Overcoming odds

by Steve Krut
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 Moms Wilson
Dennis and Sue Snavley have been running Mom Wilson's Country Sausage Mart since the mid-70s. 
 

The Great Depression, the taking of your land by eminent domain, and a devastating tornado. Those are the kinds of events that would smash hearts and dreams for most families. But like they say, what doesn’t destroy you can make you stronger.

That series of disasters all served to establish and bloom a small family owned meat processing business today known as Mom Wilson’s Country Sausage Mart Inc. in Delaware, Ohio.

For H.D. Wilson and his son H.H. Wilson, the Great Depression stirred fears of losing their 300-acre farm when hog prices fell and they needed to continue feeding their family and generate income. Rather than sulking and just feeding the family with their livestock, they used their on-the-farm butchering and meat processing heritage to make sausage the family would later sell from the back porch of their home. Their marketing plan of desperation in 1959 was a sign that read “Ring Bell...Will Sell.”

Seeing hope from that small success, H.H. (Horace) and his wife Fern later converted a garage to make more room for their fledgling new enterprise and hung out a shingle that touted the name H.H. & Mom Wilson. Neighbors in Delaware were quick to recognize the quality of their products and kept coming back.

In 1965, a tornado destroyed the family farm and nearly every structure on it. Horace and Fern used their life savings to convert a garage to a meat processing facility and generate more income than they could by selling hogs at the low rate of 9 cents a lb.

The state decided to convert US Highway 23, the road that ran past their business, from two lanes to four lanes. This was the main north-south highway from Columbus to northern Ohio and threatened to take the land on which their business and home stood. The state was prepared to execute the right of eminent domain to take it, but the family agreed to let them have it if they would grant access to the new road for the farm and business. The agreement was accepted and again another possible tragic event was averted and transformed into a blessing.

Passing the torch

By the mid-70s Fern and Horace were looking forward to retirement and initiated a plan to turn over the meat business to their daughter, Sue and son-in-law, Dennis Snavley. Dennis had taught high school for three years and later spent five years as the principal at the school. Horace and Fern, now known as Mom, enlisted Dennis and Sue, an elementary school teacher, to work for them on weekends.

“I was raised on a livestock and crop farm in western Ohio and Sue and her family talked me into moving in to help operate the business,” Dennis, now 72, recalls. “We saw it as an opportunity to keep a wonderful family business alive and to help it grow. We kept the same recipes and the business simple.

“We are in an agricultural community and today the college town of Delaware has 38,000 people. But the growth from Columbus (20 miles south) kept creeping to our area.”

Sue agrees with the blessing in disguise by noting that today nearly 30,000 vehicles pass their meat business each day.

The 3,500-sq.-ft. shop is mostly retail based, using 16 part-time employees plus family members to run the operation. They woo drivers along Route 23 with nearly 70 small folksy red and white signs kindred to the old Burma Shave campaign that entice potential customers with such messages as “Put R Skill In Your Skillet” and “No Fatty In The Patty.”

“We have 1,500 sq. ft. of retail area with a decor that says ‘home and family’ to those who come in to shop,” Dennis explains. “We have a limited amount of space and can’t flood the place with a Cracker Barrel-type of overload on antiques. Sure, we have some antiques and photos, some old equipment, even farming tools, on display. But our thought is to highlight the generations of our business in a tasteful way.”

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