Elsie and Elmer were the face on products produced in the white building between the Wolf River and Wolf River Avenue when I came to New London in 1964.
The two cows promoted an array of Borden products before yielding the sales stage to Tony the Tiger and Lucky Charms.
It was becoming a regional plant for Borden Foods as small area plants – including my home area Amherst – were closed and milk sent to New London.
Borden’s closing is a story with many aspects.
Most devastating is the 67 hourly and 11 salaried employees losing jobs at an industry that has been part of the city more than 100 years.
Age and condition of the building and related problems are reasons for closing, according to current owner Saputo, based in Canada. Updating is too costly.
There is further financial impact because of revenue it generates at convenience stores, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses from milk haulers, truckers and others drawn to the city.
It is also a story about the volatile, ever changing, dairy industry and a changing landscape of industry that grew along the waterways – the highway and rail lines of pioneers.
Many acquaintances worked at the plant. To them, like this writer, it is still referred to as Borden’s despite changing ownership several times in the last two decades.
Lee Wing retired from Borden Foods after 44 1/2 years. His father Al and two uncles, Martin Wing and Kenneth Cottrell, also made a career at the plant – one of the elite jobs in New London.
Lee, who became a friend in the 1960s, was not surprised by the closing. “Everybody was expecting something because of the layoffs and other issues in recent years,” he said. “Days making Swiss cheese were down from seven days a week.”
Larry Babcock, a more recent retiree after 20 years, cited similar issues for the closing. “It was a very good job. Some of the people have transferred to other plants.”
Many acquaintances and friends were Borden people. Dave Ostermeier and Matt Wilson visited the End Stool in the last two weeks. Wilson stopped the day the closing was announced, unaware of the reason for the meeting he was going to. Ostermeier, a gentle giant of a man, recently turned 65 and retired after a career wrestling wheels of Swiss.
Field men, who are on the road working with farmers, regularly stopped by. Allen Peterson, from Amherst, was a link to the home area. Ken Ebert was a link to New London sports and left for a similar job with Weyauwega Milk Products several years ago.
Delving into the multi-facets of the dairy industry is too big, too complex and too lengthy for a column on the workers, a community and the end of an era for New London industry beginning in the 1800s.
A snapshot view of those facets is recent history of Saputo/Borden and Weyauwega Milk Products.
Saputo in 2008 acquired the cooperative Alto that included its Black Creek facility. Weyauwega Milk Products – renamed Trega after merging with Simon Cheese of Little Chute in 2003 – was privately owned, but became part of Agropur, a Canada based farmer-owned cooperative, in 2010.
When I came to New London, a rail spur ran along the Wolf River from the main line crossing East Beacon Avenue, crossed Pearl and Shawano streets and ended east of what is now The Waters Supper Club.
Bordens is at the east corner of Shawano at Wolf River Avenue, the last active industry on the river.
A multi-use building and New London Utilities remain on the north shore on North Water Street.
Edison, later Simmons Company, across from the Utilities, anchored the industrial south side up stream. For years it was the city’s largest employer, but now is mostly a vacant rehabilitated lot owned by the city.
Coming down river were Knapstein Brewery, Verifine, New London Coop mill, a plumbing business and a coop store at Pearl Street. American Plywood sandwiched Borden, with its office and main plant east of Shawano Street and several buildings west of the street.
Plywood also manufactured doors. A savings and loan and two apartment buildings – using foundations of two Plywood buildings – occupy the site west of Shawano Street. The city now has title to the vacant property west of Pearl to Borden.
Hatten Lumber once dominated the industry from its area where the Embarrass becomes part of the Wolf. The last vestiges of that industry disappeared early in my career with the Post-Crescent when a small saw mill moved outside the city.
Vintage residents of New London remember the cacophony clink, clink, clink as box cars were loaded with cans made in the tin shop at the Borden plant. I drove by several times a day to cross to the north side business and commercial area.
The site of the tin shop is occupied by a cold storage building, probably the most desirable and the last major structure added to Borden.
The closing is an example of the history being written – bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to jobs and how it affects workers and communities.