2017-06-15 / News

At Rudyard, Co-op Has Been Community Hub for More Than 100 Years

By Debra Petkus


The Rudyard Co-op supports the community in various ways, including purchasing three locally raised animals at the Chippewa County Fair each year. Another way is to give grocery bags to the Rudyard elementary school in March when reading month comes around. Students decorate bags with their favorite author or story, and the bags are put back out to sack groceries in. Employees found this bag, designed by “Jamie,” along with the others, and posted it for all to see. The Rudyard Co-op supports the community in various ways, including purchasing three locally raised animals at the Chippewa County Fair each year. Another way is to give grocery bags to the Rudyard elementary school in March when reading month comes around. Students decorate bags with their favorite author or story, and the bags are put back out to sack groceries in. Employees found this bag, designed by “Jamie,” along with the others, and posted it for all to see. The sign that welcomes motorists approaching town reads, “Rudyard. Small but friendly.”

Rudyard is the town off 1-75 exit 373. It has a population a little over 1,350, and was established around 1893. It was named after the English writer and poet Rudyard Kipling, when it was discovered that the town’s original given name of “Pine River” was already taken by a town in the Lower Peninsula. Although he never visited them, Mr. Kipling penned a poem about his two Michigan namesake towns, the other being Kipling near Gladstone. The Rudyard High School’s mascot is the English bulldog, an iconic British symbol of pluck and determination. Rudyard High School’s colors are orange and black.


Rudyard Co-op Manager Bart Strong and employees (from left) Katy Hoolsema and Theresa Jarvie. Each has been working at the Rudyard Co-op for more than 20 years. Rudyard Co-op Manager Bart Strong and employees (from left) Katy Hoolsema and Theresa Jarvie. Each has been working at the Rudyard Co-op for more than 20 years. Surrounded by farmland, Rudyard was settled by Finnish and Dutch immigrants. The town has seen many changes through the years. Businesses have come and gone. School enrollment has fluctuated.

But one thing that has remained consistent is the Rudyard Co-operative, known locally as the Co-op.

Sitting in the middle of town, the store was opened in 1913 by Finnish farmers, who wanted a cooperative that would help them sell their grain and hay and supply their everyday needs. Cooperatives are owned by the very customers who shop at them, with their purchases turning into capital, and they, as owners, typically get a dividend.


Hardware Manager George Walpatich has worked at the Rudyard Co-op for 25 years. The department was originally housed in the basement of the current building, but was moved upstairs in the 1960s. They offer a wide array of farming and house hardware including paint, keys, screws, and window and screen repair. Hardware Manager George Walpatich has worked at the Rudyard Co-op for 25 years. The department was originally housed in the basement of the current building, but was moved upstairs in the 1960s. They offer a wide array of farming and house hardware including paint, keys, screws, and window and screen repair. The Rudyard Co-op is “owned by the people,” said Co-op Board Secretary Alice (nee Royer) Spring. In the early days, shoppers had to buy one share for $10. Then it changed to shoppers saving their receipts. When they brought them in at the end of the year, Mrs. Spring said, they could purchase shares depending on how much they spent.

Jim Royer, Mrs. Spring’s brother, who now lives in Escanaba, worked for the Co-op for more than 30 years, right out of high school, and as manager from 1978 until he retired in 1993.


The Rudyard Co-op as it looks in 2017. The Rudyard Co-op as it looks in 2017. Years ago, Kincheloe Air Force Base, situated about eight miles from Rudyard, had numerous students in the Rudyard school system, with enrollment totaling nearly 2,000, up until the base closed in 1977. The Co-op didn’t feel much of a pinch at that time because base families did a majority of their shopping at the Base exchange, Mr. Royer said.

The current combined enrollment in the school district is closer to 700.

After it closed, a large portion of the base was then converted to a state prison complex. Shortly after that, the base housing was purchased by an outside firm, bringing a variety of people moving into the area, according to Kinross Charter Township Clerk Sheila Gaines. This included those who lived in the area and those retired from the Air Force buying homes, as well as Coast Guard personnel and prison officers renting and purchasing homes. Families of incarcerated people rent homes there, as well, to be closer to their loved ones.


Rudyard Co-op had a service station as part of their business, right next to the store, and for a time also delivered bulk gas to farmers and businesses. A structure that is used by the feed mill behind the Co-op is now in place of the gas station. Rudyard Co-op had a service station as part of their business, right next to the store, and for a time also delivered bulk gas to farmers and businesses. A structure that is used by the feed mill behind the Co-op is now in place of the gas station. “The Rudyard Co-op got a lot of business,” Mr. Royer said of those transition years. “We were very, very busy.”

The Co-op opened the Pickford Co-op branch in 1951. It expanded again with the Kinross Co-op in 1989, at a cost of more than $1 million, in the old base exchange building.

Mr. Royer started working at the Co-op in his junior year of high school and continued following graduation in 1957. The Co-op had a feed mill, and built the Rudyard Cheese Factory in 1951.

Mr. Royer said that one of his early jobs in 1959 was doing the milk payroll. He would tally up the milk contributed by the 151 farmers who supplied milk and write a check every two weeks. All was done by hand. The milk was also gauged for the butter cream content.

“The higher the cream content, the higher the check,” he said.

Most cows raised in the area were Holsteins, but Guernsey and Jersey cows had a higher butter content, according to Mr. Royer, although they produced less milk, so it just about evened out for the money earned.

The milk was used to make butter and cheese. A byproduct of the process, whey, was made when the liquid left after processing cheese was heated up in a big drum. A paddle scraped the inside, making tiny crumbles. The whey was sold through middlemen to candy manufacturers for use in most candy bars, Mr. Royer said.

The Co-op sold cheese, butter, and cheese curds from the cheese factory.


A family takes a stroll down the Rudyard Co-op aisles in the early days. A family takes a stroll down the Rudyard Co-op aisles in the early days. Back in the early days, Mr. Royer remembers having to size all of the eggs that farmers brought to the Coop for sale.

“I graded a lot of them,” he said.

He used a device with a small mechanism that was weight sensitive.

“Eggs would roll down, [and] would tip at the appropriate weight, grading them into small, medium, large, extra large, and jumbo.”

Mr. Royer was responsible for putting the eggs in cartons to sell.

“There were times we brought a big truckload to Detroit. We were buying more [from the farmers] than we sold,” Mr. Royer said. “We sold hundreds of dozens of eggs.”

Practically every farmer had chickens in that day. The egg sellers would get a slip they could cash in or apply to a bill they may have had at the Co-op. Extending credit was a normal practice of the day.


Rudyard Bulldogs apparel is just one of the many items available in the hardware department at the Rudyard Co-op. The store had an entire clothing department at one time until the early 1990’s, but it was taken out and now the store only carries shirts, sweatshirts, and hats. Rudyard Bulldogs apparel is just one of the many items available in the hardware department at the Rudyard Co-op. The store had an entire clothing department at one time until the early 1990’s, but it was taken out and now the store only carries shirts, sweatshirts, and hats. Mr. Royer also remembers the Co-op was required by the state to candle eggs, a sample of about two dozen out of every 100 bought, by putting them up to a light to make sure they were not spoiled by a blood spot, or the beginning of fertilization.

Farmers from around the county bought feed from the Co-op for their animals. Patricia (nee Petkus) Montero remembers going with her parents to the feed mill in the early 1940s to pick out a favorite feed bag for its pattern. It would be sold filled with egg mash, or chicken feed, but once emptied, the fabric sack would be turned into clothing.


At left: Manager Bart Strong is stocking water on the shelves of the Rudyard Co-op. He’s worked at the Co-op since shortly after his graduation from LaSalle High School in St. Igance in 1982. He’s been the manager for 25 years. At left: Manager Bart Strong is stocking water on the shelves of the Rudyard Co-op. He’s worked at the Co-op since shortly after his graduation from LaSalle High School in St. Igance in 1982. He’s been the manager for 25 years. “We had a lot of floral prints,” Mr. Royer said of the feed sacks.

The Co-op underwent a few structural changes through the years. Originally, the doors opened to Main Street, Mr. Royer said, and had two steps so that he had to carry groceries to the cars of shoppers, as they could not maneuver a cart up or down the stairs. The doors were later moved to the right side of the building, and had a ramp so grocery carts could be pushed in and out of the store.

Next to the store was the Rudyard Co-op Service Station. Gas pumps and a garage were on that spot. The Co-op had at one time bought a fuel truck to deliver fuel to businesses and farmers. The service station is long gone, and part of the remaining feed mill, now leased to the Pickford Feed Mill, has inventory in it.


The original cash register purchased in 1920 is still a thing of beauty, and is on display at the Rudyard Co-op in the hardware area. Using this machine, cashiers had to go through many motions and steps to ring a sale. It was later replaced by modern electric registers. The original cash register purchased in 1920 is still a thing of beauty, and is on display at the Rudyard Co-op in the hardware area. Using this machine, cashiers had to go through many motions and steps to ring a sale. It was later replaced by modern electric registers. Today, the Rudyard Co-op is managed by Bart Strong, who has been at the helm for the last 25 years. A 1982 LaSalle High School graduate from St. Igmace, Mr. Strong began working at the co-op more than 33 years ago. His twin brother, Barry, is grocery manager for the Kinross Coop.

The Strongs are the second set of twins working for the Rudyard coop. Twin brothers Dave and Don Ketela also worked at the co-op at one time, Mr. Strong said.


The doors to the Rudyard Co-op used to be on this side of the building, facing the then-in-operation service station. They were moved years later to make way to expand the hardware department. The doors to the Rudyard Co-op used to be on this side of the building, facing the then-in-operation service station. They were moved years later to make way to expand the hardware department. And Mr. Royer is also a twin, but his twin sister, Jean, didn’t work at the Co-op regularly.

Those entering the hardware area today see a beautifully refurbished cash register, the original one the store bought in 1920. The Ketela twins refurbished it, said Mrs. Spring.

Mr. Royer said it sat in the basement when the hardware department was down there. He remembers having to use the cash register when he had to help in the hardware section. The grocery upstairs had electric registers, but this one was an antique, and Mr. Royer said it required several steps for each sale, including hitting the round keys, pinching and moving a lever to subtotal, cranking two revolutions to enter tax, and, finally, bringing up the grand total.

“It was quite an ordeal to operate,” he said.

The hardware department was relocated upstairs, and the entrance moved to the left side of the store, sometime in the mid-1960s under former manager Neal Ahola’s reign. Then, after the shoemaker in town, Matt Mannila, passed away in 1968, his shop was purchased by the Coop and torn down to make room for a new parking lot. At this time, the entryway was made at the left of the building, where it remains today.

The hardware department remains a strong component of the Co-op, and they offer a wide range of services.

“We have plumbing supplies, electrical, glass, screens repair, a little bit of everything here,” said George Walpatich, Co-op hardware manager for 25 years.

“We have farming supplies and light duty drive belts for machinery, such as lawn mowers and tillers,” said Mr. Walpatich. “We cut and thread pipe.”

In hardware, people can find utensils, small kitchen appliances, toys, paint, and Rudyard Bulldogs apparel.

Mr. Strong has seen changes in the store in the time he has worked here. Up until the early 1990s, Rudyard co-op sold clothing, shoes, and undergarments, too.

“Anything you needed,” Mr. Strong said.

After the clothing was removed, the bakery area expanded. Baked goods, including breads, rolls, doughnuts, cookies, and turnovers, are baked fresh every day at the Coop.

And they are well known for a few of their bakery items in particular.

Katy (nee Horrom) Hoolsema has worked at the Co-op for 25 years.

“Everyone loves our pumpkin bars,” she said. “We sell them yeararound.”

Their in-store, made-fromscratch pasties are equally as popular, she said.

Mrs. Hoolsema enjoys working at the Co-op and seeing all the regular shoppers, and catching up with those who come in for hunting, or Summer Fest, Rudyard’s annual community event in late July.

The Co-op still sells cheese curds, always a favorite, now sold from Jilberts Dairy. Mr. Strong said he has a gentleman who comes up yearly to a cabin he owns in the area, and he takes home several bags for his family.

Marny (nee Gaylor) Kuenzer remembers getting curds, or as it was also called, “squeaky cheese,” from the Co-op years ago as a youngster. She’s been shopping at the Co-op for 30 years, and does 100% of her grocery shopping there, she said.

“I do my best to support the Coop,” Mrs. Keunzer said, “and my friends and family feel the same.” She said it’s so convenient to do all her shopping in one place. “If you can’t borrow it from a neighbor, you’d have to drive 30 miles to get it,” she said. “If they don’t have it, they will get it for you,” said Mrs. Keunzer.

Perhaps the most popular item of all is what local residents sometimes call “Finn toast.” Its real name is Trenary Toast and it has been a favorite that has brought many folks and visitors to the Rudyard Co-op for years, according to Mrs. Spring. The dry, hard toast is made for “dunking in your coffee,” she said, “or hot chocolate.” It’s a Finnish favorite, made with cinnamon, and now comes from a bakery in the Upper Peninsula town of Trenary.

“We’ve been selling it for over 40 years from there,” Mr. Strong said.

Mr. Royer said the Co-op has sold the sweet toast from the very beginning. It came from a Wisconsin source in the early days, by way of the train. It’s been a staple of the Co-op for years, always on the shelf.

“If we would have run out, there would have been a lot of people waiting for the next shipment,” Mr. Royer said.

The Co-op helps the town live up to the name on its sign, according to shopper Jan Mayer. She has shopped here for 25 years and likes to support the workers. She said she appreciates their helpfulness.

“If something is on sale, and I didn’t get it, they will direct me to that item,” she said.

She and her husband, a Rudyard native, moved back to the area in 1992 from Minneapolis. She said she appreciates the small town’s friendliness compared to the big city.

Mrs. Kuenzer also agrees about the friendliness of the town, the store, and Co-op employees.

“It’s all local people who are friendly. They know where everything is and everyone. It’s nice being small.”

As a part of the community, the Co-op likes to support local efforts. One way it does that, Mrs. Spring said, is by purchasing three animals at the Chippewa County Fair. The meat is then processed and sold at the store.

In many ways, the Rudyard Coop is an anchor for the community.

“I want to thank all the shareholders and everybody for shopping here,” Mr. Strong said. “We plan to keep going the way we’re going.”

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