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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2008

Wauseon dairy open again, but smaller

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
John Moden pours cottage cheese at Sterlena Pride Dairy Cooperative. John Moden pours cottage cheese at Sterlena Pride Dairy Cooperative.
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WAUSEON - One year after a local dairy - along with its bovine mascot - was nearly put out to pasture, it is yielding milk again.

Sterlena Pride Dairy Cooperative, 218 North Fulton St., Wauseon, is banking on expansion after launching a week ago with about 20 retail customers and limited production.

"We've got to get it up and walking first," said Monty Lorntz, a dairy farmer in Pleasant Lake, Ind., who is president of the cooperative.

The firm, which yesterday showed off the downtown operation to investors and local officials, is named for Sterlena, a giant fiber-glass cow that was the mascot of former owner Sterling Dairy until a Quebec firm purchased and renamed the northwest Ohio convenience store chain.

Local college students launched a campaign on social networking Internet sites to "Save Sterlena," which has been a staple of local parades for years. The activity helped draw attention to the dairy operation, which wasn't part of the sale and faced closing.

Yesterday, as a police car with its lights flashing blocked part of the main street of the Fulton County seat (pop. 7.355), the dairy cooperative's backers posed for a group photo in front of the mascot to celebrate the reopening.

"It's a resurrection," said investor Julian Bockelman, a 78-year-old retired farmer from nearby Napoleon. He isn't unhappy that the dairy is starting out small.

It will produce 6,400 gallons of milk a week, which is a fraction of the facility's former peak production of 150,000 gallons a day. The dairy will operate every other day with a dozen of the original 25 employees.

A crowd gathers around the fiber-glass bovine mascot, Sterlena. A crowd gathers around the fiber-glass bovine mascot, Sterlena.
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It initially will produce a limited product line including milk, cottage cheese, chip dip, and sour cream. Products will be sold in the Chief Supermarket in Wauseon and small stores in northwest Ohio, southeast Michigan, and northeast Indiana.

Company officials said a key selling point is the dairy will be supplied by farmers who pledge not to inject their cows with the controversial bovine growth hormone, often called bovine somatotropin or BST.

The dairy originally had hoped to open with 40 retail customers, but those efforts were hampered by a delay in reopening caused by a glitch involving product labels, the president said.

Still, Richard Rufenacht, of the Wauseon area, is pleased to see the operation yielding milk once again. His farm supplied the dairy when it was operated by Sterling and has resumed that role along with another local dairy farmer.

"I was disappointed that it was going to close," he said. "For the community, this is kind of a dream come true."

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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