In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to space, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated president and Kansas State’s first ice cream machine was assembled in the university’s Dairy Processing Plant.
More impressively, that same ice cream machine has churned out over 56 years of history at K-State. In 2017, a “family” runs the machine.
The K-State Dairy Processing Plant has been in production since the early 1960s and has three full-time employees with eight student workers who self-endow themselves with the title of “family.”
Jared Parsons is the operations manager of the dairy plant and has over ten years of experience at the facility. Parsons graduated with a degree in animal science in May 2007 and began his role in the dairy plant operating with finances, logistics and maintenance.
“Everything we do around here is like cement; once we get started, we can’t go home until everything is done,” Parsons said. “We can’t stop until everything is in storage and everything is clean, every time.”
The plant staff produces 2,100 gallons of milk and 400 gallons of ice cream on a weekly basis. The dairy products are served in the dorms, Greek houses, retail locations and the brand-new dairy bar in the K-State Student Union. Parsons said constant communication and hard work in the plant contributes to the production being fulfilled.
“The simple fact is we get everything done … on time and 100% right.”
Tony Sauvage, dairy plant technician and production operator, said one of the major manufacturing issues they face is long-term ordering. The facility has to adhere to feeding thousands of people for the housing and retail locations in the Manhattan area.
“You don’t know if people are going to drink 200 or 400 gallons of chocolate milk in a week,” Sauvage said. “There’s no rhyme or reason behind it.”
The plant staff produces five flavors of ice cream every week and frequently produces recurring flavors. Sauvage said chocolate, vanilla and their signature “Purple Pride” are among the most ordered flavors from the facility.
“It’s hard to maintain wholesale selection of ice cream, and Jared has a tough time telling people we can’t fulfill that,” Sauvage said. “We can make 2,100 gallons of milk and 400 gallons of ice cream a week. Period. And if that takes coming in at 2 a.m. in the morning, that’s what I’ll do.”
The three full-time employees for the plant include Sauvage, Parsons and Jake Eckert. Eckert started working for the plant as a student in 2011 and has been there ever since.
“If I keep Tony and Jared happy, I’m happy,” Eckert said.
Eckert helps on the floor with production and said working with Sauvage and Parsons is a unique experience.
“I started here as a kid, and Jared helped me a lot,” Eckert said. “We hang out after work, and we’re on a ball team together. We have similar backgrounds and we kinda just click too.”
“We’re like a family here,” Sauvage said, recalling how the friendships and personal growth between coworkers has become a cherry-on-top of his work environment between Eckert and Parsons.
“You know Jared’s got three kids, I got three kids, and one of these days when Jake has three kids, we can laugh and tell him we told you so,” Sauvage said.
The plant staff begin and end every day cleaning the facility in order to produce a clean and safe product. Keeping the plant in safe, clean and working conditions often gives Parsons and his staff a brain freeze.
“People misinterpret how clean we have to keep the plant. Whether it’s hair or dirty clothing or dirty shoes, it’s the steps we have to take in order to have a quality product,” Sauvage said.
The dairy plant’s part-time employees consist of K-State students who work in the facility either on the production floor or maintaining orders in the office.
Oen Griffin, sophomore in communication studies, keeps track of the container inventory for the facility and of labeling for the dairy foods. Griffin is a recent hire at the facility and said the amount of orders can sometimes be demanding, but the work environment is always welcoming for students.
“I think Jared cares about us as students and people,” Griffin said. “I feel comfortable here, and I think he creates a fun environment that I also feel safe in.”
Sarah Koczan, senior in dietetics and gerontology, said she has been working in the facility since her freshman year. Koczan said every day in the plant is different and sometimes difficult, but that doesn’t deter the light-hearted nature of the staff.
“We have a sort of family dynamic that I will miss when I leave K-State,” Koczan said.
Parsons said working with his employees is something he looks forward to every day because of their ability to understand what needs to be accomplished in the plant while also creating a positive work environment.
“What I get the most joy out of in this plant is my student workers,” Parsons said. “Getting to see them mature over the years and then go out, it gives me a lot of joy to look back and see all the people that have worked here, and we got to make an impression on their life.”
Parsons said producing dairy foods is something that he takes great pride in and hopes to continue the tradition of quality products from the K-State plant.
“When you make ice cream for a living, how can people look down on you?” Parsons said. “Everybody thinks that’s the coolest thing in the world.”