‘Ice Cream Capital’ remains, thanks to electric co-op and community

(Sitting, from left): Matt Washburn, Kent Pauling, Neal Adler, Scott Langel, Lyle Korver and Jim Henrich enjoy ice cream cones at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars, IA. The group, which was served the tasty treats by Gary Susemihl, parlor manager of 12 years, and fellow employee Branda Phelan, were among those who played a key role in shaping a development package to keep the Wells corporate headquarters in the community.

(Sitting, from left): Matt Washburn, Kent Pauling, Neal Adler, Scott Langel, Lyle Korver and Jim Henrich enjoy ice cream cones at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars, IA. The group, which was served the tasty treats by Gary Susemihl, parlor manager of 13 years, and fellow employee Branda Phelan, were among those who played a key role in shaping a development package to keep the Wells corporate headquarters in the community.

Life is pretty sweet in Le Mars, IA.

Embraced as the Ice Cream Capital of the World, a culture of fun and success seems to line every street.

The flashing lights of a cone-shaped theater sign greet travelers who navigate downtown. Five-foot tall, painted fiberglass ice cream cones are sprinkled in front of businesses and homes throughout the community. Even the air is rich with the aroma of a local factory’s freshly baked waffle cones.

But the cherry on top of this little town isn’t just its touristy landmarks and storybook charm. Le Mars is a utopia of bustling economy, brought to life from the spirit of its people and electric cooperatives.

A city raised on ice cream

The Blue Bunny® ice cream brand, owned by Wells Enterprises, was born in Le Mars.

In 1935, the local Wells family held a “Name That Ice Cream” contest, and a man from the nearby community of Sioux City, IA, received a $25 cash prize after submitting his winning entry and sketch of the original Blue Bunny character.

The Wells family had founded the company with the establishment of a Le Mars milk route in 1913, making 2013 the company’s 100-year anniversary. Stories of the “sea of people” that flooded the local Blue Bunny ice cream parlor for last year’s anniversary and Ice Cream Days celebration live on through the people.

There’s no doubt the Wells name is significant to the community. The company produces more than 150 million gallons of ice cream a year. With more than 2,500 employees, it serves as an economic powerhouse for the region. It’s also attracted and helped boost complimentary industries like BoDeans cone-baking factory, Dykstra Dairy and milk processing facilities.

People from far and wide seek out Le Mars to get a taste of life that comes in the form of nearly 500 different ice cream flavors.

It was 10 years ago when the community celebrated the fact that Wells made a permanent commitment to the community when it announced plans to keep its corporate headquarters in Le Mars.

In response to efforts from neighboring states to woo the ice cream manufacturer away from its city of origin, North West Rural Electric Cooperative, Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative (NIPCO) and other community members and entities decided to act.

To read the read the full story, check out Sweet deal: Ice Cream Capital remains, thanks to co-op, community in the May-June 2014 issue of Basin Today.

Dan Harskamp, North West REC energy and ag advisor, (left) and Darin Dykstra stand in a dairy barn outside of Le Mars, IA. With more than 3,000 head of cattle, Dykstra Dairy provides milk directly to Wells.

Dan Harskamp, North West REC energy and ag advisor, (left) and Darin Dykstra stand in a dairy barn outside of Le Mars, IA. With more than 3,000 head of cattle, Dykstra Dairy provides milk directly to Wells.

Pam Gleiser collects freshly made waffle cones at the BoDeans Baking facility in Le Mars, IA.

Pam Gleiser collects freshly made waffle cones at the BoDeans Baking facility in Le Mars, IA.

Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor employee Brenda Phelan.

Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor employee Brenda Phelan.

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