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The Big Cheese: Green County couple receives award for support of cheese industry
Times photo: Anthony Wahl Bob and Nancy Faith stand next to one of their milk trucks Saturday afternoon. The Faiths, who have been hauling milk for over 50 years, have been selected as the Big Cheese an honor bestowed by the area cheesemakers for their support of the cheese industry.
MONROE - For almost 50 years now, when Bob Faith heads out in his milk truck in the morning, he gives the horn a honk for his wife, Nancy.

Hauling milk runs deep for the couple. It's how they met, and it's been their life's work.

Bob and Nancy Faith are being honored by area cheesemakers during this year's Cheese Days with the "Big Cheese" award for their lifelong work with and support of the local cheese industry.

The "big cheese" is also what you're liable to get if you're ever a guest in their home just south of Monroe: a platter heaped with all of their favorite Green County varieties, most of which made from milk their company hauled.

The Faiths met when Nancy (nee Chesebro) was 9 and Bob was 13. Their dads, both dairy farmers in rural Monticello, delivered milk to the same factory. Bob graduated from Monticello High School in 1960, Nancy in 1964.

It wasn't love at first sight, she recalls: "Did we like each other? No." After she went away for college at 17, she realized what they shared. "Then I missed him like a front tooth."

They married July 31, 1965, and headed out west on their honeymoon - only to discover their friends had played a wedding-day prank on them by pouring cheap perfume in the car's radiator and putting limburger on the manifold.

The stench of melting limburger and steaming perfume followed them westward. For most of that trip, Nancy remembers, gas attendants held their noses when filling the tank.

Bob got licensed as a bulk milk hauler at 18 and started his career driving for Forrest Babler of Monticello, hauling into Chalet Cheese Co-op and the Bowman Dairy in Monroe and later into two Pure Milk Association plants in Mount Horeb and Orfordville.

He bought his own milk truck and started hauling on his own in 1962. Bob and his drivers are still hauling for some of the same cheese factories some 50 years later, including Chalet, Deppeler and Silver Lewis. Others have since closed: Whitehead, Farmer's Grove, Davis, Green County First Swiss, Giese, Fairview, Grinell, Town Hall Dairy, Wittenwyler Burgy and Spiece.

Faith Trucking's four current drivers have all been with the company longer than 10 years - Roger Alston for 41 years, John Kehoe about 23 years, Steve Isley more than 15 years and Lyle Samson 11 years, as the Faiths calculate.

At one time, they hauled for about 120 dairy farms, or "patrons" as they call them. Now they're hauling for about 50.

"We've got the best patrons in the whole wide world," said Nancy.

The couple got into the business during a transition period in the milk industry, as dairy farmers switched from delivering milk in cans to hiring a milk hauler to do bulk distribution.

It was a challenging switch, remembers Nancy, who drove a milk truck for five years after she and Bob married, and has always been the company's secretary and bookkeeper.

The farmers "had been married to those cans forever," and were accustomed to the daily ritual of meeting up at the cheese factory, she said. "Going to the factory in the morning was quite a treat."

But the future was in streamlining the process by bulk hauling, and as the Faiths and other haulers helped farmers transition, the dairy industry formed new rituals.

Bob and Nancy still live in the Five Corners Cheese Factory that Bob bought in 1964. They've renovated the late-1800s farmhouse and made additions for their children, Jim (Terry) and Catherine (John), and four grandkids. Bob and Nancy sleep in the former cheese-boxing room and park their milk trucks in what used to be the cheese-making area.

On their porch deck is a bell the Faiths purchased at the Giese Factory when it closed. The Faiths ring it as a dinner bell during the corn-shredding party they organize every fall. The event drew 150 people last year, with everyone gathering around for a hearty meal in the Faith Trucking garage after the corn was harvested.

"It renewed the idea of farmers in the neighborhood working together," Nancy said. The Faiths are planning the event again this fall.

Nancy's support of the local cheese industry goes beyond the family business.

She's worked since 1993 at Colony Brands, Inc., doing public relations and fundraising.

She also bids on cheeses on behalf of Colony Brands at the Green County Fair.

"I just love to jack the price up," she says, grinning.

She and her husband both have serious cheese credentials in the area, from taking leadership roles at Cheese Days to helping to build the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.

The Big Cheese award is "humbling," Nancy said. "That's an awfully nice honor to receive from our peers."

Next year on Valentine's Day, Nancy is planning to retire: "I'm going out on a sweet date because it's been a sweet ride." She's got a whole bucket-list for her retirement. She wants to volunteer at the Monroe Clinic and her church, get back to her sewing and play more music.

Bob, for his part, has no plans to retire from his 380-horsepower milk truck, dubbed "Squirt" (after his wife's childhood nickname).

"When I get in the truck, I call it my office," he said. "I've got the best view of the county all day long."