GAYS MILLS - An end of an era has come to Gays Mills. The Kickapoo Locker, owned by the Chellevold family, has closed its doors for good.
The small exception to the closure has been the current meat sale going on Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. until noon and then 1-4 p.m. and 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday for the next couple of weeks. The locker will be closing out their inventory and running specials on the remaining meats available- so if you’re a fan of the locker’s offerings you’re encouraged to get downtown and grab what you can before its gone!
When the locker got its start in 1941 it was quite the grand affair for the village of Gays Mills.
A full-page ad boasted “Grand opening of locker plant! Everybody welcome! Whether interested or not.”
Back in those days, meat wasn’t the only thing handled by the workers at the locker, veggies and fruits were also frozen in the state-of-the-art sub-zero room.
“Roasting ears of corn and fresh green peas for Christmas- fresh cherry pie on Washington’s Birthday-tenderized, succulent steaks, roast, and chops from your own stock all summer long- in short the finest of home grown foods, all year round. These are the advantages our refrigerator locker service brings you. Forget the drudgery and uncertainty of curing and canning meat, fruit, and vegetables.”
Neighboring businesses were also a flutter with the opening of the locker in the village. Ads sponsoring the locker’s full page noted
“We congratulate The Kickapoo Locker Service and its patrons on their new plant in Gays Mills. We have been very glad to cooperate and be at their service in the furnishing of lumber and materials needed to make this most modern and attractive plant,” noted a fellow business, Nuzum Yards.
The H.N. Jurgensen Home Appliance store included, “Residents of Gays Mills and the vicinity are fortunate in having an opportunity to preserve their year’s supply of meats and fresh fruits and vegetables economically and safely.”
Even the good old Independent chimed in “We congratulate the new Kickapoo Locker Service as being one of the best in the state. We wish them much success in the future.”
Success they have indeed had.
The Locker Service was opened by the current owner, Jim Chellevold’s grandfather and uncle, Ollie and Norman. The building on the corner of Gay Street and Main Street is the same facility that was opened in 1941, with a few updates along the way.
In 1945, Jim’s dad, Marvin (took over the family business and added the slaughtering floor.
When his dad decided it was time to retire, Jim officially took over the job.
“When dad retired in 1985 I took over, but I’ve been working here all of my life, it’s not like I just showed up out of the blue,” Jim said with a laugh.
During the family’s tenure of operating the business, they have won countless awards for their meat. Especially, there were many high honors for their excellent smoked hams, which will be greatly missed by the community.
“We’ve won a lot of awards,” said Jim.
“The secret to the smoked hams is going to go down the tubes with me,” he joked. “Oh well, I shouldn’t say that, what good is it unless someone knows how to do it, so I might tell them if they ask.”
Jim is quick to note though, the success is attributed to all of the good help he has had throughout the years.
“We’ve had a lot of great help throughout the years, Steve Mickelson’s dad, Sherman, worked for us for many years, Galen Pfaff has been with us since 1985, Larry Blaha and Doug Abbey have been great too. Of course, my wife and mother worked here and my sister as well,” Jim noted.
However, all good things must come to an end.
“It’s just time. I’ve really liked my job, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have gotten up and came here for so many years,” Jim said. “It’s getting to the point where the state’s regulations are worse and worse. In another five years, there probably won’t be many small locker plants around, things are just forced to get bigger and bigger. I would much rather buy something from a small locker than a big meat packer myself, but things just aren’t like that as much anymore.”
As for plans for his retirement, Jim probably won’t truly quit cutting meat anytime soon.
“I told my wife when we are officially done, I’m going to go home and put a nail in the garage and hang my butchering stuff on it and look at it every day, and she told me, ‘yeah, I’m sure you will and when so and so calls and asks you to come cut meat with them, you’ll grab it and run out the door!’ and I told her, you’re right I will!” Jim said, chuckling at the prospect.
The local butcher’s plans do include helping out friends he’s made along the way in the business, during the winter time, for something to do.
However, having more freedom to do whatever he wants sounds like it’s high on Jim’s agenda as well.
“I’m just going to have a good time! If me and my wife want to go some where, we’re going to go, I like to go squirrel hunting and fishing and I have grandkids to haul around, so I’ll have plenty to keep me busy,” Jim noted. “It’s time.”
The Kickapoo Locker will be sorely missed in the Gays Mills community and surely beyond.
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