Kathy Conley has worked at New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. longer than any other member of our team – 22 years in July. If you have ever called us to place an order or to ask a question, there is a good chance you have spoken with Kathy and you probably remember how helpful she was. There are probably very few people in the cheese making supply business who know more about it than her.
We are a small, family business with less than 10 employees, so, she has done every job we have at one time or another through the years. In fact, her mother, Ida worked part-time with us for 9 years and her daughter, April has been working here since she was a teenager.
Kathy’s main responsibility has always been to pack and ship orders. This has gotten more and more complicated in time, as we have grown and expanded to the point where we ship all over the world. Now, she packs orders, answers the phone and assembles inventory (including some of our kits).
Little known fact: For years she was our staff “Cheermeister,” planning an afternoon of fun every month for the staff. (Come to think of it, that whole thing was her idea!)
She has always been the strongest supporter of the veterans who do some of our packaging at the VA Medical Center in Leeds, MA. When we have had parties for them, Kathy has always supervised the making of the gift bags and she has planned many of the activities for these events. (If you do a search at our blog for “veterans,” you will see many articles about these events.)
The Early Days
Kathy was brought up in Plainfield, MA, a very small village in rural western Massachusetts. Her father worked in a sawmill and her mother worked in a package store for over 40 years. They lived in a house right next door to the store where Ida worked.
In 1995, Kathy saw a sign at the post office in Ashfield that Ricki had posted, looking for a part-time job packing orders. She applied, interviewed and got the job!.
At first, the business consisted of Kathy and one other part-time office worker. The entire operation was run in the large back room of Ricki’s house in Ashfield. (After many years, the business moved to the basement of the house, but soon that also became too small. 6 years ago, we moved to South Deerfield where we remain.)
Kathy has been working at NECS since Ricki’s 2 daughters were young. In fact, she has known Sarah who currently runs the business with her husband, Mark, since Sarah was 8 years old!
Meanwhile, Kathy had 2 children, April and Bryan, while working full time. She was a single parent for many years until, 12 years ago, she met her husband, John at the Cummington Fair. (She went to the square dance, he asked her to dance and they have been together ever since.) John has his own business – Conley Paving & Excavating Services in Greenfield. Kathy now has 3 grandchildren (ages 8-13).
When Kathy first began working for Ricki, she didn’t know anything about making cheese. So, whenever a caller phoned with a question, she had to ask Ricki. Eventually, after attending many of Ricki’s workshops, she learned the art.
Her advice for beginners is to start with the easy, simple cheeses. She says if you get your feet wet first, you won’t get discouraged. (Good advice from a woman who REALLY knows the biz!)