End of an Era: Gene Sander Dairy Collection to Be Sold at Auction

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The late Gene Sander with some of the items in his collection.
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A vintage photo of Medford Co-op Creamery Assn., Medford, Minn. Decades later, Gene bought the building.
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Gene is shown here with a batch fluid bed agglomerator used to make fine, powdered products.
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This framed DeLaval sign is a fine example of the elaborate commercial art the company favored in its promotional pieces. DeLaval pieces were among Gene’s favorites.
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A DeLaval separator flange sign.
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A 15-gallon Red Wing crock.
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A collectible Medford crock from Gene’s collection. Gene’s widow, Pam, is particularly fond of Medford memorabilia, southern Minnesota creamery crocks, Nokomis glazed Red Wing art pottery and Red Wing Greek jars.

A collection inspired by a career in the food processing industry will be sold at auction June 19-20 in Minnesota. Built by the late Gene Sander, the collection showcases classic dairy-related items from the Midwest.

Influenced first by growing up on a farm and later by a career in food processing, Gene put together a collection that included cream separators, crocks, a goat/dog treadmill used to power a butter churn, cutters to make individual butter patties, a special table where 1-pound blocks of butter were cut and wrapped, beeswax and tallow butter substitute, oil cans, separator literature, butter workers, a cheese cabinet, glass, stoneware, wood churns and more.

“Gene’s interest in food processing goes back to his father’s turkey business near Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s,” says his widow, Pam. “The Sander business not only raised birds from poults and produced fresh meat, but also provided cooked and sliced options for the restaurant trade.”

After high school, Gene studied food science at Delaware Valley College and worked at Lehigh Valley Dairy in Allentown, making ice cream. His experience working with stainless steel equipment there launched a lifelong interest in food processing. Later he earned a doctorate in food technology from Iowa State University. During his career, he was a researcher at General Mills and a faculty member in food technology at the University of Minnesota.

In 1981, he began his own food agglomeration business, Innovative Food Processors, Inc. (IFP). Agglomeration is the process of producing fine, powdered products, like cappuccino drink mixes for single-cup coffee makers, which dissolve instantly in water.

The company’s offices were located in an 1889 creamery in southern Minnesota, and that served as inspiration for a collection. Gene began to seek out antiques related to ice houses and dairies. “He was really impressed by how resourceful farmers had been over the past century,” Pam says. “Without refrigeration, electricity or even steel equipment, they devised ways to separate cream from milk using hand-crank separators and churn it into butter. There are many, many unique churns and innovative ways to keep butter cool before it was packaged for the local retail customers in crocks or packed in wooden butter carriers for shipment.”

That spirit of innovation affected Gene so profoundly that he even incorporated it in his own business. IFP’s tagline read, “A Tradition of Prairie Resourcefulness Continues.”

Later, he bought a former creamery building in Medford, Minnesota. When he learned that the creamery had custom crocks made for distribution to customers, he began searching for one. The one he found was the start of a collection of butter crocks from creameries all over the Midwest and East Coast. Gene later commissioned the reincarnated Red Wing Stoneware Co. to make a 100-year commemorative version of the Medford crock. A total of 250 numbered commemorative crocks were produced. Along the way, he also collected cream separators, churns, signs and other dairy-related antiques.

Creameries routinely used stoneware pottery marked with their name as promotional items. Products included pitchers, bowls and stoneware pottery ovenware. Stoneware pottery used for crocks is fired at very high temperatures making it durable, dense, impermeable and hard enough to resist scratching. FC

For more information on the Gene Sander auction in Rochester, Minnesota, visit Aumann Auctions.

Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer living in Virden, Illinois. Contact her at 35216 East 5th Rd., Virden, IL 62690; (217) 741-9509; email: cindy.ladage@royell.org.

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