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Price's Dairy Still Family Owned
By Theresa Muñoz
Mark and Mary Price began their life together on a farm near Newark, Ohio, in 1890. They had seven children, but only four lived to adulthood. For 15 years, the family worked the farm before Mary's brother, Dr. Robert Bruce Smith, pastor of the First Baptist Church of El Paso, persuaded the Prices to move to Texas.
Image caption: Mary Price built a dairy that today distributes products all over the Southwest. Photo from El Paso Public Library
They farmed and worked the Coffin Ranch in Clint for a year before moving to property at 1616 Wyoming Street in El Paso. In 1906, the Prices bought one cow, followed by another a month later, to provide the family with nourishment. Mark's health had begun to fail, so Mary began selling their milk to neighbors in order to supplement their income. This humble beginning would become a small empire in the dairy business.
The high demand for their quality milk prompted them to purchase the Story Dairy at Alameda and Piedras Streets in May 1907, increasing their herd to 10 cows. Increased volume and El Paso's heat called for another delivery system, so the little wagon gave way to horse-drawn vehicles.
When Mark died in 1908, Mary had to manage both family and business, and they flourished under her leadership. The dairy acquired land at Alameda and Martinez in 1908, and by 1918, the Prices had built a pasteurization plant at 120 N. Piedras. Their herd of 90 milking cows moved to a farm in the Upper Valley.
Meanwhile, Russell, Bob, and Paul graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and went into the military. David graduated from the University of Arizona. While they were away, their mother had moved 100 cows to a farm near Canutillo, Texas, separating production and distribution.
Mary's accomplishments amazed her sons. They all chose to continue in the family business and moved to the Upper Valley farm. In 1919, the company name became Price's Dairy Company, Inc.
The Price family built a modern pasteurizing and distributing plant at 620 North Piedras Street in 1922. One year later, they purchased 250 acres of land in Vinton, Texas. In 1927, the Prices greatly expanded their business when they bought the El Paso Dairy Company. About that time, Mary decided to hand over leadership of the company to her son Robert. By 1929, Prices had merged with other dairies to form Midwest Dairies Inc. Price's Creameries would later become a subsidiary of Creameries of America. In spite of the Depression, Price's continued to grow.
The company began Price-Black Farms with cows purchased from dairies unable to survive the lean times. The Prices put up the capital for the farms, while G .P. Black managed the farm. The farms became known for their prize-winning herds of Guernsey cows whose milk contains high butterfat. In the 1930s and 1940s, Price's purchased ranches in Portales, New Mexico, and Newman, Texas, on which they raised dairy replacements. Plants were opened in Roswell, Carlsbad, Deming and Artesia, New Mexico.
The matriarch of the Price family died on August 8, 1937. Mary Price, daughter of a prominent West Virginia family, college educated and refined, was a remarkable, tenacious woman. In an era when most women were homemakers, she had the strength and knowledge to turn a tiny family business into a prosperous corporation that would sustain her family for generations.
She held the respect of her employees, and she was generous with her family and community. Company editor William Flato wrote that Mary encouraged her nieces and nephews both "financially and morally" to obtain college educations. In her last days, she had her son Dave carry her to see the newly remodeled First Baptist Mission on Magoffin Avenue, a project she, a lifelong Baptist, had financed and planned with her old friend and pastor of the First Baptist Church, G. P. Putnam.
Under Robert B. Price's leadership, the family businesses continued to thrive. Industrious and far-sighted, he presided over various divisions of the family business as well as state and national dairy associations during his career. He also served as director to the El Paso National Bank and Texas Technological College, trustee for Providence Memorial Hospital, and president of El Paso Lions Club and the Chamber of Commerce, supporting the School of Mines and helping to make land available to Bell Aerosystems Co., a rocket-testing facility in the Newman area.
Barbara Curlin, Robert's daughter, said that her father was always quick to acknowledge his brothers, Russell, Paul, and Dave when recognizing the success of the family business. Dave served as vice-president, assistant general manager and sales manager. Her father's formula for achievement was simple: "hard work, from which comes good fortune. With opportunity and timing comes success." Like his mother, Robert B. Price commanded respect from both industry and community.
In 1953, the Prices decided to merge Price's Creameries with Beatrice Foods. Robert worked as vice-president and director of Beatrice Foods until he retired in 1963. Valley Gold Dairies, which was under the directorship of his son Dudley, became Price's Valley Gold in 1969. When Beatrice Foods was ordered by the courts to divest, they sold their interest in Price's to Sea Containers Corp. in 1971.
After Robert Sr.'s death in 1967, Robert Price, Jr., and his brother Dudley became chairmen of the respective companies. Dudley, a highly respected dairyman, ran the dairies in New Mexico. Robert Jr. stayed at Price's in El Paso where he continued in his father's footsteps. He was named Outstanding Soil Supervisor for his conservation efforts on 646 acres of cropland near Newman. Robert Price, Jr. continued to work at Price's until his death on Sept. 28, 1974.
In 1978, the Prices sold the distributorship part of their company to Dean Foods but maintained ownership of the dairy under the name of Price's Dairies, Inc., which is the only operating entity of the original company in existence today. Barbara Price Curlin serves as Chairman of the Board. Her husband Jack Curlin is President, and their son, Tom Curlin, is CEO. Dudley Price sold the Price's Valley Gold farms in 1998.
Henry Castillo, this writer's grandfather, was an employee of Price's from 1956-1960 and again from 1963-1981. "Working for Price's was very hard work," he said, but added that the atmosphere made it enjoyable. He and his family enjoyed company parties where their work and loyalty were rewarded. He feels that this was largely due to the fact that it was family owned.
In January 2003, Salvador Menendez provided a tour of the facility at 600 North Piedras for my family. Administrative offices are on the first floor. On the second level of Price's Creameries, the milk is pasteurized, tested for quality, bottled, labeled and stored in large vaults capable of holding up to 11,000 gallons of cream. Price's Creameries now distributes 152 products. Across the street is another facility where plastic containers for the milk are made.
Today, Price's Creameries continues to contribute to the El Paso community through various programs. Their Give Em' Five program awarded El Paso and Southern New Mexico organizations and schools $1,060,000 between March 1999 and March 2002. Price's is also the underwriter for the Music Under the Stars series, Generation 2000 and Basketball in the Barrio, a program for underprivileged children.
Moving from West Virginia to Ohio to El Paso, the Price family reflects the story of American entrepreneurs. From one cow to prize winning herds, Price's Creameries succeeded in every phase of their industry, and the name still means high quality products.