123 MAIN STREET, FORDYCE, NE 68736
Fordyce, Nebraska is a small town. It is so small that the local gas station, which also happens to have a bar, is nicknamed “the mall.”
This Main Street is where the community can find the bulk of the area’s commerce: a body shop, plumber, bank, post office and honey processor. It’s also where Rich and Tricia Millage have had their meat locker since 1999.
“One company [who contacted us] asked the population of our town,” Tricia said, “and when I said 160 he promptly thought I meant 160,000. When I corrected him, he asked if we rode horses to work. I said we have horses, but we drive cars to work!”
It’s a world away from where Tricia was born and raised in Orange County, California. Rich was a Marine from the Midwest who was stationed at Camp Pendleton when they met. After Rich served in Desert Storm, he returned to California where the couple tried to make a go of it. But he “just missed the Midwest and its way of life.”
Rich had been laid off from a couple different jobs, but he had a background of butchering when he worked on a farm during his youth, so he picked up jobs around town doing meat processing. Tricia says Rich has a natural talent, “It’s not a job; it’s a trade. You have to learn it.”
In this space, the business originated as a grocery and general merchandise store. Another couple had transformed it into a locker in 1980. Nineteen years later, Tricia found out it was up for sale. Rich was laid off at the time when his wife decided to take out a small business loan and make the investment. “He thought I had gone crazy,” she recalls. “I said, ‘You have been laid off twice in six months, so I am buying you a job.'”
Customers raise cattle and hogs in this rural farm community. They bring them into the Millages and they do the meat processing. Deer season (September through December) is a busy time because hunters have their venison processed here.
They create all kinds of cuts of meat from steaks to sausages. In addition to individuals who get custom orders, the Millages purchase federally inspected meat that they butcher for sales to the public.
To say people come from miles around is no exaggeration.
“People have to go about nine miles to the grocery store,” Tricia explains. For any other item that can’t be found in town, it requires a 20-mile drive to Yankton, South Dakota.
Additionally, they have customers come from other states “to buy good Nebraska beef.” One customer who moved to Idaho made sure to buy a full beef before leaving. “He came in with a trailer-load of brand new coolers and dry ice…we loaded it all up and away he went,” Tricia explained.
In the northeast section of Nebraska, the weather isn’t always easy. One year a snowstorm hit Fordyce particularly hard, preventing the Millages from getting into the center of town for three days. When the road was finally open, they arrived at the butcher block to find snow had drifted high in front of the doors to the building. There was a lot of snow to move and took a while just to dig into the locker to get to work.
Living and working in such a small town can be a blessing and a curse. “We definitely know just about everyone and sometimes it’s awesome, but sometimes it’s invasive,” Tricia says. And while it’s far different than the Southern Californian atmosphere she was raised in, she still says, “It is a beautiful place that we feel blessed to live in. We have loved raising our girls here. We are most thankful that this is where God set us!”
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