FOSTORIA, OHIO, U.S. — Donald M. Mennel, a third generation flour miller and a pillar of the flour milling industry as longtime president of The Mennel Milling Co., died Sept. 17. He was 94 years old.
Mennel joined the family business upon his graduation from Yale University in 1940 and was president of The Mennel Milling Co. from 1958 to 1983. During his tenure he spearheaded the company’s move to Fostoria from Toledo and acquired flour mills in Dowagiac, Michigan, U.S., and Roanoke, Virginia, U.S.
He served as chairman of the Millers’ National Federation (MNF), the North American Millers’ Association’s predecessor association, from 1976 to 1978, and was a member of the board of directors for more than 25 years. He also was a leader of the former National Soft Wheat Millers’ Association and then in the Soft Wheat Committee of the Federation.
Besides the MNF, Mennel was active in other trade associations, including serving as president of the Toledo Board of Trade. He also was a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and served on the board’s wheat committee.
When Mennel retired in 1983 at the age of 65 he opted to attend Ohio Northern University’s Law School in Ada, Ohio, U.S., where he studied corporate law, commodities and general practice. He proceeded to practice law for several years.
Mennel Milling Co., which last year celebrated its 125th year in business, operates five wheat flour mills with an overall daily milling capacity of 40,700 cwts. It ranks seventh in capacity in the U.S., according to Sosland Publishing’s 2011 Grain & Milling Annual.
The company was founded in 1886 by a banking family, the Harters, from Mansfield, Ohio, and a Hungarian flour milling family, the Browns, from Canton, Ohio, and became known as Harter Milling Co.
The families chose to build a flour mill in Fostoria, because it was served by five major railroads and appeared to have large deposits of natural gas. An economic development package from the city allowed the mill to receive free natural gas in exchange for generating the power to run the city’s street lamps.
At the time of its construction, the Fostoria mill, with a daily capacity of 1,500 barrels, was the largest flour mill in the United States not located on water.
Shortly after the company was formed, Alphonse Mennel, an Alsatian émigré, was hired as the general superintendent. He became mill president in 1896 and soon thereafter faced a major crisis as the mill burned to the ground on Dec. 24, 1897 and had to be rebuilt.
In 1917, Alphonse and his sons, Louis and Mark, purchased control of the company and renamed it The Mennel Milling Co.
The offices of the company were in Toledo from 1893 through 1958, when Donald M. Mennel, son of Louis, became president and decided to move the offices to Fostoria.
In a feature story in World Grain’s, September 2011 issue, Don Mennel, Donald M. Mennel’s son, described his father’s ascension to the leadership role as a “turning point” in the company’s history. He took over after the sudden death of his older brother in an automobile accident and after a brief period in which Mennel Milling had been run by a non-family member.
“We were very fortunate that my dad was willing to take control, otherwise it could have gone in a totally different direction,” he said.
One of Donald M. Mennel’s most important decisions, which occurred shortly after he become president, was to exit the hard wheat milling business and to focus on producing soft wheat flour and specialty flours. The company returned to milling hard wheat in 1996, but the vast majority of its production today (about 75%) is made from soft wheat.
Also in the World Grain article, Don Mennel said he often reflects on the many words of wisdom his dad imparted to him over the years about the milling industry.
“The most important thing he taught me is that this is a penny business and you have to watch all of the pennies,” Don Mennel said. “My father taught me that the markets are bigger than all of us and you have to be an absolute hedger. Both he and I have an affinity for operations, so while our operations guys may get frustrated from time to time, we want to be involved in the mill and know what’s going on.”