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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Frigo Cheese Corp. - The Story of the Great Man who Ran It
With all the mob related posts I've written lately concerning the Italian American community, I thought it was about time for a story of a great Italian American businessman and leader.
In 1981, I obtained a job as a truck driver at the Frigo Cheese Company in Lena, Wi and it enabled me to make the move from Milwaukee to Crivitz. The President of the company was Leo Frigo and, unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet him. I was only there for a short time before he retired in 1983. I never heard one person bad mouth him while he was there and didn't find out what a great guy he was until after he left. Below is a biography of him by Paul’s Pantry, a non-profit he started in Green Bay after he retired. Today, it is one the largest food pantry programs [Paul's Pantry] in the nation for feeding the hungry!

Leo Frigo was born into a large Italian-American family who at the time were living in Pound Wisconsin. He was the thirteenth of sixteen children, nine sons and seven daughters of Pasquale and Camilla Frigo.
Pasquale Frigo, his father, was born in Italy and came to the United States with $50 in his pocket and the dream of opening a cheese factory. His mother assisted him in this dream and he opened the Frigo Cheese Factory in Wisconsin. Both of her parents possessed a strong faith, which they passed along to their children. In her oral history, S. Pasqualine noted that her mother always taught her children to trust in divine providence.
When he was five years old he enrolled in Guardian Angels Boarding School in Oneida. Several of his older brothers and sisters were also students there. He loved the woods in Oneida and sometimes played cowboys and Indians with the Oneida children, ending up tied to a tree when the Indians won!
His four years of high school were spent in De Pere at another boarding school, St. Norbert High School. There Leo made many lifelong friends and seriously considered a religious vocation. In fact, his sister, Sister Marie Pasqualine Frigo spent her life as a Catholic nun, working with children.
After graduating as Salutatorian of his class, he entered the Franciscan order in New York and after a few months entered the Trappist Order in Dubuque Iowa. After less than a year he decided a meatless diet was not for him, so he returned home and worked in the family business. When Uncle Sam came calling Leo entered the U.S. Army and served in the Searchlight Division in Korea.
Using the G.I. Bill, he became a student in the Dairy Science Department at Iowa State University, Ames where he met and married fellow student Fran Chapman. After graduation from ISU it was back to Frigo Cheese where his first managerial position was as plant manager at Carney Milk Products, Carney Michigan. After six years as a "Upper" he and Fran took their growing family of four daughters to Lena WI where he became the Corporate Production Manager and Treasurer. He and his brothers expanded the business into South Dakota and he traveled to the Dakotas by car every other week for two years, many times picking up hitchhikers of dubious character. Like his father before him, he was never afraid to give a helping hand to those in need.
Leo retired as President of Frigo Cheese Corporation in 1983 at the age of 52. He wished to devote the remainder of his life to apostolic work and had been preparing for that mission before retirement by joining the St. Vincent de Paul Society. His first few months of retirement were spent assisting parolees, taking them on job interviews and assisting in their rehabilitation. The director of a local halfway house, Arlene Conant, suggested to Leo that the biggest problems ex-convicts faced was finding a job and supporting themselves. They sometimes resorted to stealing to have enough food. Arlene took Leo to St. Joseph Food Pantry in Appleton and it is here that Leo conceived the idea of beginning a food pantry in Green Bay.

Leo Frigo at Paul's Pantry

Obtaining space in a corner of the former St. Vincent de Paul store on Webster Court, now renamed Leo Frigo Way, Leo organized meetings of volunteers through the churches of all denominations. He visited all the local grocery stores begging for their surplus unsaleable food, even going as far as jumping into the dumpsters to retrieve food when it was denied. Leo used to say,
"Its better that I go into the dumpster rather than making the poor go there, at the end of the day my dignity will be intact and so will theirs."
Leo passed away on February 13, 2001 from injuries sustained in a car accident. He was delivering food to a shut in.
Pictured below is the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge. After Leo's death, the Tower Drive Bridge in Green Bay was renamed in his honor. Leo spent his life building a bridge between the "have's" and "have not's."
Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge, Green Bay , WI
Future of the Cheese Plant

I moved to Salt Lake City in 1993 and in January, 1996, a major fire broke out in the plant and destroyed it. At the time, it was owned by Stella Foods. Because of a major commitment by the community and state of Wisconsin, the plant was rebuilt and today is owned by Saputo Cheese, a Canadian based company. Following from the Chicago Tribune.
LENA, WISCONSIN — A fire at a cheese factory that forms the financial backbone of the community forced hundreds of residents to evacuate their homes Saturday--and fear for their livelihoods. The fire, detected just before midnight, raged for hours, spewing thick black smoke and noxious fumes across this community of 600 in Wisconsin's far northeast corner, witnesses said. The Stella Foods Inc. plant, known locally by its former name, Frigo Cheese Co., was destroyed, Mayor Ed Patenaude said. No one was injured in the blaze or during the evacuation in near-zero temperatures. The noxious fumes were created by an ammonia leak at the plant, said Pat LeBreck, the county's emergency government director. The cause of the fire hasn't been determined, but Stella Foods already has made provisions for rerouting its milk deliveries to six other cheese-producing facilities and other producers in Wisconsin, a spokesman said. Stella Foods Inc., based in Green Bay, is the fourth-largest U.S. cheese producer. It bought the Frigo plant in 1992 from Frigo Foods Inc. of Green Bay. The company sells ricotta, Parmesan and Romano cheeses under the Stella, Frigo and other labels. Stella Foods is a unit of Specialty Foods Corp. in Lincolnshire, Ill.
Chicago Tribune Article

UPDATE 9/25/2013 Leo Frigo bridge closed 'for quite some time' due to sagging support pier

"Months after passing a state inspection, a Green Bay bridge that carries nearly 40,000 vehicles a day has been closed indefinitely after a 400-foot-long dip in the pavement appeared Wednesday morning.
Gov. Scott Walker vowed that the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 43 over the Fox River on the north side of Green Bay, will be reopened. But officials Wednesday acknowledged that the have no idea how long it will take to diagnose and fix the problem.
“It could be months. It could be a year,” Kim Rudat, the spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s northeast region. The closure, he said, will likely last “for quite some time.”
The dip is 400 feet long and a little more than 1½ feet deep, DOT said. It crosses all four lanes of the interstate.
The closure spans from Atkinson Drive west of the river to Webster Avenue to the east. Officials warned drivers to allow extra travel time, and to avoid I-43 and other area freeways if possible to help ease congestion, but they should still expect delays on other area roads.
The problem on the Leo Frigo centers on a concrete support structure, known as Pier 22, that sits between between North Quincy Street and the Fox River on the east approach to the bridge. When Pier 22 settled it caused the road above it to sag, DOT said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
State Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said that the 8,000-foot span is not in danger of collapsing.
The bridge employs a different construction style than Minneapolis highway bridge that collapsed and killed 13 people in 2007, transportation officials said. But officials aren’t going to let anyone who is not essential to their investigation on or near the span because of safety concerns.
Small “fine vertical cracks” were found during a visual inspection of the Leo Frigo in August 2012, but officials said that they constitute normal wear and tear on a bridge that opened in 1980.


On Wednesday evening, officials said it could be several days before they know how much of the span and its supporting structure will have to be repaired or replaced.
“This is something new that we haven’t really dealt with before,” said Dale Weber, the transporation department’s lead bridge engineer for Northeastern Wisconsin. At minimum, he said, it appears Pier 22 would have to be replaced.
Officials also are far from knowing the financial impact, and how those costs would be covered.
“We very much need for this bridge to be fixed as soon as possible,” Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt said. The increased flow of traffic through downtown could generate costs for city police, he said.
It’s unclear whether the damage to the bridge is increasing in scope.
“There are puzzle pieces we have to put together,” said transportation department regional director Will Dorsey. “We’re going to get whoever we need to get involved in this investigation.”
A number of sources, including the Federal Highway Administration, have offered to help, he said.


The DOT maintains the Leo Frigo bridge and is required to undergo what is termed a “routine visual inspection” every two years. Websites using federal data indicate the bridge deck, superstructure and substructure were “good” to “satisfactory” in 2012.
In-depth inspections are required every six years; a document that DOT distributed to reporters Wednesday said the last in-depth inspection took place July 28, 2008. Records of that inspection were not immediately available.
Walker promised an update this afternoon, but Dorsey later cautioned that today might be too soon for the department to have much new information about the issue.
The bridge plays a significant role in commerce and transportation, and closure further challenges commuters already facing a major reconstruction of U.S. 41, a key nearby highway. The governor has made improving roads and bridges a key objective of his administration, and vowed that Leo Frigo would reopen.
“The state of Wisconsin is committed ... we will fix this bridge,” Walker vowed at an afternoon press conference at DOT’s offices in Ashwaubenon. Officials earlier briefed area elected officials by telephone.


The first sign of trouble was call made just before 5 a.m. Wednesday from a motorist reporting a dip in the pavement in the eastbound lanes of the road.
Green Bay police closed the highway and began detouring traffic by 5:30, Rudat said. Police Lt. Karl Ackermann of the department’s Traffic Division said he had not heard of motorists expressing concerns about the road before the 4:51 a.m. call.
Work crews completed work on the bridge earlier this year as part of a nearly $17 million project to improve 3.5 miles of of Interstate 43, including the bridge. The project included resurfacing the span, replacing bridge joints, repainting steel support girders, installing traffic cameras at multiple locations near the bridge, and adding access-control gates at the ramps to get on I-43.

The span was opened as the Tower Drive Bridge, but the name was changed to Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge to honor Frigo, the former president of Frigo Cheese Corp. and the founder of Paul's Pantry in Green Bay, a food pantry for the poor. He died in 2001."

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The Beef That Didn't Moo - Wisconsin Ties to the Mob
Tales of the Milwaukee Mob and Two Cigarette Men!
Married to the Daughter of a Milwaukee Mob Boss-Our Pediatrician!
The Milwaukee Queen Bee of Organized Crime
Tale of a Failed Milwaukee Mob Hit!
Lieutenant Uhura (of the Starship "Enterprise") - close encounters with the Chicago and Milwaukee Mob!
Part Two: The Milwaukee Mob and Lieutenant Uhura (Star Trek)
The New York Mob and Iowa Beef - Part 1
The New York Mob and Iowa Beef Processors - Part II


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