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BRANDON

Since Al and Janet Fuecht launched their meat processing business over 31 years ago, it has been all about service - to the customer, the community and youth around the state.

After three decades of 12 to 14-hour days, the Feuchts decided they needed to cut back and hand the reins of the business over to new ownership

"We had put our children, grandchildren and family on the back burner and felt that needed to change," said Janet Feucht.

As of Oct. 1, John and Betty Benson and Ryan and Becky Redmann are the new owners of the popular Fond du Lac County meat processing plant and store. Benson was a mainstay in the sausage department for nearly 22 years while his new partner, Redmann is a former employee and state meat inspector.

"During negotiations we stressed how we wanted the name, employees, product line and good service to continue," Janet said. "Under our watchful eye, we intend to do just that"

While the Feuchts will no longer hold title to the business, their familiar faces will still be visible most days at the store.

"The new owners want us to aid in the transition for one year," Janet said. "We hope to pick our days of employment after that."

Spirit of generosity

While the store is filled with plaques noting the businesses' success with its meat products, the couple is most proud of their ability to help the youth and service groups in the surrounding area. This spirit of generosity manifested itself soon after they purchased the business from the late Harvey Menke in 1985.

"Being a part of the ag industry myself and a former FFA and 4-H member I saw the need to reach out and help these organizations," Al Feucht said.

Emblazoned on the side of the businesses' trailers is the slogan "Makers of the Famous 5-foot sausage". The 60-inch summer sausage has become a symbol of the couple's generosity. Over the years the Feuchts have donated the hefty iconic link to the Alto, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Winnebago county fairs, sportsman clubs, the Wisconsin State Fair and other non-profit groups looking to earn money.

Janet estimates that sales of the sausage along with other donations of meat products have raised more than $500,000 for non-profit groups.

Al said the idea for the famous 5-foot sausage was born when one of the organizers of the Alto Fair came looking for a donation of a large ring bologna to sell at the event as a fundraiser.

"I told him I couldn't make the bologna due to it curling, but I could make him a 5-foot summer sausage that would just fit in our smokehouse," Al said. "Since then people have asked us to make them for parties but we won't do it. It's strictly a donation which can only be used for fundraising purposes."

One year the Feuchts donated a sausage to Central Wisconsin Christian School in Waupun for the school's annual Harvest Auction.

"They had us cut up the sausage into 3/8-inch slices which they sold for $100 each," Al said. "They brought in over $12,000 at that auction."

Proceeds from the sale of the popular sausage over the years has helped the small school to purchase lockers, lighting and sound equipment, playground equipment and more.

"It's such a wonderful partnership we've enjoyed with the Feuchts and it has become one of the highlights of our auction," said Gregg Zonnefeld, the school's director of advancement.

While their trademark meat products have garnered countless awards at the state and national level, it is their service to the community and area youth that have set the couple apart. Their commitment to youth was recognized in 2014 when Al and Janet were among the inductees of the new Wisconsin 4-H Hall of Fame sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Extension 4-H Youth Development program.

"Al and Janet exemplify what it is to be a supporter of 4-H youth," said Denise Retzleff, 4-H Youth and Development Educator for Fond du Lac County. "Their continued support at both state and local events helps to provide opportunities to 4-H youth as they learn leadership, citizenship and life skills."

Humble beginnings

While Brandon Meats and Sausage is regarded as the cornerstone of the small community in western Fond du Lac County, Al Feucht said his entrance into the meat processing business had humble beginnings.

"The business always intrigued me," Al said.

Born the sixth of 13 children, Al Feucht grew up on a small farm in the little Dodge County burg of LeRoy. His job was to butcher six chickens out of the family's small flock for Sunday dinner. Whenever he got a chance, Al would steal away to the small butcher shop down the road to watch the slaughtering through the screen door.

"One morning my dad asked me to kill the calf for our traditional Easter dinner. I was about 12 then. By the time he got back from the feed mill I had the calf hung up and all dressed out," Al said. "It's just something I did."

Throughout high school, Al worked part time at LeRoy Locker in addition to his chores on the family farm. He also took on part-time welding jobs to supplement his income before heading overseas to fight in Vietnam. Before being discharged in 1968, Al wrote Norbert Weinberger asking if he was looking for help at LeRoy Locker.

"He wrote back and said, "You're on!" I worked for them for 17 years before starting my own place," Al said. "I couldn't see myself standing at a table welding inside a smoky building the rest of my life."

Eager to strike out on his own, Al and Janet Feucht purchased the Menke Processing plant in Brandon in 1985. With just three employees including veteran sausage-maker Lloyd Weisnicht, the Feuchts began building their business from the ground up. Today they employ about 26 workers including their son, Jeff Feucht.

"We've become a destination for a lot of customers," said Janet, who has worn the hat of office manager. "We've been told by some folks that to them we are Brandon. This is was our business and we're not only connected to this community but the farming community as well."

The Feuchts were also instrumental in building the park shelter across the street from their Brandon business. Each weekend throughout the summer, local non-profit groups host brat fries to raise money for their organizations. The Feuchts provide condiments, napkins and bags free of charge and sell the brats, burgers and buns to the group at wholesale cost.

Al even sat atop the signature Hereford statue mounted on the roof of the business in order to raise funds to purchase playground equipment for the Village Park. His 12-hour fundraiser generated $6,600.

Educational opportunities

The Feuchts are not only visible sitting in the bleachers at the auctions as bidders, Brandon Meats and Sausages also processes those homegrown lambs and steers. The small plant typically slaughters between 40 to 50 animals a week. However, the week following a county fair puts the operation into overdrive processing well over 100 animals.

The business becomes an educational hub as 4-H and FFA members crowd into the processing plant's cooler each summer to view the carcass of their market animal as part of the yearly carcass contest hosted by the Feuchts.  Al has also lead countless educational tours for FFA Chapters as a way to spread the message of the importance of producing quality meats.

"The number of individuals who have benefited from their generosity is mind-blowing," said Waupun Area High School Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Tari Costello. "Thank you hardly seems like enough to show the appreciation many of us have for what Al and Janet have done for so many of our youth."

The Feuchts believe in the tenant that investing in youth now will return rich dividends in the future.

"There are so many age groups that we were able to touch; from the small Cloverbuds all the way up to those just starting college," Al said. "We've seen kids that were once in strollers that are now in 4-H or FFA following their parent's footsteps. We just feel grateful that we can help provide a way to help keep these clubs going."

Janet says they will urge the new owners to follow in their footsteps by supporting local groups.

"We just want to thank all our customers from over the past 31 years. They are not only customers but in many cases became friends who we shed a tear with, prayed for, laughed and joked with," Janet said.

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