One of the giants of the Cache Valley dairy industry, Dolores Gossner Wheeler, passed away after a courageous battle with breast cancer on Nov. 21, 2018. According to her obituary, the family was at her bedside during her final hours.
Upon word of her passing, a wide variety of people throughout the Cache Valley community have expressed their thanks and appreciation for her efforts to support agriculture, her business acumen and her generosity.
Dolores took over as President, CEO and Chairman of the board for Gossner Foods in 1984, just three years before her father died.
When she took over the small and struggling company, she worked hard and turned it into a prosperous and growing dairy industry model. Over the years, Wheeler has been recognized for her leadership ability by several organizations. She was the first woman chair for the board of the Utah Manufactures Association, and was also recognized as the Utah Entrepreneur of the Year and Manufacturer of the Year.
Wheeler was also generous in the community. Gossner Foods donated $2 million to Logan Regional Hospital for their cancer center, the largest donation to the hospital in its 100 year history.
Logan Regional Hospital Administrator, Kyle Hansen, said, “On behalf of Logan Regional Hospital, I want to send our deepest condolences to the family of Dolores Wheeler over her passing. It would be difficult to overstate the amazing impact Dolores had on our hospital, our patients, and our community.
“Not only did Dolores and her family donate generously to our cancer center (now named the Gossner Cancer Center), she was instrumental in prompting us to improve our treatment procedures,” Hansen said. “As a cancer patient herself, Dolores offered observations that helped us improve patient flow and save patients extra trips to the lab by having a clinician come take blood draws at the cancer center.”
He said he was thankful to have gotten to know Dolores and her family. She had a passion for helping others, and she truly cared about the health and well-being of this community. “She will be greatly missed here at Logan Regional.”
Greg Rowley, executive vice president of Gossner Foods, said that there was no bigger advocate of agriculture and dairy industry in Cache Valley than Wheeler.
“I think she mostly wanted to be known as friend to the farmer and a good employer to her employees,” Rowley said. “She had tremendous support from her family and the board of directors.”
Clark Israelsen, Utah State University Extension Associate Professor of Agriculture, said the dairy industry has been important for decades to the economic well-being of Cache Valley.
“Gossner Foods has been a big part of that unfolding success,” he said. “Dolores was always a team-player who respected the contributions others made.”
“She was careful to share profits with dairy producers, truckers, employees and others who worked with her,” Israelsen continued. “Dolores was a master at building trust and enjoyed deep respect from all who worked with her.”
Israelsen went on to say Wheeler was a gifted business person who never took herself too seriously. Capable as she was, she never considered herself to be better than anyone else.
“Dolores has had a profound impact in every circle she walked in,” he said. “She will be sorely missed and will never be forgotten.”
Jenn Nelsen, a Senior Vice president for Dairy West, a regional dairy organization established to represent dairy, also said Wheeler will surely be missed; she was wonderful to work with.
“She has been a leader for the dairymen and had been pillar for the entire industry,” she said. “She had a lot of respect from all the dairymen who shipped their milk to her facility.”
Logan City Mayor Holly Daines said Wheeler, with her family and business, left a lasting impact on Cache Valley.
“Gossner Foods has contributed to the valley in many ways, both economically and socially,” she said. “By having a vision of quality, growing judiciously, treating employees and producers well, and giving back to the community, Dolores and her family business have set a fine standard.”
Grandaughter Kristan Earl was installed as President of the company in October.
Wheeler was four years old when her father Edwin and mother Josephine Oechslin Gossner drove through Cache Valley on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Her parents moved their family to Cache Valley, which they referred to as “The Little Switzerland of the Rockies,” and settled here to make Swiss cheese in 1941. Today, Gossner Foods still produces several different kinds of Swiss cheese. Additionally, they are the oldest continuous producer of shelf stable milk for retail sale in the U.S. They also provide that milk for the military worldwide.
Although the company is headquartered in Logan where they employ 500 people and are preparing for another plant expansion, they have a plant in Heyburn, Idaho that employs 50 people. The company buys milk from nearly 300 dairies throughout Utah and Idaho.
According to her obituary, a viewing will be held Tuesday, November 27th from 5-8 p.m. at Allen-Hall Mortuary on Center Street in Logan. A reflection and celebration of life will be held Wednesday, November 28th at 11:00 a.m at the Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church 725 South 250 East, Hyde Park. Following the vigil, a Funeral Mass will be held at 1:00 pm in Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. Dolores will be buried next to her husband and parents in the Smithfield City Cemetery.
In honor of her commitment to fight cancer, her family asks that people consider making a donation, in lieu of flowers, to the Gossner Cancer Center through the Logan Regional Hospital Foundation.