The Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producer’s Association (WMSPA) named the 2021 Producer of the Year to Maynard and Connie Hoff from Maple Creek Sugar Bush from Barron, WI at the WMSPA Winter Institute held recently. Lifelong members of the WMSPA, the honorees are actively involved with the organization with Maynard serving as a District 6 representative. They also hosted the 2018 WMSPA First Tree Tapping. The pair love to share the benefits of maple with the community hosting 4-H clubs, church groups, and schools nearby at their sugar bush. The family business has grown to cooking and producing nearly 9,000 taps worth of maple syrup and they are looking forward to expanding in the coming years. Their family contributed to the 300,000 gallons statewide produced by Wisconsin maple syrup producers in 2020. Maynard’s love for maple syrup began in 1972 and branched out in 2010 to begin Maple Creek Sugarbush in the hills of Dority Creek. In 2010, Maynard and Connie, along with their children started Maple Creek Sugar Bush (MCSB). A log cabin was built, with the help of their children, next to a shed that serves as the evaporating room. It serves as a cozy space for open houses, sales and a gathering place for friends and family. The first year, they cooked off of about 4500 taps. Over the following years, bags were replaced with tubing and many improvements and upgrades have been made in and around the sugar bush, such as larger RO’s and more sap storage. In 2021, MCSB cooked off of over 9000 taps and are looking to increase production even more over the next few years. The business has expanded to producing beyond maple syrup making cream, candy, cotton candy, and are always looking for ways to expand the maple pallet to reach more consumers. Although, they wouldn’t have been to the point they are at today without their family. At the WMSPA Winter Institute held Jan. 14-15, nearly twenty family members were present for their recognition.
Joe and Barbara Polak, Merrill, Wisconsin Joe Polak was born in 1952 into a northern Wisconsin family that has always been very involved in outdoor activities. He has made maple syrup his entire life and operates Maple Hollow, a maple syrup and equipment sales business with his wife Barbara. His father, John, was a farmer and logger. His mother, Lena, was a cook in a logging camp and helped on the farm. Joe is the youngest of four children. His two older brothers both have maple operations of their own and his sister owns and operates a gift shop in southern Wisconsin which sells Maple Hollow products. Polak Bros Sawmill started Merrill, WI in 1889. At that time Joe’s grandfather owned and operated a sawmill, cider press and maple syrup operation thus trying to keep the workers on the payroll and employed year–round. The mill passed to his father, John and two uncles and finally closed in 1971. The maple syrup operation passed to his father at that time. Joe worked for his dad and purchased the business from his father in 1985 and added maple equipment sales at that time. The name changed from Polak Bros Maple Syrup to Maple Hollow. Maple Hollow continues to sell pure maple products and maple making equipment. Joe attended Heller School, a 1 room school until 4th grade, Midway Elementary for 5th and 6th grade, and Merrill Junior High for 7th thru 9th grades. He graduated from Merrill Senior High School in 1970 where he was a member of the Marching Jays Marching Band. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1975 with a Bachelors of Science degree in Elementary Education and taught for 1 year before his father’s illness brought him home to help with the maple syrup business. Joe’s dad was the principal salesman and deliveryman until his retirement. A new sales room and canning facility was built in 1998 right next to the old location. New websites and online stores were started at that time. Barbara was born and raised in Sonoma, California. She received her elementary teachers degree from the University of California – Sonoma State College and taught 3rd grade for 10 years before moving to Wisconsin in 1981. After moving to Wisconsin she became a waitress and hostess at local supper clubs and worked with Joe at Maple Hollow. She continues to work at Maple Hollow and is the treasurer for the local cemetery association. Joe has also continued to be involved in community activities. He is a member of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church and has held positions as President, Vice President and Elder and is sexton for the local Cemetery Association. He was chairman of the Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce Agri-Business committee for many years. He received the Interdependance Award from the Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce in 1991. He is a member of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association and has been President, Vice President, Director and Editor of the newsletter, the Wisconsin Maple News. He currently is a member of the Marketing Committee. He has held the position of Secretary-Treasurer of the North American Maple Syrup Council since 2003. His educational background has been a great help promoting Pure Maple Syrup and giving the many educational seminars and classes on making maple syrup at county and state association meetings. In 1996 Joe and Barbara received the Master Agriculturist Award from the Wisconsin Agriculturist Organization and in 1999 they were awarded producer of the Year by the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association. In 2020 Joe was inducted into the International Maple Museum Center Hall of Fame in Croghan, New York. He has been a member of Merrill Toastmasters and is currently a member of the Town of Schley Zoning committee. For Joe being outdoors is still preferable to being at a desk. Using his chainsaw and splitting maul is his recreation and therapy.
Allen and Miriam Durkey of Voelz’s Sugarbush, Tilleda, WI were honored on May 8, 2021, with the WMSPA 2020 Producer of the year award. Miriam’s father, Eugene started the family operation in 1934 with an open pan in the woods. In 1961, It was time to move from an open pan to buy an evaporator and build a building to house it. The family business brought heart, love, and sweetness together. It also brought Allen and Miriam together. Allen’s family was also making maple syrup. Between 4-H and their common interest of syruping the two met and eventually were married on October 8, 1983. Currently, the family taps 3000 taps on their family land with sap bags. Each year they spend weekends before the season putting 3000 bags and holders together. They share the love of maple syrup with their 2 children, Heather and Holly, 2 grandchildren Roselyn and Kayson. Miriam’s brothers both help, Dale helps drive the tractor through the woods, and David helps with the cooking on the evaporator. Mom Marion is the head chief or boss of everything. Allen and Miriam have been members of WMSPA for many years. Allen currently serves as a director in District 1 and Miriam is the current WMSPA treasurer. They have also helped out in the Fall Tour Planning Committee, Promotion Committee, State Fair, and various WMSPA events.