LUCK — Like most Wisconsin communities, family dairy farms and small creameries once dotted the countryside surrounding the small Polk County town of Luck.
An historical marker along State Highway 35 proclaims the village as the site of the state’s first cooperative creamery. Luck also was home to a pioneering Danish woman named Hanne Ravnholt — the area’s first buttermaker and the first woman buttermaker in the county.
That proud heritage will be commemorated in a new dairy pavilion taking shape just off the village’s Main Street. The project is spearheaded by the Luck Area Historical Society, with assistance from community volunteers and Countryside Cooperative.
Rachél Starbuck, director of the Luck Historical Museum, said they plan to open the pavilion by May 31 and host a grand opening this June, in conjunction with June Dairy Month. She doesn’t know of any other outdoor dairy history displays quite like this one.
“Luck was actually quite important when it came to dairy,” she said.
“It’s in a unique spot, and we got lucky we were able to work with Countryside to get it done,” said Nick Piszczek, LAHS president, who grew up on a small farm near Osceola. “It’ll be a nice attraction for the village. It’s a beautiful building.”
Plans for a dairy pavilion got underway in August 2017 with a grant request, written by local Russ Hanson, to the Albert Victor Ravenholt Foundation. Albert was one of Hanne’s grandchildren. The foundation, which has a history of supporting the dairy industry, awarded a $30,000 grant to establish a dairy exhibit in honor of Hanne.
The next step was to secure a site. Starbuck said she approached Countryside Cooperative about providing land, and they were eager to get involved in the project.
Construction of the 16-by-24-foot pavilion was done last September by Brian Hall of Oakleaf Building Specialties in Amery, who specializes in timber frame. Remaining work includes a floor and the building of north and west walls on which to display weatherproof posters about Hanne, Wisconsin dairy co-ops, dairying and more.
The pavilion’s location along Third Avenue, not far from the Luck Library and Museum and just off the Gandy Dancer Trail, should give it good exposure to visitors, Starbuck said. Eventually, a picnic table will be added so guests can comfortably spend some time there.
“We want it to be a place people can feel free to come and have lunch, a stopping place,” she said.
Starbuck said the site will be open for self-guided tours, and they hope student groups will stop by.
The centerpiece of the exhibit will be a wooden butter churn discovered in a barn near Cushing by the late Ed Pedersen. Starbuck said the churn will require some cleaning and a cradle in which to sit in the pavilion. Little is known about the churn’s origin or past use at this time, and they hope putting it on display might help bring forth some clues.
A donated cream separator and possible painting of Hanne also will be part of the display. More items will be added later.
Along with providing a few cows for the pavilion’s grand opening, Starbuck said the Luck FFA Chapter will assist with putting together a dairy exhibit at the museum during June Dairy Month. Ann Bokelman of Iowa, president of the Albert Victor Ravenholt Foundation, is expected to attend the grand opening.
Starbuck said they hope to involve other area businesses and individuals in the dairy pavilion, through sponsorships or in-kind donations. They also welcome the donation of dairy-related artifacts.
“We want to make it a community effort,” she said.
She said she hopes the exhibit will invoke memories for some visitors and educate younger generations about the proud dairy heritage of both the Luck area and Wisconsin.
“The dairy industry was huge in this community. Now, there’s just a handful of dairy farms left,” she said.
Butter was sold nationwide
Maybe best known as the “Yo-Yo Capital of the World” and former home of the Duncan Yo-Yo factory, which was in operation from 1946 to the mid-1960s, Luck also distinguished itself early on as a pioneering dairy community, with the organization of the Luck Creamery Co. along the north shore of Little Butternut Lake in nearby West Denmark in 1885.
Hanne learned buttermaking as a young woman in Denmark. In those days, everything from the milking of the cows to production of the finished product was done by women. In 1878, she married Anders Christian Ravnholt, and the couple later emigrated to the U.S., first settling in Ashland, Mich.
In 1884, they arrived in Luck. While also raising a growing family, Hanne made the butter at the Luck Creamery Company in large, wooden churns from 1886-92. The butter she made was shipped to merchants out of the area, as distant as New York. Anders collected the cream from nearby farms and kept the machinery in good condition.
Farmers brought their milk to the creamery in cans that had glass tubes, or gauges, on the side. Cream was measured and paid for by the inch, then skimmed off and the farmer kept the skimmed milk. Farmers were paid about 6.5 to 15 cents per inch of cream — about the equivalent of a pound of butter. The finished product sold for about double the price paid to farmers.
During the early years, the creamery operated from May to November, and the Ravnholt family spent winters at their farm between Luck and Milltown. In the early 1890s, the built their own creamery at the farm, which they ran until 1898. Using profits from the creamery, the farm was built up to become the principal enterprise for the family.