History highlights successes, setbacks

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ADELL – The Adell Cooperative, which provides a variety of services to agricultural and energy customers in Sheboygan and adjacent counties, will be observing its 100th anniversary with a celebration from 6 to 10 pm on Thursday, July 13 at the fairgrounds in Plymouth. (See accompanying story for details on the celebration.)

Formed in the spring of 1917 with an investment of $1,250 by eight local cooperative units with 68 original stockholders, Adell Cooperative Union has built itself into a significant business entity with 32 full-time and some seasonal employees with an annual payroll of nearly $2 million today. The cooperative has 425 active farmers who are voting members.

A series of land purchases, facility additions and upgrades, purchases of equipment, and business operation decisions enabled the cooperative to be profitable in most years and to overcome major fires in two of its divisions within the past 30 years.

Early history

One month after its formation meeting on March 21, 1917, the cooperative bought the Peterson Elevator in Adell for $2,050, thereby establishing itself in the feed business. At the time, general manager S.A. Dunn was being paid $80 per month.

A feed mill fire in May of 1988 was followed by numerous upgrades, including an investment of $3.5 million in 2016 alone. The mill is equipped to serve farmers with dairy herds of all sizes, owners of show animals, and backyard poultry flocks.

Energy department

From its earliest days, the Adell Cooperative was a supplier of ingredients for heating homes. For the first 44 years, that involved the delivery of coal.

Although board of director discussions began as early as 1935, home heating oil wasn't added to the product lineup until 1952, followed by bottled propane gas in 1959. A joint venture energy services LLC which was formed in 2000 with the neighboring Kettle Lakes Cooperative serves about 3,000 customers today.

With the emergence of ethanol production as another player in the energy sector, the cooperative made a $250,000 investment in the new United Ethanol plant at Milton in 2005. Through 2016, the cooperative earned more than $300,000 in dividends from that investment.

Grain department

It wasn't until 1967 that the Adell Cooperative entered the grain business, starting with a dryer and storage bins. In 1981, the dryer handled 164,000 bushels of corn. In recent decades, the increase in soybean production in the area has spurred several additions to the grain storage capacity.

The multiple additions gradually boosted the bin storage capacity to 2.3 million bushels, which is being augmented with another 1.2 million bushel increase in storage capacity this year. General manager Jerry Leick, who has held the position since August of 1984, indicates that the unloading volume of 15,000 bushels of grain per hour is the fastest rate for any facility in eastern Wisconsin.

Agronomy services began in 1961 with the purchase of a fertilizer spreader. By 2008, the cooperative had a storage capacity for 7,000 tons of dry fertilizer. A September 2011 fire destroyed the seed and chemical warehouses and the office but operations were resumed by the spring of 2012.

Financial highlights

During its first 25 years, Adell Cooperative operated at a loss of $703.46 in 1921 and enjoyed a profit of $5,713.93 in 1941. An effort to handle eggs failed as a business venture in 1925.

In 1934, general manager Bernard Hillger, who served from 1920 to 1957, was paid a salary of $100 per month while employees earned 30 or 35 cents per hour, depending on what they did. By 1947, Hillger's monthly salary was up to $200.

In 1957, the board of directors asked for a study of hospitalization insurance for employees, of whom there are only four full-time by 1963. An employee retirement plan was begun in 1960. A bookkeeper was hired for $1.50 per hour in 1963.

The cooperative's sales topped $1 million for the first time in 1972. A year earlier, the cooperative decided to be a potential buyer at the Sheboygan County Fair meat animal sale.

A grain market hedging account was established in 1976. A newsletter titled “The Farmer in Adell” was created in 1980. Short term seasonal loan rates hit 16.25 percent in October of 1981 while the long-term rate was 13.5 percent.

In the past three years, the cooperative has invested more than $8 million in new facilities and equipment. It has paid its members millions of dollars in patronage dividends while several of its larger customers have received equity payments of more than $100,000 once they reached age 70. The annual property taxes for the cooperative are about $90,000.

Leadership lineup

In addition to Leick and Hillger, who served as general managers for a total of 70 of the cooperative's 100 years, the general managers included Dunn, Robert Schneider, John TerMaat, Ron Daentl, Marshall Sneen, E.J. Beck,, and David Delawyer. During the decade encompassing the 1970s, there were five different general managers. The board of directors asked one of them to resign.

During its 100 years, the Adell cooperative has had only six board presidents from its 58 different board members. In order, the board presidents were P.J. Haag, E.J. Torke, who served from 1920 to 1952, Arno Stolper, Ralph Laux, David Heidel, and Jan Rauwerdink, who has been the board president since 2001.

Stolper was a board member from 1922 until his death in 1970. In his first 40 years, Stolper attended every meeting except for one annual meeting. Otto Neumann served as the board's secretary from 1920 to 1954.

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