St. Martin Co-op celebrates 100th birthday

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/24/97.

From milk cans and making butter in the horse age to feed and fertilizer in the computer age, the St. Martin Co-op will be celebrating its 100th birthday on Saturday, Sept. 27 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the cooperative parking lot with a meal, music and beverages.

The co-op was started in 1897 under the name of Sauk Valley Creamery. The first board members were Math Mehr, president; Nick Mohs, vice president; Joseph Noll, secretary; Martin Noll, treasurer; and directors John Garding, Andrew Wyer, and Chris Spanier. The new creamery was located on the northwest edge of St. Martin near Blonigen and Son.

The first order of business for the new board, according to co-op records, was the sale of a cord of wood for $1.90. In their first year of operation, they did $9,160 worth of business with a net profit of $364. By 1996, the total sales climbed to over $7 million with a net profit of $197,097.

In 1899, the small co-op purchased a cream separator for $485. The first buttermaker at the creamery was paid $60 a year. In 1914, the first permanent set of creamery buildings was located at its present location.

In 1950, the board voted to change the name of the creamery to St. Martin Co-op Creamery Association. In 1956, the co-op improved their buttermaking division with the purchase of new equipment. Matt Herges, St. Martin Co-op buttermaker, won the state championship honors seven years between 1959 and 1968.
In 1965, the feed store was added to the co-op and in 1966 the fertilizer building. With the changes in the milk industry the co-op decided to stop taking can milk in 1970 and by 1976, the milk plant portion of the co-op was closed.

In 1977, the co-op purchased a bulk oil business and since 1980, records show they have sold a million gallons every year.

In 1979, the co-op dropped the word ďcreameryĒ from its name and was known simply as the St. Martin Co-op. The east fertilizer tower was upgraded in 1979 as well, increasing the capacity to 300 ton daily.

In 1989 the old creamery, which was built in 1914, was demolished and the new office and Pump24 station were built. In 1992, the chemical storage facility and rinse pad were added to the St. Martin Co-op.

To keep up with the changing times, St. Martin Co-op joined forces with the Upsala-Cold Spring Co-op, Albany Co-op, and Sauk Centre Co-op to form the New Vision Alliance (NVA) feed plant which was built south of the I-94 freeway in Albany.

ďIn the early days, every small town had its own creamery or co-op,Ē Dan Olmscheid, board member, said. ďToday the St. Martin Co-op serves farmers in a 10-mile radius of St. Martin. The NVA serves farmers from Little Falls to Swanville, and Sartell, covering more than a 50-mile radius.Ē

Present day board members foresee the co-op becoming more diversified in nonagricultural products in the next century of business. ďYou need to look at areas where you can increase your income,Ē Vern Willenbring, board chairman, said. As an example, one board member mentioned a co-op in southern Minnesota owns two funeral homes.

Joe Kalthoff, feed sales manager, said more and more co-ops are partnering with neighboring co-ops to survive. ďBy joining forces, they can buy feed and seed in larger quantities and pass the savings onto the patrons.

At present, the co-op provides farmers with feeds, grain, seed, fertilizer, petroleum products and Pump24.

In 1946 the cooperative had 60 patrons and today that number is about 600.

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