July 7, 2007
Giving rise to a slice of history
Family members hope to create history exhibit of Durkee’s Bakery
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Jane Edlund, whose father founded Durkee’s Baking Co., discusses the family business with Jerry Antil, whose father, Mike, was general sales manager of the company. The pair were at the Cortland Historical Society looking through old newspaper clippings and photographs. BELOW: A very large Durkee’s Bread advertising sign sits on a hillside of the Currie farm in Preble in a photo taken in the late 1930s. The sign, made of wooden planks had to be whitewashed by the Durkee brothers every summer. Four automobiles could be parked on the apostrophe. The Cortland Historical Society provided the photo.
In today’s world of larger-than-life advertising for nearly everything under the sun, it’s hard to be impressed by your run of the mill billboards.
But when the promotion consumes the side of a hill and seemingly dwarfs the farm in the valley below — and especially considering the fact that the monumental Durkee’s Bread advertisement along Route 11 was constructed in the 1930s — you know a company has big ideas.
Durkee’s Bakery began as a small cake shop in Homer behind the family home before expanding to become the third largest bakery in America, and even introduced the name Duncan Hines to the baking world.
But as Jerry Antil and Jane Edlund researched the bakery Friday morning at the Cortland County Historical Society, Antil said the thing he remembers best about the people surrounding the bakery was the sense of family.
“They had a good time,” Antil said before pointing to the picture of the colossal advertisement. “You can’t do that and not have fun.”
Lena “Grandma” Durkee opened her cake shop in the early 1920s. Her son, Albert Durkee, and his friend Michael Antil opened up a large bakery on James Street in 1931 as partners, with Durkee handling the baking end and Antil taking care of the marketing.
Michael Antil’s son and Albert Durkee’s daughter — Jerry Antil and Jane Edlund, respectively — are now hoping to collect enough materials to prepare an exhibit to be displayed somewhere in Cortland.
Both Antil and Edlund said the younger family members were always expected to help out at the family business; if the work was not complete at the end of the day when the workers were sent home, the family would finish it.
Jane Edlund’s brothers often spent the summer whitewashing the planks of wood that made up the giant advertisement, which was just north of Preble on a hill overlooking the former Currie farm.
“The planes to New York City flew right over this hill,” said Edlund, of Cortlandville.
Jerry Antil, of Dallas, is a chip off the old block with 40 years of marketing experience. He remembers his first foray into that field, when he suggested using the theme from the then-recently released animated film “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves” in a commercial for a line that Durkee’s Bakery was developing for the Walt Disney Co. when they were just beginning to plaster the familiar mouse ears on every product imaginable.
The first attempt was Donald Duck Bread, for which Durkee’s Bakery developed the recipe and then licensed it to other bakeries around the country for production.
“I remember Walt Disney calling our house, because Disney wanted to get into food,” Jerry Antil said Friday. “Al Durkee and dad traveled all over the country. They started in San Antonio, Texas, and were in charge of marketing the bread.”
The Donald Duck brand did not make it off the ground, and the bakery soon turned to developing the Sunbeam brand, Antil said, and soon became the company’s signature label.
The company was the first to develop a “premium” loaf, which would be eaten on more “special” occasions, Antil said.
One label for the premium loaf was named for The Krebs Restaurant of Skaneateles, a premier restaurant frequented by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Soon, the company introduced a line of premium loaves named after a traveling reviewer of restaurants whose endorsements were featured in restaurant windows nationwide: Duncan Hines.
Each year, a best-selling book called “Duncan Hines Recommends” was published, and Hines soon lent his name to other products before deciding to break into baking.
The Duncan Hines line was sold off to Procter & Gamble in 1955, and Antil left the company in 1956.
Jerry Antil said he was recently at the Duncan Hines Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., when he saw a picture of Hines and recognized the face from a 1950s photograph with his father.
Antil said he is forwarding any information he collects to the museum.
The bakery eventually moved to Cortland, purchasing a former wallpaper factory between Elm Street and Clinton Avenue in 1957, and moving there in 1960.
Another Durkee’s Bakery in Carthage in Jefferson County was opened in 1954.
The Durkee family sold the business in 1972 to a Midwestern firm. The bakery was abruptly shut that October.
Still, Antil and Edlund remember that when a child was born to a bakery worker or truck driver, the families would make the trip irrespective of the time of day or night.
“We would drive out there to see the baby at 3 in the morning,” Antil said. “I think my whole memory of the entire thing was the family. We had two fabulous fathers.”
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County sales tax revenue off by about $200,000 through midyear
Midway through 2007, sales tax revenues in Cortland County are lagging about $200,000 behind where they were at this point last year, prompting concern from county officials over a shortfall in revenues by year’s end.
Through July 2, the gross sales tax revenues Cortland County had brought in totaled about 46 percent of the budgeted $23.1 million for all of 2007, according to County Treasurer Don Ferris.
Through the same date last year, total revenues were $219,000 higher than this year, Ferris said, and those revenues at the time added up to about 48 percent of the budgeted $22.7 million for 2006.
“You can never tell for sure how it’s going to play out, but if we continue on that trend, 2 percent behind, we would come up short,” Ferris said, noting that, if current trending continues, the overall revenues would come in $462,000 beneath the projected $22.7 million.
Due to a new distribution formula negotiated last year, 55 percent of that $22.7 million, or $12.7 million, would go to the county government, with 17.75 percent going to the city of Cortland and the remaining 27.25 percent being divided among the county’s towns and villages.
“I guess I’m more concerned with some of the towns that rely on our projected figures to budget, because they may come up a little short,” Ferris said. “There are a few towns (Solon and Lapeer) that leave all of their sales tax with the county to reduce their tax levy and they could conceivably end up owing the county money, although it wouldn’t be a very large sum.”
County Administrator Scott Schrader said he was hopeful the revenues would pick up at the end of the year, but if not, the county could see a roughly $200,000 shortfall from its budgeted share.
Still, he said the county would likely be able to weather such a shortfall.
“It’s always best if we meet the budgetary forecast, and this is definitely something to pay attention to, but when you look at it over a more than $100 million budget, there are ways to mitigate that lack of revenue,” Schrader said, noting that decreased spending in some areas or interest earnings from the county’s fund balance could potentially help cover the shortfall. “We’re not going to know for sure until the end of the year.”
Both Ferris and Schrader said there’s been little growth locally in sales tax revenue for a number of years.
Ferris noted that the county met its projected revenue in 2006, but that the numbers likely received an early bump of approximately $300,000 because some revenues were held over from 2005 to 2006 due to a transit strike in New York City in December 2005.
“To assume increased sales tax on gasoline sales is somehow a bonus I think is a mistake, because there’s only a finite amount of discretionary money to spend,” Ferris said. “Basically if you’re spending more money on taxable gasoline sales, you’re not going to be spending it on taxable clothing sales.”
“Right now we have a stagnant retail and commercial economy because there’s a lack of new commercial and retail businesses,” Schrader said. “If we had, for instance, a Home Depot here, and we were capturing dollars people were spending on home improvement in Ithaca or Onondaga County, that would make a difference, but we don’t have the new Target, the new Home Depot, we don’t have the new tourist attraction that Hope Lake has the potential to be.”
Schrader said he was concerned that a lack of development in recent years will hurt the county in the long run.
“I think the resistance to development hurts the economy of this county because it doesn’t allow for the generation of income from sales tax,” he said. “The only way to ease the tax burden is through development, and we haven’t seen that here, and eventually it’s going to come back and bite us in the form of higher taxes.”
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