Say cheese: The Heiman family and Nasonville Dairy
By Kris Leonhardt
Though Nasonville Dairy’s 130-plus year history has made it a staple of the Marshfield area agricultural community, its origination and the Heiman’s family association with it were the results of effort and chance.
When the Nasonville community was coming together, local leaders had the idea to establish a dairy factory. At a meeting to form a steady supply of milk producers, the group came up dry. It would take the ambition of the pioneers to gather enough of a commitment to guarantee that a local dairy would survive.
“Nasonville Dairy was founded in 1885. It is the oldest plant in Wood County,” said Nasonville Dairy CEO Ken Heiman.
Nasonville Dairy began with a pledge of milk from just 50 cows delivered using horse-drawn transportation. From there the company found some footing as a cheese producer but experienced early on the effects of the fluctuating American economy.
“It’s got a very unusual history because when it was started it was private,” said Heiman. “Around World War I, they sold it to the dairy farmers, and it became a cooperative. About the time of World War II, they sold it to a private (entity). It went back to Johnsons. From there, it turned around. … In the 1960s it was sold back to Lincoln Center Co-op. It was just down the road and had been shut down.
“So they (Heiman’s parents) came up and kept it running. From there in 1985, we bought the co-op out. Dad brought us here in the 1960s, and we ran the co-op.”
Nasonville was at the end of a long list of cheese factories that the Heiman family managed.
“We ran cheese plants all over the state of Wisconsin,” explained Heiman. “We were in Denmark, Clintonville, Waupaca. … By the time I got to college, I had moved 23 times.”
Ken, Arnold and Rena Mae Heiman’s oldest son, was the first to enter the business with his parents, becoming a licensed cheese maker by the age of 16. Ken’s brothers, Kalvin and Kim, soon joined him. Arnold and Rena Mae’s only daughter, Kathy, did not enter the company herself, but her husband would later contribute to the business operations.
Next week: Turn and face the change