The first grants from the Marilynn W. Taylor/Wohlt Cheese Fund within the Community Foundation will be announced later in the summer. Marilynn Taylor was president of Wohlt Creamery LLC of New London, a manufacturer of processed cheeses and one of the 10 largest employers in the city. Taylor left her entire business in the care of her estate representative and the Community Foundation. What did it take to create a fund that would benefit Marilynn’s charitable interests? The effort and expertise of an entire team!
By Curt Detjen, President/CEO
For the first time in our Foundation’s 33-year history, we became the sole beneficiary of an operating business: A long-standing cheese manufacturer with 70 employees. While we knew the Community Foundation wasn’t actively going into the cheese-making business, we wanted to be at our best to honor the final wishes of Wohlt Cheese owner and long-time area resident Marilynn Taylor. Our role needed to reflect the Community Foundation’s core values of integrity, respect and teamwork, which provides the basis of how we serve everyone.
Creating the best plan for selling the company would take significant wisdom and experience. We enlisted the expertise of board members along with outside legal help to form a combined task force of 11 experts in 2017 to carry out the plan.
The team included two vital partners from Herrling Clark Law Firm who know the Foundation very well: Chuck Hartzheim, Marilynn’s estate administrator, and Chuck Koehler, who administered the sale of Wohlt Cheese and its assets. They expertly managed the many details to maximize Marilynn’s estate to support her philanthropy.
The Foundation’s team kept Marilynn’s intentions at the forefront and provided the estate team with important advice. Our mission was to do the very best to honor all the things Marilynn had in mind when she named the Foundation as the beneficiary of her estate. Marilynn was a hands-on owner who ran her business independently doing many administrative and leadership duties herself. She considered her employees to be like family, so we made business sustainability a top priority.
Ultimately, we wanted to put her family business and employees in the caring hands of an owner who would perpetuate and enhance the things Marilynn valued. After exploring several offers, a successful buyer emerged: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, from Ellsworth, Wis. The sale was finalized last August, and Ellsworth Creamery retained all of the employees and kept Wohlt Cheese intact.
As we’ve seen so often in our Foundation’s history, it’s the right people showing up at the right time to do exactly the right thing. During this transition, Marilynn’s CPA Brien P. Batley stepped in as interim company president, leading the day-to-day business operations and helping to find the right people who would sustain the business.
Enter that right person: Mark Schleitwiler, who had recently retired from a leadership position after a long career in the cheese industry. He became the new director of Wohlt Creamery. His expertise immediately brought great benefits to the operation and to business viability.
Throughout this year-and-a-half adventure, our team dedicated the time and expertise to make the decisions that would steer our course. Not only did everyone bring incredible expertise and excellent judgment, they shared their valuable resources and network connections to carry out the purpose in a way very few others can do.
I’m overwhelmingly proud of this team that Marilynn, for the most part, never met, and can only imagine what her reaction would be if she could see how well it worked out. She would be thrilled, no doubt. And we are too!
The Marilynn W. Taylor/Wohlt Cheese Fund within the Community Foundation is an endowment that will award grants forever to reflect Marilynn Taylor’s charitable interests:
- Lawrence University in Appleton (her alma mater), 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 New London, Village of Fremont and nearby townships for the purpose of fulfilling community needs and benefiting its residents.