The International Dairy Foods Association honored four executives from dairy processing companies for their service to the association. The individuals are Gary Vanic, Patricia Stroup, Jeffrey Kaneb and Mike Wells. They received awards and were recognized for their contributions at IDFA’s annual Dairy Forum in January.

The National Cheese Institute bestowed its highest honor, the NCI Laureate Award, on Gary Vanic, a past president and CEO of Great Lakes Cheese Co., Hiram, Ohio. The NCI Laureate Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and growth of the cheese industry. A panel of industry professionals chooses a winner each year based on the person’s long-term contributions to the industry.

A dairy “fixer”

Vanic started his career in the dairy industry at Land O’ Lakes Inc. in Minnesota. Over a span of 20 years, he took on a variety of projects and titles, calling himself “the fixer” as he learned every aspect of the dairy business. At the same time, Hans Epprecht (another NCI Laureate) was building his own business, transforming Great Lakes Cheese from a small market stall in Cleveland to one of the largest suppliers of private label cheeses in the country. When Epprecht was ready to retire in 1999, he chose Vanic as his successor.

Vanic led Great Lakes Cheese as president and CEO for the next 16 years. During his tenure, Vanic was known for driving innovation and supporting initiatives that helped to define the company’s continued success.

“Gary’s vision and focus on building a low-cost, efficient processed and packaged cheese organization is well-documented in the successful growth of Great Lakes Cheese Company,” said Richard Smith, president and CEO of Dairy Farmers of America Inc., who nominated Vanic for the award. “His leadership has resulted in a focused approach with state-of-the-art regional production facilities, an enhancement of Great Lakes’ distribution system and an emphasis on creating new products designed to drive demand and consumption of the cheese industry.”

While Vanic took over the reins at Great Lakes Cheese, he became increasingly active in NCI and IDFA, holding several leadership positions just a few years later. He served as IDFA chairman from 2009 to 2011 and IDFA vice chairman from 2008 to 2009. He also served as NCI chairman from 2008 to 2009, NCI vice chairman from 2006 to 2008 and NCI treasurer from 2004 to 2006.

“Gary is one of those quiet, powerful leaders who is well-respected by everyone,” said Connie Tipton, IDFA president and CEO. “He obviously made a huge difference at Great Lakes Cheese, and he likewise made a big difference at NCI and IDFA, and certainly in the lives of everyone he’s worked with.”

3 Soaring Eagle awards

IDFA presented Soaring Eagle Awards to three outgoing officers: Patricia Stroup, chief procurement officer, Nestlé North America Procurement, Nestlé USA Inc.; Jeffrey Kaneb, executive vice president, HP Hood LLC; and Mike Wells, president and CEO, Wells Enterprises Inc.

The Soaring Eagle awards recognize the extraordinary service of leaders in the dairy industry and those who have provided exemplary leadership to IDFA, the International Ice Cream Association, the Milk Industry Foundation and the National Cheese Institute.

“Patty, Jeff and Mike have been great leaders, and we thank them for their years of service,” Tipton said. “I know they will continue to make significant and long-lasting contributions to the associations and the industry for years to come.”

Stroup served as IDFA chair from 2013 to 2015 and IDFA treasurer from 2012 to 2013. She also served as chair of the International Ice Cream Association from 2012 to 2013 and vice chair from 2011 to 2012.

Kaneb served as chairman of the Milk Industry Foundation from 2013 to 2015 and vice chairman from 2011 to 2013. He also served as vice chairman of IDFA from 2013 to 2015.

Wells served as the chairman of the International Ice Cream Association from 2013 to 2015 and vice chairman from 2012 to 2013. He also served as secretary of IDFA from 2013 to 2015.   

— Contributed by the International Dairy Foods Association

Previous recipients of the NCI Laureate Award

Fritz Leeman, Bob Bush, Larry Jensen, Lou Gentine, Mark Johnson, Jerome Schuman, Larry Ferguson, John Jeter, Mark Davis, Wes Allen, Elmer Marth, Max Gonzenbach, Rudy Nef, Betsy Holden, Don Storhoff, Lester Kielsmeier, Norm Olson, Dave Nusbaum, John Nelson, Harold Steinke, Raymond Goldbach, Hans Epprecht, Jack Budahn and Vince Zehren.


Previous recipients of the Soaring Eagle Award

Mike Nosewicz, Ed Mullins, Jon Davis, Brian Perry, Gary Vanic, Dave Fuhrmann, Brian Haugh, Mike Reidy, Jim Green, Miriam Erickson Brown, Paul Kruse, Robert Allen, Tom Angott, Tom Badciong, Rick Beaman, C.O. “Tex” Beshears, George Cornell, Howard M. Dean, Jim Erickson, Miles Ezell, Lou Gentine, Betsy Holden, Larry Jensen, John Jeter, John Kinnett, Jr., Ed Kruse, Bill Oldenburg, Delton Parks, Arthur Pappathanasi, Tom Perry, Ronald Rice, David Rufenacht, Don Storhoff, Fay Wells and Gary Wells.