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Prices force milkman out of the business

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:11 PM

Peggy Kose watched a piece of history walk out her front door on Thursday and marveled, “His family has had a key to our house since 1950. If we were gone, they knew how much milk we needed and would put it in the refrigerator.”

All of that ended Thursday when milkman Gary Bocock in nearby Pickerington ran his route for the last time.

He broke the bad news to his 150 customers two weeks ago in a letter that noted, “You don’t realize what a privilege it has been to do what I do for a living. It’s been more than just leaving you milk. You are family to me.”

Bocock’s father was running the route 53 years ago when one of his customers met him on her front porch, announcing, “Calvin, you’d better get on home. Your wife just called, and she is about to deliver.”

Gary was born sometime between a half-gallon of homogenized milk and a dozen eggs.

“I’ve always thought that this was my niche,” Bocock said. “I figured God put me where he wanted me to be.”

But when the wholesale price of milk climbed to $3.20 a gallon, and diesel fuel hit $4.19, even the Almighty would have needed a miracle to turn a profit.

“In Ohio, there is a state minimum price on beer that guarantees that both the distributor and the retailer will be able to make a profit. Why not milk?” Bocock asked. “I’m paying $3.20 a gallon, and supermarkets have it on sale sometimes for $2.50.”

As he made his final delivery to the day-care center at Pickerington Christian Church last week, he was greeted with the gleeful chant, “Milkman! Milkman!”

A gaggle of crumb snatchers ran to him. They had crafted goodbye cards.

“I’ve gotta get out of here before I cry,” he said as he disentangled himself from a group hug.

Once upon a time in America, our milk, eggs and bread arrived at our doorsteps with a smile and the tip of a hat.

“Peggy’s never bought an egg from a grocery store in her life,” Kose’s husband, Paul, remarked Thursday.

At 84, she’ll have to start.

“My oldest customer, Ethel Englehart, will be 89 in June,” Bocock said. “My dad started selling her milk in 1953. She’s been getting milk from us since the year before I was born.”

He knows that his visits are much more than just a business transaction for some of his customers.

“There was a guy on my route who passed away a year ago,” he said. “He used to meet me at the front door, and I know that, from one Wednesday to the next, I was the only person he ever saw.”

“You come over here and give me a hug,” one of Bocock’s octogenarian regulars commanded last week. They both ended up in tears.

When Bocock and his wife, Karen, started out from their home on Thursday, they expected to have the route run by 5 p.m. It was 10 when they finished.

In a week or so, if spring turns out to be more than mere rumor, the Bococks will open their soft-serve ice cream stand in Pataskala, a place called the Dairy Hut.

Like the milk route, the Dairy Hut east of Columbus has been in the family for decades.

The Bococks will be featuring 36 flavors of ice cream.

But they won’t deliver.

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