Got California Milk? – Part 3

In the previous post, Elmer Stueve had made his way to California, and in 1937, he was working for the Foothill Dairy in Azusa.


Elmer had the job of feeding the cattle and building corrals.  He was happy enough with his situation that he got out paper and pencil and wrote to his younger brother, Edgar, back in Frohna.  He told his brother that he could get a job at Foothill Dairy, get paid $60 per month with room and board provided, ……. and you only had to work 9-10 hours per day!

Edgar got out a suitcase and put all his clothes in it.  It was only half full.  He boarded a Greyhound Bus and was off for greener pastures in California.  He did get a job at the dairy, and his first task was to haul manure to nearby orange groves.  In those days, all the manure had to be had to be hand-forked.  The workers slept in a bunkhouse. He moved up the ladder and eventually became a milker, a job he had plenty of experience in from back home.  Now he was making $80 per month.


In 1939, a third Stueve brother, Harold, decided to go west.  After attending the Easter Sunday service, he packed his belongings, and on Easter Monday, left his family behind.  A story is told about how Harold had purchased a new suit from the Palisch and Fischer Store right before he left.  After arriving at Foothill Dairy, his first job was hauling alfalfa and mixing the feed for the cows.  Harold made great progress.  After just one year, he became the manager of the milk plant.


Also in 1939, Vera Vogel, Edgar’s hometown sweetheart, came out to California, and they were married.  She was affectionately called “Bee”.  She also got a job at the Foothill Dairy.  She was the cook for 15-20 men who were working at the dairy.

This brings us up to the 1940 census.

1940 census – California

You can see Harold and Elmer living in the same building, with Edgar and Vera listed as well, but living in another residence.

Elmer enlisted in the Army in 1941 and went off to fight a war.  Edgar and Harold remained in California.  Harold got his own delivery route for the dairy.  He was the first to discontinue Sunday delivery because he wanted to attend church.  In order to facilitate that, he took double orders on Saturdays.  In 1942, Harold married Vernice Evans who he met at a Lutheran church.

In 1945, Edgar and Harold noticed that a small dairy was for sale in nearby Monrovia.  It was located on four acres of land and was selling for $15,000.  They took the plunge and ended up owning 61 cows, two bulls, and a milk wagon.  This was the beginning of the Alta-Dena Dairy.  By June of 1945, they were already bottling their own milk.  Around this time, another brother, Wilbert, arrived on the scene from Frohna.  It was his intention to help his brothers get started with their dairy, but then return home to Perry County, which he did.  Also, at the end of 1945, Elmer was discharged from the Army and became the third partner in the business.

Through the years, Elmer was in charge of construction work, Edgar was in charge of herd management, and Harold was in charge of the processing plant.  The dairy began to grow.  They bought more land and more cows.  In addition, as time went by, twelve more brothers and sisters joined the original three to be part of the dairy operation.  The two that weren’t in California were Wilbert, who did return to Frohna where he became a pork producer and Edna, who married Rev. James Paul Moll and was a Lutheran minister.

It was in 1951 that Alta-Dena Dairy opened its first drive-thru store.  The Stueve brothers thought that people would appreciate having a store where they could pick up some of their basic items such as milk, without getting out of their car.  This sales method became very successful and was copied by other dairies.  When I lived in South Florida in the 1970’s, they had drive-thru stores like this called Farm Stores.

Alta-Dena drive-thru store

Alta-Dena Dairy was also known for supplying raw milk to customers.  In 1953, they became a certified dairy.  Their motto was “Alta-Dena, The Dairy That Cares About Your Health”.  Here is a photo of one of the milking parlors located at the dairy back in the 1980’s.


Gilbert Petzoldt, who married Manda Stueve in 1957, is shown in this photo working in the dairy.


The dairy produced plenty of dairy products which were sold all over the country.  Here is a photo of a plant producing ice cream.


In 1985, when the dairy celebrated its 40th anniversary, the Alta-Dena cow herd had swelled to 17,000 cows.  They were one of the largest dairies in the world.  It was in that anniversary year that this dairy became the first one to put photos of missing children on milk cartons.

Much of the information I have gotten for this story came from an article printed in the Regional Farmer in 1985.  The author of the article was Dorene Grebing.

The Stueve family never forgot their Perry County roots and carried their strong work-ethic and religious training that they had learned on the Henry Stueve farm in Frohna with them to California where it certainly served them well.




6 thoughts on “Got California Milk? – Part 3

  1. Great stories, my dad was Gib in one of the plant pictures. I had the pleasure of visiting the museum last October when in Frohna for our Petzoldt reunion.


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