Ghosts of Main Street: Marion Dairy and the Milkmen

September 27, 2019

By Julie Traynor

You can whip our cream, but you can’t beat our milk”. If you are a kid of a certain age, you will likely recall this proclamation in orange lettering on the bottle of milk at your breakfast table. Or perhaps you puzzled over it on the pint bottle of milk with your school lunch. This week we remember the Marion Dairy and its milkmen.

turns out, a somewhat personal memory. I was rather amazed to find but a single line in the Marion Centennial book regarding dairies, and in particular, the Marion Dairy. “Home delivery was done by Vernon Lundahl [Gerald Turner’s brother-in-law] in the 40’s and then by Robert Payne through the 60’s.” The end regarding the dairy, or any dairy I might add. This information was included at the end of a paragraph regarding drayage businesses in Marion’s past. The Marion Dairy was not included in the section on creameries and cream stations, nor did it make the parade of Main Street businesses in the history.

I had not sought dairy information before and was truly surprised to find next to nothing. This is a capsulated version of the Marion Dairy’s story. I drew on my memories of the milkmen at our door and of deliveries to the IGA. Photos of the white block building with garage doors, industrial windows and MARION DAIRY in orange lettering on the front seem to be as scarce as hens’ teeth. And so, apparently, is a permanent history of this particular business, once a staple, at Marion, Michigan.

Marion was the home of several creameries in her time. A dairy deals in milk and milk products. A creamery handles mainly cream and things made from it, primarily butter and certain cheeses. In the creamery days, Mari- on creameries and those in the area were award win- ners, making particularly fine butters from cream collected from local herds.

The Dean family oper- ated a dairy on what is now the John Downing farm just west of the village. They eventually sold to the Friend’s and they to Lun- dahl. We truly do not know if Robert Payne, a Cadillac native and Marionite in his heart, built the Marion Dairy on the east side of town, or if it was Lundahl, who in turn sold to Payne. By 1950, Bob Payne owned the Marion Dairy where he pasteurized and bottled milk in Marion. Bottled milk and cream came to the door, winter and summer. The Marion Dairy also supplied local grocery stores, restaurants and a few schools.

Bob hired Dean Chamberlain, a farm boy from Clare County. Dean worked in the dairy as well as on the route and became “the new milkman” and a life-long friend to Bob Payne.

Things changed rather rapidly at the Marion Dairy. The Marion Public School, a large customer of the Marion Dairy, purchased a by the glass, milk-dispensing machine, stopping their use milk in pint bottles. Smaller coun- try schools, also bottled milk customers, began consolidating with Marion. Local grocery stores began stocking big dairy, store brand milk, in gallon car- tons at a cheaper price.

ess at the Marion Dairy had greatly changed. The dairy long since had ceased to process local milk and became a drop depot for the large down- state Wilson Dairy, one of the first of many large milk processors to market products in northern Mich- igan. Bob delivered Wil- son’s Milk to his commer- cial dairy customers in and about Marion. We bought it at our favorite grocery stores.

The days of a local dairy, and Bob and Dean delivering milk, cream and butter to the door were gone forever.

Dean Chamberlain, warmly remembered as Marion’s milkman by many old kids, passed away this week at the age of 90.

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