The year was 1946. Harry S. Truman was president. A first-class stamp cost $0.03. The Chicago Bears beat the New York Giants 24 to 14 in the NFL championship. The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox 4 games to 3 in the World Series. And John took a big risk with a spark of ambition and left his job as a grocery store manager to step out and start his own company. He delivered frozen peaches and strawberries to bakeries, cafeterias and hospitals.
It wasn’t easy or glamorous; he made the deliveries, while his wife, Eula Mae, managed the books at night. No couple was more devoted to one another, to their church, and to a company than Eula Mae and John. The little Zero Foods Company was set up as their proprietorship and slowly started to grow.
Eula Mae was the daughter of a Baptist minister, she was John’s lifelong partner not only in faith and family but also in every business endeavor. John was a rare combination of integrity, ability and determination. From humble beginnings, they achieved success in business. They earned respect from peers and devotion from employees. They were known and loved as a couple of impeccable character and kindness.
This little company owned by John and Eula Mae grew and grew and grew to be larger than both FedEx and Deere & Company. The little two person company is Sysco.
Yes the same Sysco that has invested in Iowa Premium Beef right here in Tama County. Yes that Sysco the global leader in selling and distributing food equipment and supplies to restaurants. Yes that Sysco that operates 194 locations throughout the U.S., Bahamas, Canada, Ireland & Northern Ireland. Yes the same Sysco that has 50,300 employees who support its daily operations.
Leaving that job as a grocery store manager seemed crazy in 1946. Seems like a good choice now. The loving couple that took a chance both died in 2007 within six months of one another.
At the memorial employees talked of their humility and compassion. John knew the names of employees and their children, said Jack D. Carlson, a former Sysco executive; “He was more comfortable as a greeter, opening car doors and welcoming people into the church, than as a leader,” Carlson said. “But he was a great leader.”
Thanks John and Eula Mae for taking that risk in 1946. We here in Tama County appreciate all that you have done and we will do our best to keep the entrepreneurial fires burning here in Iowa.