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Bussman makes 'historic' handover
Photo supplied John Bussman, left, retiring president of the Historic Cheesemakers, passes the gavel to Jim Glessner, president-elect, at a recent meeting. Bussman has been president of the group since its inception in 1994.
MONROE - The National Historic Cheesemaking Center in Monroe will enter a new era in January.

John Bussman, Warren, Ill., will step down as president after 16 years. He will hand the position to president-elect Jim Glessner in December.

When the Historic Cheesemakers formed in 1994 with members from three Wisconsin and two Illinois counties, Bussman said they joked about the organization including the whole state of Wisconsin and even about going national someday.

"Who would have known - it came to be," he said.

Bussman said the idea for the cheesemaking center was first inspired by a giant fish.

Back in the late 1980s, Larry Lindgren, a past director of Green County Tourism, mentioned to Bussman the idea of a Cheese Hall of Fame, with bust statues recognizing cheesemakers.

"He took me to Hayward to show me this giant fish," Bussman said. "He said, 'John, can't you envision a giant wheel of Swiss (cheese) that will draw some attention for tourists?'"

After several years of looking for a place to start a hall of fame, Lindgren called for a meeting of area cheesemakers in 1993 at Turner Hall.

Lindgren suggested Bussman lead the group, because he knew so many cheesemakers and others involved in the dairy industry regional tourism.

"He was interested in tourism; I wan interested in the history," Bussman said.

Bussman said he will never forget that meeting.

"There were so many negative remarks," Bussman said. "'It won't go, we tried it before,' they said."

Eventually, with new blood and Bussman as president of the steering committee, they started the Cheese Hall of Fame, which led to the Historic Cheesemaking Center in 1994. Bussman was chosen as the HCC's new president.

"The marriage of the HCC with Historic Monroe was the greatest thing that ever happened," said Bussman.

The two groups saved the abandoned 1888 Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Depot, moved it to its present location along Wisconsin 69 in Monroe and restored it to house the Green County Welcome Center and the National Historic Cheesemaking Center's museum.

"Now we had a home," Bussman said.

With the motto "an era that once was ... but will never be again," the museum depicts the dairy industry and contains hundreds of pieces of antique cheesemaking equipment, including some of Bussman's own vats.

Bussman said about 5,000 visitors from around the world stop at the center each year.

"So much of the history of cheesemaking, farming and the dairy industry has been lost," Bussman said.

Growing up as the son and grandson of cheesemakers, and a cheesemaker in his own right, Bussman, at age 85, has many stories of his own to contribute.

As he retires from his presidency, Bussman said he knows the future of NHCC is in good hands with new leadership and new goals.

"It's been a great experience working with so many talented individuals," Bussman said. "I want to thank all the members for standing beside me and for all the hard work over the years. I couldn't have done it without them."