Seventy-six years to the day since Stan Davis purchased a St. Peter creamery and launched his dairy business, his loved ones laid him to rest. His funeral services were a block away from where he used to churn butter.
Davis, who helped lead one of the most prominent business families in Minnesota, died July 27 at the age of 100. He was remembered as a hard worker whose work ethic and the care he took cultivating and maintaining relationships with people were worthy of admiration.
“He had a way about doing work, no matter what the type of work it was, whether it was at the butter factory or in his yard at home,” said Marty Davis, one of Stan Davis’ grandsons and the president and chief executive of the Cambria quartz company.
Davis was born in 1918, a few days after the end of World War I, on a farm west of St. Peter, Minn. At the age of 8, he worked at his dad’s gas station and also did yard work. When the Great Depression swept the country, Davis was barely 11 years old.
“He grew up in a lot of adversity that made him more determined. … He created a lot of his opportunities, and he had opportunity, but they were tough years for kids,” Marty Davis said.
Davis graduated from St. Peter High School in 1936. Though he was recruited to play football at Gustavus Adolphus College, he wasn’t given a full scholarship. For financial reasons, he got a job at the Norseland Creamery, where he learned to make butter. In 1940, he attended the University of Minnesota.
In 1943, Davis and his wife, Gloria, with money they borrowed from Davis’ aunts and mother, purchased the small St. Peter Creamery with partner Harvey Parsons. Davis would later own the creamery outright. During World War II, the creamery made butter to supply the Army.
During the next 30 years, Davis would expand the creamery to produce milk powders and buttermilk ingredients. He was one of the few private dairy operators who competed with the larger milk cooperatives. Davis and his son Mark partnered with the Cords family who operated the Le Sueur Creamery and in 1972 founded the Le Sueur Cheese Co.
During the 1980s, Davis bought the Lake Norden food drying plant business, and in 1986, he merged his businesses to form Davisco International. That same year Davis retired, but he would still go on to work in the wood business and build retirement homes. By 2014, Davisco was producing more than 1 million pounds of cheese a day.
The Davis family started the Cambria countertop business in the early 2000s. In 2011, it bought Sun Country Airlines, which it sold six years later. In 2014, the Davis family, with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion, was included in Forbes magazine’s list of the richest American families.
Davis was an active man. Marty Davis recalled when his grandfather took him as a child to a hotel he owned in St. Cloud, Minn., and worked next to him to pick weeds from the parking lot.
“If you were a member of the family … you had a lot of fun with Grandpa, but the work came first,” Marty Davis said.
Even in his 90s, Davis would often go to relatives’ homes to help fix things, and he still liked to get his hands dirty in the yard. He liked to hunt and fish, and cheer for the Vikings. Davis had a good sense of humor and would often play practical jokes, make whimsical toasts, and sing little rhyming songs, Marty Davis said. “As hard as he worked, he would always tell you don’t work too hard.”
Stan Davis is survived by his second wife, Adrienne “Bunny” Davis; five children, Mark, Anita Davis, Jim, Paul “Gus” and Barb; two stepchildren, Mark and Keith Hodowanic; 16 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Gloria, and a son, Thomas. Services have been held.