From Generation to Generation
The story of the Valley Queen Cheese Factory
Valley Queen Cheese Factory,
Inc. was founded in Milbank, South Dakota in 1929. Valley Queen was founded by
two Swiss immigrants with a knack for cheese making.
Valley Queen is an active member of the
International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Manufacturers,
Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, South Dakota Dairy Association, North
Central Cheese Industries Association, South Dakota Family Business Initiative,
South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Grant County Development
Corporation, and Milbank Chamber of Commerce.
Valley Queen was an award of excellence
recipient of the Kraft Foods Rick Stuedemann Award for supplier excellence. As
the first award recipient in the dairy category, Valley Queen was recognized
for; development of and continuous improvement in low fat natural cheeses,
exceptional process control, and extraordinary service and quality performance
in research and development projects.
Valley Queen Cheese Factory, Inc. has been
family owned and operated since its beginning in 1929. Actively managing the
business is Mark Leddy serving as CEO.
...A Stop for Fuel Lasts for Seventy Years
Valley Queen was founded in 1929 by two
Swiss immigrants with a knack for cheese-making and the drive to bring
their version of the "Great American Dream" to life. Alfred Nef and
Alfred Gonzenbach originally planned on founding their cheese-making
plant in Montana. While traveling west to inspect a promising site,
Gonzenbach stopped in Milbank to fill his car with gas. This event
turned into a moment in the history of Valley Queen Cheese. Once area
businessmen discovered the intentions of the duo, they rallied to
persuade them to build their plant here in South Dakota. After meeting
some of the area farmers, Gonzenbach reported his discovery to his
partner and Montana's loss was Milbank's gain. The town press was afire
with reports on the progress of the new cheese-making facility.
Today Valley Queen employs over 100
people from Milbank and surrounding communities. Many have dedicated a
lifetime career with Valley Queen. Founding fathers, Alfred Nef and
Alfred Gonzenbach, have passed on, but their dream lives on with their
succeeding generations. Rudy Nef, son of Alfred Nef, is currently
Chairman of the Board. Max Gonzenbach, son of Alfred Gonzenbach, is
President. Actively managing the business is
Mark Leddy serving as CEO. This management team operates Valley Queen with the
same sound business ethics as the founders. They take great pride in
their team-style of management. Everyone knows each other by first-name,
from management to milk haulers, operations staff to the front office
and friends and neighbors as well. It is not a textbook style business
structure, but it works well for Valley Queen and its employees. The
community of Milbank has enjoyed the prosperity and growth of Valley
A Tradition of Teamwork Remains
Queen was built on the premise that there would be no cheese without the
steady supply of quality milk from the area's dairy producers. In 1929,
farmers in the area who milked, carried it up to the house to be
separated. The cream was then hauled to town to the local cream-buying
station to be sold to the highest bidder.
Armed with a strong business
proposition and the ability to communicate with the German-speaking
farmers, Gonzenbach and a Milbank businessman rallied enough farmers to
bring a steady supply of milk to Valley Queen. As area farmers learned
of the many advantages of selling their milk rather than marketing their
cream, the partnership between Valley Queen and area dairy producers
flourished. Today, hundreds of dairymen sell their milk to Valley Queen.
Valley Queen is able to attract their dairy producers based on the
quality and quantity premium structure that is one of the most
competitive in the industry. Valley Queen values the partnership they
have with their dairy producers. This partnership is one based on trust
and remains strong today.
New-Fangled Technology and Old-Fashioned Trust
Fat and protein
tests are run from milk samples collected with each farm pickup. Somatic cell
count, added water tests, and bacteria counts are run twice a month. Milk
producers comment on the accuracy of the testing and like the fact the results
are promptly shared with them. Our milk suppliers always have timely and
accurate milk quality information. This gives our milk producers an extra tool
to use for their dairy management needs. Valley Queen is as committed to
producing quality cheese as our dairy producers are to producing the highest
quality milk. Valley Queen takes great pride in keeping our milk trucks on
schedule, like a fine Swiss watch, never too early and never too late. Our
careful scheduling comes from the knowledge that their day is as full as ours.
At Valley Queen, we call it mutual respect.
Valley Queen cheese,
lactose, cream and delactosed
whey have enjoyed a steady, secure market since the Dust Bowl Days of
the Thirties. From that past, comes the foresight to realize that we
need to have a commitment to growth in order to venture into the future
and prosper. New products are on the way. With low fat and variety
cheeses, the plant is in a constant state of change as modern technology
brings advanced equipment to use in the cheese-making process. A
generation ago, milk was brought to Valley Queen in milk cans in the
back of an open truck. The founders worked long hours making the cheese
using hand tools. Today, Valley Queen is equipped with the most advanced
plant and hauling equipment available.
From generation to generation,
Valley Queen has grown along with Milbank. The promise for a successful
tomorrow is as bright as it was 75 years ago when two men with a dream
came west to start their company and raise their families on the plains
of South Dakota.
In the sketch above are from left to right, top row Max Gonzenbach, Rudy
Nef, bottom row, founders, Alfred Gonzenbach and Alfred Nef
|This artwork was
completed for Valley Queen by Mary Groth, a young artist from Aberdeen, SD
who excels in capturing the subtle beauty and unique colors of the prairie
and its people. Valley Queen takes great pride in its history born of the
hardiness and drive of the people of the Northern Plains.