FORT COLLINS — “I take the most pride in the fact that my family was involved with the oldest continuing operating business in Fort Collins for nearly 50 years,” said Bonnie Szidon. “It was an incredible accomplishment to have that business prosper and grow.”
That business is Ranch-Way Feeds, which started as Lindell Mill in 1868. Back then, the mill along the banks of the Cache la Poudre River processed locally grown wheat into flour. Eighty years later, the business converted to producing feed for livestock, and in the modern era has concentrated on commercial feed, specialty products including organic feed and wholesale bagged feed.
Szidon retired as president of the company in 2016 when Ranch-Way, known for its tall grain bins near downtown Fort Collins, was sold for $1.51 million to Hubbard Foods, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mankato, Minn.-based Ridley USA Inc.
“My family got involved in 1968 with a group of investors buying the feed mill when it came up for sale,” Szidon said. “A number of those investors were relatives. When we bought it, the business was nearly bankrupt and there was a terrible interest rate. So we went through the ups and downs.
“Back in 1968 I was in high school and frankly wasn’t paying much attention to the business,” she said. “I was growing up and having fun.” But her mother, Phyllis Bixler, ran the newly acquired company with an iron hand.
A key decision that saved the business was hiring Henry Owings to manage the mill, she said. “We found a person who had been in the feed industry, unlike the investors we’d had. He knew what we needed to do. They were from Maryland. So that was the first thing we had to do, was change the management, tighten the belt, and pay the bank over 20 percent interest on borrowed money. We were very lucky to have survived it.
“Mother grew up during the Depression and did not want money borrowed. So we paid off all of our debt and eventually bought out all of our other shareholders. Then we paid for everything and could make our own decisions,” she said. “After six years, the management changed again. My husband, Kim Szidon, joined us, and worked at Ranch-Way from 1986 to when we sold it.”
Kim’s strong suit was his experience in manufacturing, running machinery and managing a crew,” she said. “He had a construction background, and the mill always needed a lot of work because it was a very old facility. It’s always been adapted and retooled.”
Szidon’s mother passed away in 2011, leaving Bonnie as president, her husband as general manager and her brother, Joe Bixler, as controller.
“The love of working for our family and the feeling I was working for myself as well was great,” she said. “Just being able to make your own decisions is the most gratifying thing in a business.
“It felt so good to provide an essential service,” Bonnie Szidon said. “So many people have animals and needed feed. We supplied the best feed possible to feedlots, horse barns, 4-H. People loved the culture we had built at Ranch-Way.
“More than me, the business deserves the award.”