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Jeff Lindsay is an author of Conquering Innovation Fatigue. See InnovationFatigue.com for more info.
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Saturday, December 29, 2018

 

What's Even Better than Wisconsin Cheese as a Gift? How About a Wisconsin Cheese Company? An Amazing Donation from a New London Woman

Any who has enjoyed living in Wisconsin knows that Wisconsin cheese is some of the best in the world and always makes a wonderful gift. Some of us thing it's hard to find a better gift than cheese, but a New London woman has really taken the gift of cheese to a new level by giving away a cheese company.

Marilynn Taylor of New London, Wisconsin, just a few minutes from Appleton, was president of Wohlt Creamery LLC, a cheese company noted for its cheese for pizzas and its process cheese. It is one of the largest employers in her town. She passed away on Feb. 25, 2017 at the age of 71. In her will, granted her multi-million dollar company to the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. This unusual gift posed some challenges to the Foundation as it sought to not only benefit from the gift but to protect the company's employees as well.  Further, the Foundation wanted to ensure that the gift would help residents of the city of New London, the village of Fremont and surrounding townships, and help those Marilyyn's alma mater, Lawrence University.

Above are photos from Marilynn's yearbook and her obituary.

For more details and photos, see Amy Spreeman's article for  the Community Foundation at www.cffoxvalley.org/. Here is an excerpt from the Dec. 17, 2018 press release from the Community Foundation:
“It’s the first time we’ve ever been given an operating business to steward, and we knew we would need expert help to be most effective,” said Curt Detjen, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. “We immediately put a team together to do the best thing for both the employees and philanthropy in a way that Marilynn would have wanted.”

“I was honored to be part of this multi-talented team of current and former Community Foundation board members to guide this effort,” said former Board Chair John Hogerty, executive vice president and general counsel, Bergstrom Corporation. “Understanding Ms. Taylor’s commitment to her long-term employees and to her community, the goal of our team was to find a solution that would keep the business operating and yet still maximize the gift to fulfill the donor’s charitable wishes. We believe the end result accomplished both of these important objectives.”

Marilynn spent most of her life in Fremont, Wis., where her parents, Edwin and Sarah Wohlt, founded the cheese company in 1941. After her father’s death, a new state-of-the-art facility was built in New London in 2001 as part of a consolidation of two processing plants.

“Marilynn took over the business in 1999 when her father became ill, and single-handedly ran Wohlt Cheese for 16 years,” said attorney Charles J. Hartzheim, Herrling Clark Law Firm in New London.

Several properties and homes Taylor had owned were also part of the estate gift, along with the contents of the houses and buildings. Hartzheim said the estate settlement is still in process and will be completed soon. The Herrling Clark Law Firm Attorneys estimate that the sale of the cheese processing business and manufacturing facility will net the Community Foundation approximately $5.8 million; similarly, the other assets accumulated by Marilynn will net the Community Foundation approximately $2.5 million.

Last year the Foundation and estate representatives sought a buyer for the corporation. After exploring several offers, a successful suitor emerged: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, from Ellsworth, Wis. The sale was finalized in August 2018. Ellsworth Creamery retained all of the employees and kept Wohlt Cheese intact.

“Ellsworth and Wohlt have a long history together that spans three decades, so purchasing this company was a natural fit for us,” said Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery CEO Paul Bauer. “Wohlt has a great group of employees who ran this company almost two years on their own after Marilynn died, and we’re glad to have all of them on board.” With its acquisition, Ellsworth Creamery has been able to augment its cheese curd and specialty cheese lines, Bauer said. Charitable purpose:

“Our role as steward of this gift was not only to do the right thing by her employees, but also to take special care to ensure her gift would benefit the areas Marilynn cared the most about,” Detjen said. “We knew she was passionate about meeting needs and benefiting residents in the city of New London, the village of Fremont and surrounding townships, and wanted to help those attending her alma mater, Lawrence University, where she earned her degree in economics in 1967.”

The gift established the Marilynn W. Taylor/Wohlt Cheese Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, an endowment that will award grants forever to reflect the charitable interests of Marilynn Taylor:
  • Lawrence University in Appleton, for scholarships awarded to students from Northeast Wisconsin with preference given to students from New London, Weyauwega and Fremont.
  • Funding for the general benefit of the City of New London, Village of Fremont and nearby townships for the purpose of fulfilling community needs and benefitting its residents.
The first grants will be distributed beginning July 2019. The Marilynn Taylor/Wohlt Cheese bequest is an example of the decedent’s assets passing to the Community Foundation free and clear of taxes.
The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, a Fox Cities-based nonprofit founded in 1986, helps people provide long-term support for favorite charities through endowments and other charitable funds. The second-largest certified community foundation in Wisconsin, its donors have allowed it to award more than $295 million to nonprofit organizations from more than 1,605 charitable funds. Affiliated community foundations operate in Brillion, Chilton, Clintonville, Shawano and Waupaca. To learn more, go to www.cffoxvalley.org, subscribe to The Loop at www.cffoxvalley.org/loop or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Wohlt Cheese Corporation is a 60-year old manufacturer of processed cheese located in New London, Wisconsin. The company offers a wide variety of flavored cheeses, custom blends and various melt indexes for the food service industry, deli trade and food manufacturing industry. 

Many thanks to Marilynn Taylor, her family, and her employees for making this possible. What gifts will you leave for your community? 

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Comments:
Thanks for sharing and the shout-out, Jeff! It was an awesome story to tell, and great news for New London and surrounding towns.
 
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