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National Dairy Shrine Museum, a world-renowned collection of dairy memorabilia

March 28, 2013 | 0 comments

A common question on the minds of many city folks is " how can I teach my children about dairy farming and milking cows?

Chances are the parents were raised on a dairy farm or visited dairy farms while growing up and would like their children to experience some aspects of dairying or at least know something about milking cows.

The problem is that they no longer have any relatives on the farm, don't know any farmers and are hesitant to ask busy farmers they don't know for a tour.

My first suggestion always is to attend a June Dairy Breakfast on the Farm (most every county hosts one) where one can eat a big breakfast, tour an operating farm, ask questions, see cows close up, learn what cows eat and even more important, talk to actual dairy farmers.

An equally feasible and interesting way to learn about dairying is to make a trip to Fort Atkinson and spend and hour or two at the National Dairy Shrine Museum, a world renowned collection of dairy memorabilia and photos and stories of the people and dairy cows that made dairying in this country.

First check out the new display featuring the seven recognized breeds of dairy cows,

Visitors will see how cows were milked (by hand) while the dairy farmer sat on a small metal or hand-made wooden milk stool, the strainer that filtered the milk fresh from the cow and the metal milk cans in which the milk was shipped to a dairy plant.

Visitors may well wonder how dairy farmers milked cows twice a day, every day with equipment that was modern at the time and looks so primitive today. Look at the video that tells the dairy story from the past until now and marvel at the changes made over the years.

The hundreds of photos of dairy leaders who had a major impact on the science of dairying are there to see and will bring back memories to those visitors who bred and milked cows and have met these folks or otherwise remember them.

Then there are the cows, panel after panel, row after row of the great dairy cows of the past, who visitors can still read about or had seen parade before a judge at the great dairy shows in Columbus, OH, Chicago, IL, Waterloo, IA and Madison.

All are long gone but some of their genes live on in the cows in Wisconsin's 11,000 dairy herds and across all of the world's dairyland.

Stop and view the lists of scholarship, judging and award winners shown in pictorial displays, perhaps parents, uncles, instructors or even oneself will be listed.

Some history

The National Dairy Shrine Museum is part of the Hoards Historical Museum that had its origin in 1956 when the Hoard family (grandsons of W.D. Hoard) offered the family home to the City of Fort Atkinson for use as a museum.

The city accepted and moved their small collection that had been displayed in the library to the newly formed Hoard Historic Museum. This has grown to become an amazing collection for this smallish south central Wisconsin town of some 12,500 people.

The collections, except for the Dairy Shrine Museum, are owned by the Fort Atkinson Historical Society and include a wide variety of local and area exhibits.

The National Dairy Shrine Museum is a major effort of its parent, The National Dairy Shrine that had its beginnings in the mid-1940s with a letter from Karl Musser, secretary of the American Cattle Club to the directors of the Waterloo Dairy Cattle Congress.

Musser pointed out that "Nowhere in America has there been built anything that would approach a Shrine for the purebred dairy cattle breeders. No where is there a Hall of Fame into which can be built for posterity, constant reminders to future generations of what great cattle have left the industry."

That suggestion prompted the formation, in 1949, of The National Dairy Shrine, It's mission then and now is:

1) To honor past and present leaders of the dairy industry;

2) To inspire future dairy leaders with scholarships and educational encouragements;

3) To record the significant events and achievements in the dairy industry;

4) To operate a museum to display the history of the dairy industry, educate visitors and showcase the Dairy Hall of Fame; and

5) To promote the dairy industry.

The organization's first headquarters was adjacent to the Waterloo Dairy Cattle Congress grounds until its move to Wisconsin. The decision to move came about as the Dairy Cattle Congress fell on hard times and World Dairy Expo had assumed the status as the premier dairy show.

In February 1974 a committee discussed plans to build a headquarters and museum at Fort Atkinson. A building committee headed by Dr. Robert Walton, president of ABS and Robert Rummler, chairman of the National Holstein Association, raised a fund of $210,000 and in April 1980 ground was broken and the building adjoining the existing Hoards Historical Museum was dedicated a year later.

The structure, now an integral (but separate) part of the Hoards Historical Museum serves as National Dairy Shrine headquarters and a constantly developing museum that occupies two floors.

Kori Oberle, director of the Hoards Historical Museum, explains that her organization operates the National Dairy Shrine Museum on a daily basis, but Dairy Shrine has control over the exhibits, programs and improvements in their two-story facility.

Last fall three exhibits were added to the Dairy Shrine Museum centering on: a) The seven dairy breeds, b) The show ring and Klussendorf award and c) Youth awards.

The National Dairy Shrine now has some 18,000 members from all aspects of the dairy industry and holds an annual meeting and banquet yearly.

It has long since become the historian, guardian and promoter of the purebred dairy cattle industry with an emphasis on youth programs. (Dairy students are eligible to apply for recognition programs and scholarships totaling over $45,000.)

President Dale Oliver, Penn State University, a 21-member board of directors, along with Executive Director, David Selner, Denmark, (info@dairyshrine.org) direct National Dairy Shrine policies and activities.

Without doubt, the National Dairy Shrine Museum is the place to visit for dairy history as some 17,000 visitors (individuals and tours) from 40 states and 17 countries did last year.

The hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and everyday during World Dairy Expo. There is no admission fee, only donations.

Warning! Don't plan a hurried visit, as visitors will want to see the entire Dairy Shrine Museum and the Hoards Historical Museum. The exhibits are so great, the learning is endless and the memories from the past and made for the future are forever.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

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