7 Generations Strong: A Look at the Kelsay Dairy’s History

This post originally appeared on on August 8, 2015. Today we reshare this post as a tribute to Merrill Kelsay, who passed away September 21, 2016. 


In Merrill Kelsay’s 66 years, he’s known one job: farming. It’s a profession his parents embraced – as well as his grandparents, their parents -- in fact all the way back to his grandparents’ grandparents. That’s five generations; seven if you include his children and grandchildren.

While the family’s focus on dairy farming has remained consistent throughout multiple generations, they’ve also found ways to be flexible with a changing family, changing economy and a changing world.

Their story began in 1837, when the property was land granted to the family by President Martin Van Buren. For a while, much didn’t change with the Whiteland, Ind., farm – except the dairy’s name, that is. Twice the farm was passed on to a daughter in the family, and afterward the new married couple would rename the dairy to reflect their shared surname.

The family grew their farm and began milking more cows after Kelsay’s father returned home from World War II and married. Since then, it has steadily grown; today the family milks about 500 cows every day. While nearly everyone in the family plays a role on the dairy – even Merrill’s mother, who’s now 89, stops by occasionally to check on things – a few employees have been hired on to assist with the day-to-day tasks.

Through the years, the family and dairy have gone through their share of ups and downs. From financial troubles to working with their town as it expands, the dairy has rolled with the times – and family members have stepped up to the challenge.

“We’ve done a little bit of everything,” Merrill says about who and how the farm has ran through the years. “But we’ve always had a dairy, and we’ve always farmed. It takes special people to be in a family business. You need to keep in mind that it’s not how I want to do it, or how you want to do it. It’s what’s best for the dairy overall.”