Longtime Baker Retires After More Than Four Decades

From left are the bakers at Ecklof’s: Doug Petrucello, Richard Ecklof, Dale Melquist, Chad Ecklof and Andrew Zawisa. Melquist’s last day at the bakery was Dec. 29. Submitted photo

As 2018 is now in our rear-view mirror, a whole era is also coming to a close at Ecklof Bakery.

For the past 46 years, the bakery has run efficient and steady with little change. The same recipes that were used on the day of its opening in 1956 are still used today. Some of the equipment, such as our large mixers, are the very same that were powered up on the first day of operation. Even the manual cookie gun that cranks out the pink striped cookies is the same that has created every cookie since day one.

But 16 years after the bakery opened its doors, our greatest asset was acquired, and this will be the first year since then that we no longer have this asset in the building during production hours.

The acquisition happened in 1972 when the milkman who used to deliver cans of milk to the bakery stopped in and learned Ecklof’s needed a baker. A perfect opportunity for his son, Dale Melquist, who was, at the very same time, in need of a job. He worked and learned alongside the “old school” bakers who worked with my great-grandfather and eventually for my grandfather. After a few years, the older bakers retired out and Dale became the senior baker alongside my dad.

Dale was the baker that showed up every single day earlier than everyone else and stayed until there was no work left to do. He started his morning by figuring out what needed to be done each day and he got the mixers and oven fired up and into production. Not only did he have every recipe (or formula, as they are called in baking) memorized, but he knew how to make every delicious product in our storefront.

“How much does a press of donuts weigh?”

He knew the answer.

“How many gallons of sweet dough do we need?”

He knew the answer.

“How many donuts do you think we’ll go through on a Monday in January when it’s snowing?”

He knew the answer … well, at least his guess would be better than anyone else’s. His mornings began at 3:30 a.m. and his holidays were sleepy and tiresome so everyone else could enjoy the sweet delight of our baked goods.

Not only was he an efficient and hard-working baker, but he was also a great friend to everyone who ever worked with him. Never would a day go by without conversations about sports, politics, current events, fun facts and the daily, “Quick, who’s singing this song?”

My dad, who is also beginning to entertain his own retirement, has often commented on how much he would miss Dale if ever he were to leave the bakery. Over the years, he has been the morning coffee buddy that is always there when you need to talk. In my own experience, he has not only been a co-worker and mentor in the bakery, but he went from babysitting me to letting me assist him in coaching the 8 through 10 year old Babe Ruth team Consistory Club to being a close friend and confidant and often times more like an uncle. He’s been the friend that has listened to my life’s stories and shared his own all while pushing dough across that bench my entire life. He’s been my family since the day I was born.

It would not be an understatement to say that he is the reason why the bakery has continued to serve the community with the consistency and quality that has come to be expected, and 2019 will be the first year that were try our best to match what he has done for so very long.

My family and I owe Dale a world of thanks and gratitude for all that he has done for our small business. While we wish him all the best and hope that his retirement brings him many years to spend with his family and friends, we will always keep his coffee cup at the ready should he ever stop in to shoot the breeze over the bench where he spent every morning of his working life.

Thank you, Dale, for your selfless dedication and for being a part of my family.