Dick Behm and Spokane Valley’s Behm’s Creamery

Behms Creamery, 75 Years and Counting

   The Behm’s Creamery story is a story of seeming

contradictions. It is all about consistency but rapid change. It is about doing the same things Dick Behm Sr. did delivering milk in a horse-drawn wagon in St. Paul, Minnesota in the 1920’s, but developing the
ability to manufacture and package an innovative new hospital disinfectant that is about to come onto the market.
   The man who has seen the vast changes in the dairy business and overseen his company’s ingenious adaptations  from the old days to the future is Dick Behm,Jr.
   ” I was born in 1931 and by 1936, when I was 5,
I went to work shagging empty milk bottles for my Dad,” he recently told me. His father and mother had
traveled over gravel roads in 1929 from Minnesota in a roadster Model T on their honeymoon to Seattle. Dick, Sr. soon found work delivering milk for the Christopher Dairy in the Jewish community downtown.
   “By that time out there they had these big old stake trucks with hard rubber tires, and they rode rough,” he said. ” The sides were open so you could reach in and everything was covered with gunney sacks of ice. Which worked better than refrigeration.”
   After 15 years delivering milk for Christopher,
Dick, Sr. bought a dairy of his own in Chehalis and his son continued along side. ” I learned to drive at
3 in the morning, delivering milk to logging camps,”
he said, explaining that because of the war he was
able to get his driver’s license at the age of 14.
    In 1949, the elder Behm moved his family to Spokane Valley and bought the Community Creamery which had been operating since 1932.
They changed the name to Behm’s Valley Creamery and remodeled the location at Sprague and Willow
into a grade A dairy, with a retail store and soda fountain.
   This was a time that the dairy business was still
rooted in the past but changing quickly. While today in Spokane there is only one dairy, back then there were 14. The Behm’s got their base ingredient for their butter and ice cream from the numerous small farms that raised cows and
and separated their milk and sold Behm the cream.
   In 1956, Dick Sr. went back east to a dairy convention and made a purchase that put his business on the cutting edge and set the course for
a new venture that thrives to this day.
   “We started out charging 35 cent deposit on glass
bottles, but then things got so expensive we went to a dollar a bottle and that didn’t really cover the cost of replacement,” Dick Jr. said, describing the dilemma over the high cost of glass milk bottles. “So we were looking at having to charge $1.50 and we knew that would kill the market.”
   What the elder Behm seized upon at the convention that year was a machine that was designed to fill gallon bottles (only quarts were sold in the entire Northwest)  and he was the only dairy man in the area who did. Quickly he became the first in the area to convert from glass bottles to plastic.
   Obviously, his instincts were dead on and soon they had box cars of plastic milk containers headed to Spokane. They not only used it on their own products, but also went into business filling plastic milk jugs for several other local dairies who lacked the foresight or cash to keep abreast of the times.
   The year 1973 was another pivotal year for Behm’s Valley Creamery when the county decided to widen Sprague on the north side. Once again Dick Sr. adapted to the times and rebuilt a new creamery with a strip mall attached at the same address. He retired that year and sold the creamery to Dick Jr.
and his wife Ivah, who still puts in a full work week running the creamery. Dick Jr. is supposed to be retired and leaves  “all the hard work” to his son Ken who has worked in the business all his life.
    Through the years the Behm’s have maintained and developed their plastic bottling edge into a separate business called Diva Sales that distributes plastic containers of all shapes and sizes throughout the Northwest.
 They also use their know-how and equipment to manufacture and bottle just about any liquid concoction a customer might need from espresso syrup to fruit juices to hospital disinfectants.
   To this day, Behm’s Valley Creamery still delivers milk. Their brand, Home Dairy, goes out to several local convenience stores, and as they have for 50 some years, customers like The Sunshine Gardens nursing home still gets their milk from the Behm’s milkman.

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