Two Turkey Industry Pioneers Receive NTF Lifetime Achievement Award
Bill and Marvin DeWitt, Bil-Mar Foods, Receive NTF Honors
San Diego, Calif., February 12, 2008 -
The National Turkey Federation (NTF) honored Bill and Marvin DeWitt, founders of Bil-Mar Foods, with the NTF Lifetime Achievement Award.
Presented here during the NTF Annual Convention, these industry leaders received the award for their long-term, unselfish dedication to creative innovation in turkey production.
Gary DeWitt, Marvin’s son, accepted the award on behalf of his father, who is 87, and his uncle, who passed away last year. This is the first time that one of the recipients received the award posthumously.
In presenting the award, Harold Walcott, who grows turkeys in the DeWitts’ home state of Michigan, said, “The story of this year’s lifetime award winners is a story of sheer determination. It is a classic American story of building a business from scratch and, in the process, helping build an entire industry.”
The story starts in 1936, when Bill DeWitt saw an ad for turkeys in a newspaper. He and Marvin decided there might be a business opportunity, so they purchased five toms and 12 hens for $60. Three years later they had 1,200 birds that were processed for Thanksgiving. That was also the year, that the DeWitt brothers formerly incorporated their business as Bil-Mar Foods.”
Almost 20 years later, Bil-Mar Foods built its first USDA inspected turkey plant and in 1961 Bill and Marvin DeWitt started further processing turkeys.
Speaking of the DeWitts’ pivotal decision to begin further processing, Walcott said, “This concept was critical in growing the turkey industry from a whole-bird, holiday oriented industry to a year-round provider of healthy meat protein products.”
In 1977, Bill-Mar Foods was a major food processor in Michigan and introduced the “Mr. Turkey” line of products. That was the same year that the DeWitts’ expanded their operation into Iowa.
Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation, talked about the 1977 NTF convention in Miami Florida, where a group of Iowa turkey growers lobbied Marvin Dewitt to help revive their state’s turkey industry. Irwin said, “It was a significant risk for the DeWitts. Thompson (the company purchased in Storm Lake, Iowa) had assets of more than $4 million, but liabilities and debts of more than $5 million.”
“As Marvin would say later, ‘Some people gamble in Las Vegas; we decide to gamble in Storm Lake.’ It was a gamble that paid off, and it has continued paying dividends to this day for the Iowa turkey industry,” added Irwin.
By 1987, Bil-Mar Foods, a $200 million operation, sold the company to Sara Lee Foods.
NTF initiated its Lifetime Achievement Award program by awarding three honorary life memberships at its 1946 Annual Convention. Since that time, 61 recipients have been recognized with this honor. Past recipients include turkey industry leaders, executives of national and state poultry/turkey organizations, allied industry leaders, government officials, university professors, researchers and journalists. Recipients are recognized for their long-term, unselfish commitment to the turkey industry and to their organizations.
The National Turkey Federation is the advocate for all segments of the $8 billion U.S. turkey industry by providing services and conducting activities that increase demand for its members’ products. The federation protects and enhances its members’ ability to effectively and profitably provide wholesome, high quality, nutritious turkey products.
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