There aren’t many photos of the late Marilynn Taylor, except for her Weyauwega High School graduation portrait and a few other fuzzy images.
The New London woman kept to herself and didn’t draw a lot of attention, her associates say.
That is, until her most unusual estate gift.
When Taylor died Feb. 25, 2017, at age 71, she left her fully operational New London cheese manufacturing company, Wohlt Creamery LLC, in the care of her estate representative and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever been given an operating business to steward, and we knew we would need expert help to be most effective,” said Curt Detjen, president and CEO of the Appleton-based foundation. “We immediately put a team together to do the best thing for both the employees and philanthropy in a way that Marilynn would have wanted.”
Wohlt Creamery manufactures processed cheeses and cheese blends for food service and manufacturers. With about 60 employees, the creamery is among the city’s 10 largest employers.
“Marilynn was a very quiet person outside the business world, and she helped Wohlt Cheese thrive by word of mouth,” said Mark Schleitwiler, director of Wohlt Creamery. “Marilynn’s goal was simply to make her employees and her customers happy. She’d be very pleased knowing her company continues and her family legacy continues.”
Taylor spent most of her life in Fremont, where her parents, Edwin and Sarah Wohlt, founded the cheese company in 1941.
After her father’s death, a state-of-the-art facility was built in New London in 2001 as part of a consolidation of two processing plants.
“Marilynn took over the business in 1999 when her father became ill and single-handedly ran Wohlt Cheese for 16 years,” said attorney Charles J. Hartzheim of Herrling Clark Law Firm in New London.
Several properties and homes Taylor owned also were part of the estate gift, along with the contents of the houses and buildings. Hartzheim said the estate settlement is still in process and will be completed soon.
Herrling Clark Law Firm attorneys estimate the sale of the cheese processing business and manufacturing facility will net the Community Foundation about $5.8 million; other assets accumulated by Taylor will net the foundation about $2.5 million.
Last year the foundation and estate representatives sought a buyer for the corporation. After exploring several offers, a successful suitor emerged: Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery from Ellsworth. The sale was finalized in August 2018. Ellsworth Creamery retained all of the employees and kept Wohlt Creamery intact.
“Ellsworth and Wohlt have a long history together that spans three decades, so purchasing this company was a natural fit for us,” said Paul Bauer, CEO of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. “Wohlt has a great group of employees who ran this company almost two years on their own after Marilynn died, and we’re glad to have all of them on board.”
With its acquisition, Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery has been able to augment its cheese curd and specialty cheese lines, Bauer said.
“Our role as steward of this gift was not only to do the right thing by her employees, but also to take special care to ensure her gift would benefit the areas Marilynn cared the most about,” Detjen said. “We knew she was passionate about meeting the needs and benefiting residents in the city of New London, the village of Fremont and surrounding townships, and wanted to help those attending her alma mater, Lawrence University, where she earned her degree in economics in 1967.”
The gift established the Marilynn W. Taylor/Wohlt Creamery Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, an endowment that will award grants to reflect the Taylor’s charitable interests, namely:
• Lawrence University in Appleton, for scholarships awarded to students from northeast Wisconsin with preference given to students from New London, Weyauwega and Fremont.
• Funding for the general benefit of the city of New London, village of Fremont and nearby townships for the purpose of fulfilling community needs and benefiting their residents.
The first grants will be distributed beginning July 2019.