WCMA Announces Industry Leaders to be Honored with 2023 Recognition Awards

Posted By: Grace Atherton WCMA News,

The Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) Board of Directors has selected 13 individuals to be recognized Thursday, April 6 at CheeseCon in Madison, Wisconsin for their outstanding contributions to the dairy processing industry. 

Life Member Award 

In 2023, Kerry Henning and Myron Olson will receive the Association’s highest honor: the WCMA Life Member Award.  The award recognizes people who have played a significant role in the success of the Association through leadership, support, and service to the institution and its activities. WCMA has offered the Life Member Award since 1918. Henning and Olson will be its 92nd and 93rd recipients.  

Kerry Henning, Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker and President of Henning Cheese, has helped lead his family’s cheese business since the 1980s. The Henning family’s cheesemaking tradition began with Kerry’s grandfather, Otto, and has been upheld by Kerry’s father Everett, Kerry and his siblings, and now their children. Henning’s is the only maker of “Mammoth Cheddars” in the United States. The company has won numerous awards at the U.S. and World Championship Cheese Contests. Kerry has his Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker certification in cheddar, Colby, and Monterey Jack. Today, Kerry continues his family’s tradition of servant leadership in the cheese industry as a member of the Board of the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program, and an active member of WCMA. Kerry has served 18 years on the WCMA Board of Directors, beginning in 1998, and held officer positions ranging from Treasurer to First Vice President for 12 of those 18 years. 

Myron Olson was born on an Argyle, Wisconsin dairy farm and began working part-time while in high school, wrapping cheese in a nearby cheese factory, Chalet Cheese Cooperative. After graduating from UW- Platteville with an Ag Economics and Ag Technology degree in 1970, he returned to start his lifelong career at Chalet Cheese. In his years as Chalet's cheesemaker, Myron has earned three Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker certificates in Baby Swiss, brick, and Limburger. Serving as manager since Albert Deppeler’s departure in 1992, Olson has led Chalet Cheese to nationwide fame as a consistent winner of top awards at national and world cheese contests, including multiple best of class honors at both the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest and World Championship Cheese Contest. Myron served on the WCMA Board of Directors from 1999-2005 and as WCMA President from 2004-2005. He was a mentor to many at Chalet Cheese before his retirement in August of 2018. 

Luminary Award 

Created in 2021, the Luminary Award recognizes the contributions of leaders in dairy product sales and marketing; individuals who introduced new concepts, products, or innovative ideas to drive sales in the U.S. or around the world. The 2022 recipients of the Luminary Award are Dennis Kasuboski and Stan Woodworth. 

Dennis Kasuboski’s connection to the dairy industry started when he grew up on a dairy farm near Berlin, WI. In his high school years, Dennis worked as a milk hauler with his father at the nearby Koro Creamery, which was later purchased by Alto Dairy. After completing his degree at UW-Oshkosh in 1976, Dennis started his full-time career at Alto Dairy. Dennis held several production jobs, including cheese production and milk receiving, becoming manager of the new Alto Packaging Division in 1987, supplying shredded cheese to major food service customers such as Dominos, Little Caesars, Gordon Food Service, and others. In 1994, Dennis was named Vice President of Sales, overseeing sales of bulk cheese from the Alto and Black Creek production facilities and sales of shredded cheese, dried sweet whey, and dried permeate from the Alto Dairy facility. After leaving Alto Dairy in 2008, Dennis accepted a position at Masters Gallery Foods as Vice President Industrial Sales. Here, Dennis transformed the business-to-business portion of the company including the growth of a new ingredient segment. He also spent a considerable portion of his career in Hull, Iowa helping to start a farmer-owned cheese plant. In 2019, Dennis retired from Masters Gallery Foods and in 2020 formed Kasuboski Dairy Consulting, working closely with companies such as Foremost Farms to mentor the sales division. 

Stan Woodworth launched his dairy industry career in 1989 after earning a degree as a Master of Business Administration, starting as an Area Ingredient Manager at Kraft Foods Group. There, Stan managed the milk patron field services team which focused on fluid milk procurement and balancing. He became Plant Manager during the company’s sale to Brewster Dairy, later known as Stockton Cheese Company. From 2000-2004, Stan served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Swiss Valley Farms before moving to Antigo Cheese Company as the National Sales Manager during the company's transitional sale to Sartori Foods. In 2006, Stan took a position at Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, now known as Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, as Senior Vice President Channel Management before settling into his current role at Klondike Cheese Company. Over the past ten years, Stan has grown with Klondike Cheese Company, now serving as a General Sales Manager. 

Cheese Industry Champion Award 

Bill and Don Mullins and Jim Sartori will be recognized as the 2023 WCMA Cheese Industry Champions, awards that are given to industry leaders who, through their everyday business decisions, have created tremendous opportunity for others. 

Bill and Don Mullins have deep roots in the Wisconsin cheese industry. Don and Bill’s grandfather and father were both cheesemakers and had been making cheese in the Marathon County region since the 1920s. Don started working with his father when he purchased the Knowlton Cheese Factory in 1970, with Bill joining him shortly after. Then in 1980, Don became the primary operator of the Knowlton plant. From that point onward both Don and Bill provided leadership over steady growth and diversification of the business. The growth of Mullins Cheese includes the expansion of the Knowlton Cheese Plant in 1989 with the installation of block forming towers, increasing milk processing capacity significantly. In 2001 they diversified the business portfolio by entering the whey processing business producing Whey Protein Isolate at the Knowlton Plant. This diversification greatly expanded their markets including significant export of whey products to Asia. Since then, they have purchased a cheese plant in Marshfield, built a secondary cheese plant at the Knowlton location, added a dried lactose plant to their whey operations and modernized and expanded the original Knowlton plant to include an outlet store and new corporate headquarters. From humble beginnings, Don and Bill grew their operation into what is now the largest family-owned cheese manufacturing and whey processing operation in Wisconsin. 

Jim Sartori became third-generation owner and CEO of Sartori Company in 1977, shortly after completing his degree at Marquette University. The Sartori family business began in 1939 and for over three decades, Jim led Sartori through a tremendous era of growth and opportunity. The company credits his leadership for its growth in the production of hard style cheeses and retail sales. Sartori has become renowned for its award-winning cheeses, most notably winning U.S. Champion in 2009 and 2017 at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. With over 400 additional national and international awards, Sartori is widely known for producing the country's most decorated parmesan. In addition to taking the business to the next level, Jim also focuses on giving back. Developing a vast philanthropy program has made tremendous impacts on multiple organizations ranging from Make-a-Wish to the MACC Fund among others. Jim defines success as “helping others to succeed and helping to make the world a little better.” In 2020, Jim announced that he would become Chair of the Board, allowing the fourth generation of the Sartori Company to step into a leadership role.   

Distinguished Service Award 

The WCMA Distinguished Service Award, reserved for respected and highly valued supplier partners to the cheese manufacturing industry, is the only award that allows WCMA members to vote on prospective honorees. Debra Cherney and Bob Fassbender have been selected for the honor in 2023. 

Debra Cherney is the founder and Board Chair of Cherney Microbiological Services, Ltd. A seasoned microbiologist and expert within the dairy industry, Debra executed a proactive approach to working with customers to streamline their testing processes and bring awareness and focus to key trends. She is a nationally known resource and consultant. Debra received her bachelor’s degree in Medical Microbiology and Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She founded Cherney Microbiological Services in 1989 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Since its inception, the company has grown under Debra’s leadership from a three-person enterprise in a business incubator near Lambeau Field to a team of dozens located in Wisconsin. In May 2021, Debra led the company to join Matrix Sciences International Inc. to expand its lab testing capabilities. Debra has also launched The Cherney Foundation, a Wisconsin nonprofit focused on serving veterans and the homeless. 

Bob Fassbender has enjoyed a life-long career in the dairy industry, most recently his 24 years at T.C. Jacoby & Company. After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the early 1970’s, Bob took a position in the Food Division of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture (now WDATCP) as a southern region food inspector. Bob later rose to supervisor in the southern region, and transitioned to employment with Associated Milk Producers, Inc., focused on plant operations, planning, and Federal Market Order issues. After Foremost Farms’ acquisition of AMPI’s Morning Glory Farms region, Bob transitioned to a Division Manager. In 1998, Bob joined T.C. Jacoby & Company as Technical Director. Bob was instrumental in the development and use of single pass ultra-filtered milk technology to remove water, lactose, and minerals from milk. This process saved on shipping and handling costs and increased the throughput in cheese plants without significant investment in additional equipment. These efforts led to the creation of three UF milk processing plants in the Southwest, California, and Georgia. Later in his career, Bob was lead project manager for construction of milk processing plants in Idaho: High Desert Milk and Idaho Milk Products. Bob retired from T.C. Jacoby & Company in 2018. 

Vanguard Award 

The WCMA Vanguard Award recognizes cheesemakers or cheese manufacturing employees whose work helped to blaze new trails in dairy operations. In 2023, this award will be given to Tom Jenny and Dan Stearns. 

Tom Jenny retired in 2017 after 51 years working as a cheesemaker. Tom started his career working in his father’s cheese factory, Platteville Dairy, and continued through its transition in 1984 to Old Wisconsin Cheese and then Swiss Valley Farms in 1997, serving 31 years at the Swiss cheese factory. Tom was one of the original three graduates of the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Program in 1997. He moved to Specialty Cheese Company, then to Carr Valley Cheese's Mauston plant in 2004, joining forces with Sid Cook to produce a broad array of award-winning specialty cheeses. 

Dan Stearns retired in 2022 from Agropur after 45 years serving as an expert in aged cheddar at the company’s plant in Weyauwega, Wisconsin. Dan’s career began in 1977, when his upbringing on a dairy farm near a local processing plant inspired him to secure a position at Weyauwega Milk Products. He worked closely with plant manager and respected cheesemaker Eldon Liebzeit to learn the art and craft of dairy manufacturing. In 2000, with Liebzeit as his mentor, Dan earned his Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker certification in cheddar. His cheeses have won awards at the U.S. and World Championship Cheese Contests. Under Dan’s leadership, the Weyauwega plant was and continues to be a supplier of premium aged cheddar cheese to Kraft Cheese as well as other highly regarded cheese marketing companies. Dan has also dedicated his time and talents to the improvement of the cheese industry as a member of the WCMA Contest Committee and a long-time leader in the ranks of the “B-Team” volunteers who support WCMA’s Championship Cheese Contests. 

Babcock Award 

The WCMA Babcock Award, named for Stephen Babcock, the famed agricultural chemist and University of Wisconsin professor, recognizes the contributions of those in education or affiliate organizations partnering with processors in the pursuit of dairy industry innovation and excellence, and will be given to Dr. Ed Jesse and Dr. Charles White in 2023. 

An accomplished expert and communicator in global dairy policy, Dr. Ed Jesse has devoted his career to helping diverse audiences better understand complex, evolving agricultural markets. Most of his research and outreach has focused on improving the competitiveness of Wisconsin’s dairy industry. Ed has served in numerous roles over nearly 40 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, including Chair of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Department, Associate Dean for Outreach and Extension in the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences, and Director of the Extension Agricultural and Natural Resources Program. In 1986, Ed spearheaded the effort to produce the first annual Status of Wisconsin Agriculture report, a respected publication that is still published today. He also helped organize a successful yearly agricultural outlook conference focused on Wisconsin, now known as the Renk Agricultural Outlook Forum. He later expanded his focus to include international dairy markets in a new role as Director of Trade and Policy Studies for the Babcock Institute for International Dairy Research and Development. Ed has also devoted considerable attention to the fruit and vegetable sector, both in his early career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service and later as a member of the USDA Cranberry Marketing Committee. 

With over 45 years of food industry experience, Dr. Charles White specializes in sensory evaluation, quality assurance, food safety and specialized training. Currently retired, Charles is a Professor Emeritus within the Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion department at Mississippi State University. Still very involved in the dairy industry, Charles has served as a longtime judge at both the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest as well as World Championship Cheese Contest. He also focuses much of his time and talents in retirement to the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest, coaching and mentoring the next generation of those in the dairy industry from the University of Tennessee, where he serves as Adjunct Professor. Notably, students under his mentorship earned the title of National Champions in both 2017 and 2019. 

Awards will be presented to all honorees on April 6 at the WCMA Recognition Breakfast exclusively sponsored by DSM Food Specialties during CheeseCon, the nation’s largest dairy processor event scheduled for April 4-6, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information and to register to attend, visit CheeseCon.org.