Minors honored as Philanthropists of the Year

November 17, 2013
Sam and Bev Minor stand outside the SpringHouse Country Market and Restaurant Friday. They opened the market/restaurant 38 years ago in Eighty Four. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Sam and Bev Minor will be toasted in an udderly appropriate fashion Thursday evening.

With chocolate milk.

They will be celebrated as the Washington County Community Foundation’s Philanthropists of the Year. The 15th annual Philanthropy Banquet will begin with a 6 p.m. reception at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe.

Three other companies – Washington Financial (large), rose plastic (Coal Center, medium) and Beechie’s Place (Meadow Lands, small) – also will be honored. Each will receive a Charles C. Keller Excellence Award for Corporate Philanthropy in its business size category.

The Minors own a 420-acre farm in the Eighty Four section of North Strabane Township. They, however, are more readily recognized for the mecca to country-style cuisine that they started, nurtured and operate there – SpringHouse Country Market and Restaurant.

Their place is renowned for its made-from-scratch buffet and bakery delights: entrees, sides, salads, breads, pies, cookies and more. Its signature item, though, is likely the rich chocolate drink that is as divine as it is bovine.

That’s why this year, the toast will be a moo-ving experience.

“The second that we chose them, it came to me,” said Betsie Trew, WCCF’s executive director. “They are known far and wide for the chocolate milk they have. We normally don’t do stuff like that, but for them it was a natural.”

For decades, philanthropy has been a natural for the Minors, as well, and it extends beyond the financial. They also have devoted a lot of time and TLC to organizations and individuals in the region and statewide.

“We’re regular people, and we give back the way regular people do,” Bev said. “There have been no large donations for buildings, but we’ve given from the heart to help other hearts.”

Those other hearts are many, some of which have been major forces in the Minors’ lives for more than a half-century: 4-H, Washington County Agricultural Fair, Penn State Extension and Grace United Methodist Church in Coal Center.

The couple’s copious support also has extended to Washington Health System, the Bradford House, Domestic Violence Services of SWPA, Washington City Mission, Washington County Humane Society, Washington County Food Bank and WCCF.

Trew said WCCF has a committee that identifies worthy candidates and submits names to its board of trustees. The trustees, she said, usually selects the philanthropist(s) in the second quarter of a year.

That was when they informed the husband-and-wife dairy farmers that they were cream of the crop.

“When the foundation came to talk to us in the late spring, we felt we weren’t qualified,” Sam said. “Then we looked up the definition of philanthropy and saw it’s ‘love of humanity.’ So I guess we qualified.”

More than a half-century ago, Bev, 73, and Sam, 75, seemed destined to pursue an agrarian existence together. She was raised on a farm near Bentleyville, he on a small spread near Garards Fort, Greene County. They met as teens while showing cows at the Greene County Fair.

“She wanted to marry someone who was a farmer,” Sam said, chortling.

He wrestled at Mapletown High School and was team captain at Penn State University. Bev enrolled there two years after after he did and they married when she was a junior, 52 years ago.

They had five children – four daughters and a son – over the next decade-plus, during which Sam worked in agriculturally related jobs. He didn’t like the travel, though, and besides, the couple was convinced that farm living was the life for them.

“We decided to get out,” Sam said. “We wanted a small farm with milk cows. We’d sell milk and vegetables and have a small operation, so we looked at locations for a couple of years.”

The Minors found an 81-acre tract bordering Route 136 and purchased it in June 1973. They invested in dairy cows and other essentials en route to launching their store, which they finally did in December 1975. Which nearly launched kinfolk to the planet Disbelief.

“Bev’s father said you can’t do this. It’s absolutely crazy,” Sam recalled. “He was right, we couldn’t do it. But we did it anyway.”

Day one was a mini-success; they sold 13 gallon bottles. But building a customer clientele was painstaking and time-consuming.

“People had to make a conscious decision to stop here,” Bev said. “We really had to sell milk, sell everything we had. But as people started coming in, we listened to their requests. We wanted to give them what they wanted.”

They wanted more, and the Minors started giving more.

About a decade after opening, the Minors evaluated their operation. Sam said that “milk accounted for a significant amount of our business, but it was not lucrative. We decided to expand our food service.”

To do so, they had to expand their building. They added a deli, increased cooking and baking functions, and converted the place into the restaurant/country store that it is today.

A few years later, in 1988, they increased their property, purchasing a large adjacent farm. That gave them 400-plus acres on which to raise dairy cows, grow corn, pumpkins and hay, and provide housing for family members who were on staff.

The farm has evolved into a destination for locals and non-locals, and food – though significant – is not the sole attraction. The Minors offer tours for students, pumpkin patch hayrides in the fall and bonfires.

“The farm tours are a big part of out business,” Bev said. “It’s where young people can learn about agriculture, where they can touch corn.”

There are four houses on the property, one for the matriarch and patriarch, and one each for the three Minor offspring who work there – and their families. Eleven grandchildren are onsite.

Bev and Sam’s oldest, Marcia Minor Opp, is the store manager; son Sam runs the dairy farm; and daughter Jill Minor Miles supervises catering. The other daughters live out of state.

SpringHouse winter hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Sam and Bev Minor will receive a major award Thursday, but they also will be in a giving state that night. Bev said they are creating an entrepreneurial fund to help high school- and college-level students from Washington County become acquainted with small businesses and, perhaps, to inspire them to start their own firms.

The Minors will be among many friends Thursday, including a special one. The Rev. George Kennedy, minister at Grace United, officiated at the Minors’ marriage ceremony there in 1961, He will give the blessing.

William Campbell, chairman of the WCCF board, will lead the milk toast.

Cow-tipping of the wait staff will be allowed.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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