I’m an Oakhurst kid and for good reason. Loyalty.

Our family grew up in Portland’s Deering Center from the ’50s to the ’80s. I was one of four thirsty children, and home deliveries from Oakhurst Dairy were frequent. Back then, it was not uncommon that our route man would come right into the kitchen a couple of times a week to restock the refrigerator with quarts of fresh milk. We were one of his many loyal customers.

As consumers, though, we were the end of the line in a continuum of loyal relationships that began with the owners of the dairy.

The loyalty between Oakhurst and its employees is memorialized at the dairy’s Portland processing plant. In the reception area on the second floor, plaque after plaque bears the names of long-term employees who have shared in decades of innovation, production and delivery.

Further along the loyalty chain is the relationship between the dairy and the farmers. Oakhurst pioneered with their farm partners the concept of not using growth hormones on their herds, a first-in-the-nation position that landed the dairy in court when the chemical manufacturer Monsanto sued to suppress this consumer-oriented health initiative.

Whether or not this loyalty factor went all the way to the cows may be disputed, but many TV viewers can recall the advertisements featuring the cows talking about their love of Oakhurst.

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Recently, Stanley Taylor Bennett II, chairman and chief executive officer of Oakhurst Dairy, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 64. He was a remarkable person of deep passion, limitless curiosity and unvarnished loyalty, and he was the epitome of a community leader — all traits that run through generations of the Bennett family.

Stan’s loyalties were many. He was even loyal to the environment because he knew the quality of Oakhurst products relied on an ecosystem that has to be as free as possible from pollution. He was a leader in applied environmental science and helped convert the dairy’s fleet of vehicles to biodiesel and installed solar panels on the plant roof.

The company’s processes are continually reviewed to minimize their environmental impact. He also gave generously of his time, leadership and resources to the benefit of countless community causes and institutions.

When Deering Oaks and other areas of Portland began to lose their aging trees, Stan established the Oakhurst Tree Challenge that helped plant new trees in public places for future generations. When The Portland Club, one of the state’s oldest civic organizations, was nearly extinct, Stan stepped up to help preserve the historic 1800s property and revive the institution that had long inhabited the property as a forum for social, economic and political discourse.

He also gave enormous energy to state and municipal elections, showing the same diligence and discipline that he gave to his business. Stan was an impact player, yet he hated to speak in public or stand in the spotlight.

One of the eulogists at his funeral noted that, in his personal life, many people counted Stanley as their best friend. I am one of that large number. Some of us are known to one another, but it is doubtful we will ever know a majority of the others who held Stanley in that esteemed position.

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However, Bennett loyalty is a two-way street that now spans generations. I once left Shaw’s supermarket with a gallon of Oakhurst milk as well as a gallon of the store brand, only to meet Stan entering the store with his two young daughters. As I held the store brand behind my back, one daughter peered behind me and exclaimed, “Da-ad!” I have not knowingly bought non-Oakhurst milk since.

The life of Stan Bennett is proof that one person, so inclined, can make a difference. Stan represented not some anachronistic version of civic leadership but rather the constant that we all should aspire to: engagement in the betterment of the place in which we live and work. Stan was somebody who gave business and citizenship a good name.

Thankfully, there are others like Stan and his six siblings who give selflessly and quietly for the greater good. His death reminds us how much more we all can do in our own way to fulfill unmet needs or enhance the place we call home.

The natural goodness of Maine may be found in Oakhurst milk but it is the demonstrated personal values of quality, loyalty and community that make such goodness possible.

Unlike my normal sign-off, I’d just ask that you think about your own role in your community and do whatever you can to spread the natural goodness of Maine.

Tony Payne is a lifelong Maine resident active in business, civic and political affairs. He can be reached at: [email protected]

 


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