Community Foundation(s): Willmar Area
Award: 2014 Community Builder Award from the Willmar Area Community Foundation
Two visionaries from humble beginnings were pioneers in establishing companies in the Midwest that would evolve into leading companies in the turkey industry. Earl B. Olson of Murdock, Minnesota, and Wallace Jerome of Barron, Wisconsin, established separate companies that eventually became Jennie-O Turkey Store, Inc., headquartered in Willmar, Minnesota, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corp.
Olson was raised on a farm by his parents, both Swedish immigrants. He raised turkeys while managing a small creamery in Swift Falls, Minnesota. In 1949, Olson purchased a plant in Willmar and created the Farmer’s Produce Company. The company grew significantly and was later named Jennie-O in honor of Earl and Dorothy’s daughter, Jennie.
Jerome was an enterprising 13-year-old when he started in the turkey business. In 1922, he had 14 turkey eggs and two broody chicken hens. Only one egg hatched but it was the beginning of Jerome Foods, later known as The Turkey Store Company. Hormel Foods purchased Jennie-O Foods in 1986 and purchased The Turkey Store in 2001, merging the two into Jennie-O Turkey Store, Inc.
Today, Jennie-O Turkey Store is one of the largest turkey companies in the United States. It is known world-wide and has a team of nearly 6,700 employees located primarily in Minnesota. Serving local communities is an important value of the company and is detailed in the company’s charter.
The Willmar Area Community Foundation recognized Jennie-O with the 2014 Community Builder Award for significantly contributing to the field of philanthropy in the region. Organizations within the Kandiyohi County community and beyond greatly benefit from the company’s significant corporate giving and support of employee volunteerism.Beyond ongoing product donations, some of the company’s notable contributions include $500,000 to the YMCA, purchasing a vehicle for the United Way of West Central Minnesota’s Growmobile program to support the initiative to take early childhood education into neighborhoods and donating half of the necessary funds to Ridgewater College to purchase a semi-tractor for training truck drivers. Participation and leadership in civic engagement is important to Jennie-O Turkey Store. A significant number of employees are engaged in the community.