of cheese daily in those early years. Schwantes’ grandfather was very much of a hands-on employer back then, rolling up his sleeves to join his father, Bill, in dumping the cans of milk and scooping the cheese curds out of the vat by hand. Grandmother Ruth was the family business’ bookkeeper, while also managing the retail counter where customers would stop in to buy a pound or two of cheese.
As a toddler in the late ‘50s, Schwantes himself wandered into the busy plant from time to time. "I wanted to see what Dad was doing," he said. He saw his father also hard at work, lifting cans and putting cans in the washer, he said. His mother Beverly was also helping out in the plant.
A few years later, Schwantes got a chance to do a little work his self. "They were small jobs, scrubbing floors," he recalled. But even then, young Schwantes saw his future in cheesemaking. His father still reminds him that he talked of running the cheese plant even back then, Schwantes said.
That would come nearly 30 years later, in 1989, when Schwantes bought the family business from his father. Meanwhile, many changes were to take place at Lynn Dairy in the decades of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
The first major expansion of the cheese plant came in 1963 when an addition to the original building nearly doubled the size. Then, in 1982, another expansion nearly doubled the size of the dairy again.
An expansion of its product lines was also taking place. At first, Lynn Dairy was making almost all cheddar cheese. Later, the dairy began producing Colby, then Monterey Jack cheeses, as well.
Now in its fourth generation of cheesemakers, Bill Schwantes’ family has seen a lot of changes over the years, including automation, such as the mechanical agitator stirring curds of Monterey Jack Cheese, and state sanitary regulations that has no one in the Lynn Dairy plant exempt from wearing a hairnet, not even the owner.
The cheese plant also saw changes in the packaging of its product. Initially shipping out its cheeses to distributors in 40-pound blocks, there was time in the ‘70s when Kraft Foods was calling for larger bulk sizes. And that had Lynn Dairy shipping Kraft monster blocks of cheese - 640 pounds in weight. Presently, the plant is back to shipping out mostly 40-pound chunks of cheese.
In 1986, Lynn Dairy started putting its own label on the one-pound packages going to area grocery stores, as well as the cheese it continues to sell at the retail counter at the plant.
The Lynn Protein plant, whey-processing operation separate from the cheesemaking business, is located behind the main Lynn Dairy building.
If all that expansion and change was to be expected in a society with a growing appetite for cheese, the emergence of Lynn Proteins might not have been.
That venture, in which the whey by-product of cheesemaking is made into a concentrated protein, is one that was conceived by one-time Neillsville businessman and inventor Frank Thomas. He and Schwantes’ father became partners in Lynn Protein, a corporation separate from Lynn Dairy, in 1970.
Demand has grown with new uses being found for the low-fat, high-protein whey by-product originally made to be used as a milk replacer for weaned dairy and veal calves. The protein concentrate is now used to make additives to products such as the dietary drink "Slim fast," sausages and body building supplements. "Lactose from the protein is also part of some of the baby formula being sold today.
"There is some great potential in that field," said Schwantes, recalling that there has already been an expansion of the protein plant three or four times since 1970.
Fifty employees are now working at the protein plant. Three shifts working seven days a week are needed to meet the market demand.
"The protein plant is a big part of our operations," said Schwantes. But the cheese plant, presently employing 75 people on two shifts, is still the mainstay of the family business in terms of revenues, he added.
Lynn Dairy is presently brining in 725,000 pounds of milk every day for cheesemaking from approximately 300 dairy producers within a 60 mile radius of the plant. About 70,000 pounds of cheese are produced each day.
Growth is only one of the changes at Lynn Dairy.
The biggest change, according to Schwantes, is perhaps the overall automation that has come to cheesemaking. "That took out the back-breaking part of it," he said. The heavy milk cans were gone from the scene at Lynn Dairy after 1969 when the plant converted completely into bulk milk trucking. And inside the plant much of the handling of the milk and cheese curds is now done by machine. Even the cleaning of the floor is done with a power scrubber, Schwantes said, smiling.
What hasn’t changed, however said Schwantes, is the continuing pride of the family, one that he has heard his grandmother and father talk about and one which he has come to experience on a personal level since taking over a decade ago.
"I’ve always liked this business," he said. "It gives you a sense of accomplishing something. I get a sense of fulfillment that we’re creating a good product here."
Schwantes has taken note that his daughter Taylor, 8, and son, William Luke, 7, are already expressing an interest in cheesemaking. "Both have said, ‘I’m going to run Lynn Dairy someday,’" he said.
That wouldn’t be bad at all, according to Schwantes. "I would like it if they did," he said, likely echoing the very same thoughts coming in years past to more than one father and cheesemaker named Schwantes.
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