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Published February 12, 2010, 05:13 AM

Ode to a milk man: Johnson’s passing prompts memories

New Richmond’s link to bygone times was weakened last week when Jalmer Johnson, 91, died.

New Richmond’s link to bygone times was weakened last week when Jalmer Johnson, 91, died.

For more than 30 years, Johnson was your stereotypical milk man for the community.

From 1945 to 1976, Johnson cruised the streets of the area delivering milk, butter and other dairy products to homes, stores, schools and restaurants.

“He was one of a dying breed,” said his son Mick Johnson. “The closest things to the milk man today is probably Schwan’s.”

At its peak, Sanitary Dairy served 600 residential customers around New Richmond on a regular basis. Jalmer would deliver products door-to-door sometimes on a daily basis and sometimes once a week.

“A fairly large chunk of this town drank milk from Sanitary Dairy,” Mick said.

According to Mick, Jalmer would rise around 3:30-4 a.m. each day to prepare for his route. He was at the downtown dairy (located where Sweet Greetings is today) by 4:30 a.m. when semi-trucks filled with milk would arrive on site. (Much of the milk that eventually was sold to customers came from the St. Croix County farm or the Tierney farm -- where the Heritage Center is now located).

“Dad would be out on the road and rattling doors by 5:30,” Mick recalled.

Sometimes Jalmer would drop the dairy products in an outside milk box that sat on the steps next to the door.

“The milk boxes were used so the milk wouldn’t freeze in the winter or get warm in the summer,” Mick explained.

At other delivery spots, Jalmer would just walk inside homes, check the family’s refrigerator and restock as needed.

“People didn’t lock doors back then like they do now,” Mick said. “Dad was welcome in so many homes in town.”

Grace Johnson, Jalmer’s wife, said her husband had keys to several homes in New Richmond so he could enter and deliver the dairy products.

“Now that’s trust,” she said.

At a few stops on his route, Jalmer would likely be distracted as he caught up with his customers and friends.

“There were quite a few homes that would have a cup of coffee waiting for him,” Grace recalled.

Jalmer also was a favorite of the kids along his route. On more than a few occasions, the milk man would allow youngsters to ride in his milk truck.

“He’d let them ride down to the end of the block,” she said. “They’d never get away from the sight of their house. Some of those kids, that are now grown up, say those were some of the happiest memories for them.”

The ride in the truck usually wasn’t the only perk provided by Jalmer. He’d also hand out ice cubes during the summer -- the kind with a hole in the middle so youngsters could put the ice on a finger and treat it like a popsicle.

Being Jalmer’s kid was both a blessing and a curse, Mick admitted.

He rode along with his father on the delivery route on occasion, although he admitted that he was more in the way than a help to Jalmer.

“I was probably more of a bother than I was worth,” he said with a laugh.

The bad part of being Jalmer’s son was the family’s notoriety.

“Pretty much everybody in town knew who Dad was,” Mick said. “And everybody knew he had two kids. We couldn’t get away with any crap around this town. That was back when the whole community used to raise the children.”

Looking back, Mick said, it’s amazing that his father avoided serious injury over the years. While driving the milk truck, Jalmer would stand next to the wide open doors.

“I don’t know how he didn’t fall out,” Mick said.

For many years, Jalmer was an employee of Sanitary Dairy. Eventually Jalmer and Mick partnered to purchase the business in the early 1970s. For four years, Jalmer and Mick worked side by side delivering dairy products.

The family sold the business in 1976 as a thriving dairy, but eventually the traditional milk delivery industry started to fade away.

“It was probably destined to go by the wayside,” Mick said of the milk delivery business. “So many stores were selling milk as a loss-leader, so people could buy it for less than the wholesale cost of milk.”

Jalmer went on to work at Gambles, Alan’s Flower Shop and Bernard’s Northtown, but he was always remembered by natives as the local milk man.

The funeral for Jalmer Johnson, who died Feb. 3, was held on Saturday at First Lutheran Church in New Richmond.