For years I have wanted a milk bottle as a memento from
the Hays Dairy in Waterman, since my folks were good friends
with Tommy and Bernice Hays back in the 1940s and 50s. Recently,
two young friends Michael Ball and Kerya Jewett surprised me
with a 2-quart bottle with the Hays name on it. Now, I can share
the story of the dairy and the family behind it.
Tommy and Bernice Hays owned a farm south of Waterman and
had five children W. Gene, Jackie, Jill, Connie and Don.
Only Don, Connie and Jackie still are around.
Tommy went into the dairy business in the late 1930s and
at first partnered with his brother-in-law Hershel Douglas to
buy the Earlville Butter business, then moved it to Waterman
in 1939, when it became Hays Dairy. For 27years, Tommy operated
the creamery and even added a chain of drive-thru dairies around
northern Illinois called Milk-O-Ramas. He sold the business in
1966 and passed away two years later.
Many Waterman folks my age may remember home milk delivery
when Hays brought bottles in racks to your doorstep. My favorite
was the half-pint bottle of cream that really made your corn
flakes taste rich. They also produced their own butter and cottage
My folks always said the Hays family was considered wealthy
by Waterman standards. Bernice had a taste for fine antiques,
which you would see throughout their spacious farm home. The
older siblings had their own thoroughbred horses and could be
seen riding around their property along Preserve Road.
Bernice had the idea to open a fancy home
This photo taken in 1953 shows the Hays daily, young
Don, Bernice and Tommy in front while the columnists parents
Vernon and Margaret Schrader stand in back The occasion was the
25th wedding anniversary of the Schraders.This two quart milk bottle from Hays Dairy Jug
of Gold was a gift to the columnist.
furnishings store with designer dresses and chose Main Street
in Waterman, opening The 30 Shop in 1952. Local people referred
to it as a little Marshall Fields. Most of her clientele
came from the Chicago suburbs and counties to the east. In 1955,
she decided to expand and added an upscale eating area called
The Kopper Kettle. Her daughter Jackie worked there and recalls
Bernices signature dessert was her cheesecake. Bernice
was the chef with some help in the kitchen. My mother used to
visit Bernice and have lunch there, commenting it was a bit pricey
There is more to tell about the family.
Their oldest son, W. Gene, was an accomplished musician,
studying at the same Chicago music school as Lionel Hampton and
knew him well. W. Gene played five instruments, but was best
known for the marimba and vibraharp. I remember he could really
make beautiful music with the those mallets using two, four or
six at a time. He formed a musical ensemble, the Vibra Tones,
that played all over northern Illinois.
When he was drafted during the Korean War and stationed
in South Korea, the Army shipped his instruments over there so
he could entertain the troops as part of USO shows. He played
on the same stages as Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe, as well as
other stars too numerous to mention.
His younger brother Don also was musically gifted and formed
his own group, The Cavaliers, which included two other Waterman
boys, Rod Challand and Gerry Sawyer.
The Hays brothers went onto become entrepreneurs in the
doughnut and chicken businesses. After operating his dads
drive-thru dairies for awhile, W. Gene bought the Hole-In-One
doughnut franchise for Illinois and Indiana. Don partnered with
him in Indiana and then was joined by another Waterman native,
Paul Joranlien, to operate one in northern Florida. But for much
of his career, Don has been in the food business, supplying major
food outlets with chickens and restaurant equipment, including
soft-serve ice cream makers. His business Southern Food Systems
is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.
So it is quite a family success story, and I was really
pleased to reach both Don and Jackie by phone to catch up on