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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bil-Mar marks 25th SL anniversary

Thursday, June 6, 2002

It was a celebration of 25 years for employees - both current and retired - as well as those that made it all possible.

This month marks Bil-Mar Foods' 25th year of operations in Storm Lake. There was a celebration yesterday at the plant, with a free lunch for employees and recognition of 12 employees who had been with the company since it started 25 years ago.

Also attending was Marvin DeWitt - the "Mar" of Bil-Mar. The company named after him and his brother, Bill, had purchased Storm Lake's Thompson Industries in 1977. DeWitt's son, grandson and great-grandson also attended the party.

"Anytime you can celebrate something like this, give me a call, I'll be here," said Jack Dewitt, Marvin DeWitt's son.

Marvin DeWitt said the story of Bil--Mar and Storm Lake started in 1976, which was a bad year for the turkey market.

"The price of turkey was dropping, while the cost of feed shot up," he said. "People lost a lot of money."

The seasonal turkey processing plant in Storm Lake, Thompson Industries, was experiencing those troubles. In March of 1977, Bil Mar Foods of Zeeland, Mich., purchased the plant and brought it out of bankruptcy. Operations began under the name of Bil Mar in June of 1977.

When Bil Mar came to town, DeWitt said city leaders and the community were supportive of seeing the company get up and running again. He also credits the employees, both past and present.

"We have a lot of loyal employees here, it was a friendly place to come to," DeWitt said.

Before Bil Mar took over, the factory was just a seasonal production facility. "Then we started offering year-round jobs," DeWitt said.

There have been a lot of changes over the years, and DeWitt is most impressed with the volume of the current plant. When Bil Mar first started 25 years ago, approximately 7,000 birds were processed per day. That number is now around 30,000.

"That's unbelievable," DeWitt said.

Sara Lee purchased Bil Mar in 1987, and has continued to invest in the plant. The Storm Lake facility will process 7.5 million turkeys this year and employees about 650 people.

DeWitt, now retired from Sara Lee, enjoyed being able to visit the Storm Lake plant again.

"This is an easy place to come back to," he said. "The people are all appreciative-type people."



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