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Start of new era for Wauneta Roller Mills PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 13 January 2012 17:59

This week, Emma Jean, Jim and Raymond Maxfield, joined for a photo outside the mill with Rogan and Ashley Einspahr.

 

 

After 86 years, Maxfields hand-off operation of family mill

 

By Tina Kitt

The Wauneta Breeze

 

A new chapter is being written in the story of Wauneta’s Roller Mills. Founded in 1925 by Bert and Edna Maxfield, Wauneta’s local flour mill and feed mill has operated with three generations of Maxfields at the helm over the past 86 years.

Raymond Maxfield will turn 93 in February and his sister, Emma Jean Maris, is in her late 80s. Raymond’s son, Jim, who has operated the mill in recent years, is pushing 70. With no younger members of the family hearing the miller’s call the Maxfield family decided it was time to sell the mill and open the door on a new era for the iconic Wauneta business.

On Jan. 5 that transfer of ownership was finalized, with Rogan and Ashley Einspahr of Wauneta coming on board as the new owners of Nebraska’s last independent, family-owned mill.

“I’m glad this has worked out the way it has. They’re an awful nice couple,” said Raymond regarding the sale of the mill to the Einspahrs. “But, at the same time, it’s tough. Since I was a kid there’s no other place I’d rather be than here and it’s hard to just quit.”

The Maxfield family of Wauneta, including, from left, Emma Jean (Maxfield) Maris, Jim Maxfield and Raymond Maxfield turned over ownership of their family-owned mill to Rogan and Ashley Einspahr last week. The mill has been in the Maxfield family since it was built by Raymond and Jean’s parents, Bert and Edna Maxfield, in 1925.

 

Raymond spends time at the mill each day, his wisdom and years of experience a valuable resource. Jean, too, is in the office for several hours daily, tackling bookkeeping tasks and paperwork, tasks she has handled since graduating from Wauneta High School in 1942. Their younger sister, Dorthy Dudek, was also a part of the family business for decades until health problems forced her to retire.

Jim is the last in the line of “Maxfield Millers.” His brother, Jeff, opted not to follow in those footsteps. Nor have the next generation of Maxfields.

Watching time take a toll on his father and aunts, Jim said he is pleased with the recent sale of the family business. “I wanted to see the mill keep going, but I didn’t want all the responsibility of it myself,” said Jim.

Even with the change of ownership, however, the daily comings and goings of Raymond, Jean and Jim haven’t changed, as they continue to provide hands-on assistance as the Einspahrs learn the ins-and-outs of the milling business. All three agree they couldn’t be more pleased to see the young local couple coming on board.

Rogan, a 2000 graduate of Wauneta-Palisade Schools, will rely on a hands-on background in farm repairs and business as he learns the trade. He earned an associate’s degree in welding technology from Southeast Community College and is certified in flux-core. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing from Doane College. He grew up farming with his grandfather and in recent years he has been employed with Bruce Kramer Farms.

Ashley grew up in northeast Colorado and graduated from Cottey College in Missouri and from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she earned her bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences. She is employed with ChampaGroup/Exceptional Prints where her eye for design has proven a valuable asset.

While Rogan will join employees Rod McMinn, Jim Beacham and Tracy Hackney in tackling the daily work at the mill, Ashley will remain with ChampaGroup while at the same time working to establish a web site and online sales contacts for the mill. In time, she plans to take an active role in the office. The Einspahrs have two young children: daughter, Addy, who will soon be 3 years old, and 3-month-old son Riley.

 

The Wauneta Roller Mills in a photo taken in 1958, 33 years after the mill was built by the Maxfield family. 

 

Decades of change

Raymond Maxfield was just a small boy when his dad, then a miller in Haigler, drove him to Wauneta and announced plans to build a new mill here. “This here was just three weedy lots back then,” recalls Raymond.

Construction of the mill began in 1924, with the mill in operation by 1925. From the beginning the mill was the center of life for the Maxfield family. Raymond recalls a football coach trying to coax him into joining the team. “I spent three days at practice and thought ‘this is for the birds.’ ”

A top student in the WHS Class of 1936, Raymond earned a four-year scholarship to Wesleyan University in Lincoln. He attended classes for nearly a year when his father suffered a heart attack. Raymond knew he was needed at home and withdrew from college. His scholarly ways, however, proved invaluable as the mill implemented ever more advanced laboratory equipment and quality control measures.

Raymond married his high school sweetheart, Betty Grimm, and they raised their children in the mill, just as son Jim and his wife, Connie, raised their three children, Heidi, Amy and Bert, and Dorthy’s daughter, Mary, grew up.

Before long, the Einspahr children will likely be spending much of their time at the mill as well.

While much has changed over the years, many aspects of the Wauneta Roller Mills remain the same. “Wauneta’s Best” flour is still sold in the charming cloth sacks for which it is known across the region. Most of the equipment used today is the original equipment installed in the 1920s, making it a challenge to get parts, sometimes having to get new ones fabricated using stored molds over 100 years old.

“We had some real good years, and some that weren’t. Just like with any business,” said Raymond.

 

The Maxfield family in the 1930s, including from left, Bert, Raymond, Dorthy (seated at front) Emma Jean and Edna.

 

Years ago, when most farmers in the area raised an assortment of animals from chickens to pigs to milk cows, the feed mill comprised the bulk of their business. Today, notes Raymond, the flour mill is the aspect of the enterprise that has kept them busiest, with Maxfield milled flour shipped throughout the Midwest.

The family has received numerous honors over the years including being Harvest Fest grand marshals in 2000, their 75th year of operation, and having the mill named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

In a published notice announcing the sale included in this week’s Breeze the Maxfield family notes: “We are humbly grateful for the present crew, and the many other fine persons who have come our way over the years to grind and mix, mill, sack and deliver to the finest customers in the world.”

Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2012 18:08