The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association’s (WCMA) board of directors said it selected individuals to be recognized at the 2019 Cheese Industry Conference for their outstanding work in the dairy manufacturing industry.
John Epprecht is set to receive the association’s highest honor: the WCMA Life Member Award. WCMA has offered the Life Member Award since 1918, and Epprecht will be the 87th recipient. The award recognizes people who have played a significant role in the success of the association through leadership, support and service to the institution and its activities, Madison, Wis.-based WCMA said.
Epprecht serves as vice president and part owner of Great Lakes Cheese, headquartered in Hiram, Ohio. While his father started the company, Epprecht has ushered it through a period of tremendous growth, alongside his siblings, Kurt and Heidi. Now with more than 2,900 employees in Ohio, New York, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin, Great Lakes Cheese is celebrating its 60th anniversary in business. Epprecht is a long-time and active member of WCMA and serves on the association’s Recognition Committee.
WCMA Cheese Industry Champions
Dave Fuhrmann, formerly of Foremost Farms USA, and Lou Gentine of Sargento Foods will be named the 2019 WCMA Cheese Industry Champions, awards that are given only to industry leaders who, through their everyday business decisions, have created tremendous opportunity for others, WCMA said.
Fuhrmann has more than 50 years of dairy industry experience and serves as a consultant, having retired from his post as president and CEO of Foremost Farms USA. He headed the cooperative through times of tremendous growth, from 2001-2014. He worked his way up, having served as a plant manager, head of engineering, specialty-products division manager, vice president of manufacturing, and vice president of the cheese division earlier in his career.
Lou Gentine served as the CEO of Sargento Foods Inc. from 1981 through 2013, and still serves as its chairman of the board and director. During his tenure, sales increased from $80 million to $1.2 billion; employment increased from 300 to 1,600; and Sargento became an established, trusted brand and household name, the association noted. Sargento is now one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, and one of the country's largest retail cheese companies.
Gentine and Fuhrmann co-chaired the successful fundraising efforts to support the renovation of the Center for Dairy Research facilities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison now underway.
WCMA Distinguished Service Award
Reserved for respected and highly valued supplier partners to the cheese manufacturing industry, the WCMA Distinguished Service Award is unique in that the association allows members to vote on prospective honorees. Joe and John Koss and Ron Kremer have been selected for the honor in 2019.
Now retired co-founders of Koss Industrial Inc. the Koss brothers dedicated more than 50 years of their lives to serving cheesemakers, WCMA noted. With business degrees from Green Bay Badger Business College, the brothers started out as licensed cheesemakers in their family's plant, Badger State Cheese, but went on to great success designing and fabricating custom cheesemaking equipment. Together with help from their families, neighbors and friends, the business the brothers created in 1978 now employs a team of more than 75, serving customers both locally and internationally.
Kremer grew up on his family’s Central Wisconsin farm and worked at Fairview Cheese Factory throughout his high school years. Before and after military service as a combat infantryman in the Vietnam War, he worked at Sanna Dairies, which later became Beatreme Foods, as a general laborer.
After earning a business management degree, Kremer worked as a fluid operator, dryer operator, package operator, packaging supervisor, production supervisor, plant superintendent, plant manager and eventually, general manager, WCMA said. When Kerry purchased Beatreme in 1988, Kremer stayed on, transferring to a role as sales account manager in 1994, where he used his lifelong dairy expertise to help new and existing dairy customers. Kremer worked as a national sales manager through 2017, when he retired after 47 years of service to the business.
The Babcock Award
Named for Stephen Babcock, the famed agricultural chemist and University of Wisconsin professor, the Babcock Award recognizes the contributions of those in education or affiliate organizations partnering with cheesemakers in the pursuit of dairy industry innovation and excellence. It will be given to Rusty Bishop and Dr. John Lucey in 2019.
Rusty Bishop spent 17 years as professor of food science and director of the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his tenure, Bishop leveraged the investments of the state, dairy producer checkoff and industry to create a research center that was science-based and user-friendly for dairy manufacturers, WCMA said.
He assembled a team, largely still in place, of the world’s best dairy researchers to serve the industry. He also launched initial planning, with industry and university commitment, to renovate Babcock Dairy Hall and, even after leaving his post at the Center for Dairy Research, has continued to help shepherd the project through the design phase. Since 2010, Bishop has worked as director of research and development at Schreiber Foods in Green Bay.
Lucey accepted a position as professor of food science and director of the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to bring the industry dream of a renovated Babcock Dairy Hall to fruition — fundraising, designing and navigating the politics of university relations and state finance, WCMA said.
Lucey expanded the mission of the Center for Dairy Research to include business development support and launched new industry educational opportunities, including the Certificate in Dairy Processing Course, co-designed by WCMA. (Lucey also is a Dairy Foods columnist.)
The Vanguard Award
The Vanguard Award is intended to recognize cheesemakers or cheese manufacturing employees whose work helped to blaze new trails in dairy operations. In 2019, this award will be given to Dale Baumgartner and Terry Lensmire.
Baumgartner recently retired from his role as head cheesemaker Tillamook Cheese in Oregon. Over the past 50 years, he has won numerous cheese contest awards, focusing on innovation in cheddar cheesemaking, and counts his gold medal for medium cheddar at the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest one of his proudest achievements, WCMA noted.
Lensmire learned the art of cheesemaking from his father and grandfather and has more than 40 years of cheesemaking experience. He received his Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker certifications for cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Working for Agropur Inc., Lensmire earned a second-place overall finish at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in 2017 and has won numerous awards for his cheeses, WCMA said.
Awards will be delivered to honorees at the 2019 Cheese Industry Conference Recognition Breakfast on April 18. For more information or to register to attend this event, please visit CheeseConference.org.