Vitamix celebrates 100 years with return of historic Dansville to Ohio Walk

Vitamix celebrates 100 years with return of historic Dansville to Ohio Walk

By Jasmine Willis
The Express
A famous Cracked Wheat Derby from Dansville to New York City in the 1930s.

DANSVILLE — A famous modern kitchen products company that made its mark sharing the good news about whole foods nutrition is turning 100 this year, and marking its connection to Dansville. 

Vitamix came from humble beginnings with the founder, William Grover Barnard, known as “Papa” in 1921 as a traveling salesman. Barnard told the American story within the walls of his company. This four-generational company has the same values and ambitions it had a century ago. Vitamix President Jodi Berg is the great-granddaughter of the founder who believes in the dreams and mission of her family’s vision. The company is constantly evolving.

Where does Dansville enter the story? 

Bernarr Macfadden of the Physical Culture Hotel created the “Cracked Wheat Derby” in the late 1930s. This walkathon went from Cleveland, Ohio to Dansville. In those days it was an historic 265-mile walk made by dozens of people.

Vitamix Communication Director Scott Tennant said in 1938 Barnard’s daughter-in-law Ruth wished to be part of this adventure. Barnard walked her down to the meeting point to wish her good luck, but upon arrival decided he wanted to be part of the health walk. As the story goes, he began the walk in his suit and nice shoes. There is a photo of the “Cracked Wheat Derby” in front of the Physical Culture Hotel after this walk was complete. Tennant said the photo shows Barnard and his daughter-in-law Ruth with Macfadden.

It was decided that the only way to truly honor the legacy of a company like Vitamix was to combine the legacy of two brilliant minds who focused on the power of health and wellness.

Tennant will recreate the historic “Cracked Wheat Derby” now a 250-mile walk solo from Dansville to Ohio on June 5. This two-week walk will take him the scenic route as close to the historic route as possible through three states.

Scott Tennant, Vitamix communications director will recreate the historic walk from Dansville to Ohio.

“I reached out to people in Dansville to see if I could get as close to the original point as possible. I want to get right to the front of the castle. I had seen the route I would take on Google Maps to see just how long 250 miles is going to be. The Dansville Librarian, Terry Dearing, told me the longest and hardest part is the first 20 miles from Dansville to Portageville with all the windy roads and hills,” Tennant said. “The challenge I will face on this walk is finding a place to stay every night. I don’t want to end up in the middle of a bean field. I will have a co-worker drive me down to Dansville and follow me on the journey to make sure I have a ride to a place to stay. He will drop me off at the point I last was the next day. I plan to walk about 5 to 7 hours a day on this trip.”

Tennant said he has been preparing for this walk a while now with walking every single day. He walks in all kinds of weather, rain, shine, and snow. He has walked about 35 miles a week. 

The idea of bringing awareness not only to Vitamix as a trusted family-owned company but the historic value of this walk is important to Tennant.

The Physical Cultural Hotel in its glory days.

“It is a shame the Physical Culture Hotel is not around anymore. I look forward to taking some of the same old roads they did in 1938. I wonder how many are not there anymore. I know it was a much longer walk from Cleveland to Dansville in those days,” he said. “It is interesting to look at the photos of that time period. You see a truck following the hikers with a banner that says "Cleveland to Danville." They spelled Dansville wrong on the banner. I spent all this time trying to find where Danville was, and realized it was Dansville. Macfadden had to have food for the hikers on this walk so there was a giant pot of cracked wheat in the truck they would all eat from to keep up their nourishment.”

Tennant plans on finding the historic recipe for the cracked wheat so he can have some on the solo walk.

“Macfadden was a very interesting guy. He talked about the benefits of healthy living and exercise that was not known in those times. He was into body building and fitness decades before its time. Barnard was a kindred spirit. He was into whole foods decades before it was cool,” he said. “Barnard did the nation’s first infomercial in 1950. We have the original version available here to watch. It is like watching a sermon on the benefits of whole foods. He was a renaissance man. He was a door-to-door salesman who taught nutrition to anyone who would listen to him.”

In the early 1920s Barnard began his journey selling can openers to those who were using knives at the time to open cans. This invention made it possible to do something so simple for the day-to-day chore of meals. His journey brought him to Cleveland in 1937 when he saw an invention known as the blender. Tennant said he was so impressed by the hard workers of the area that he built his company and new ideas within the community. It has stood at the same place ever since.

“Jodi is as smart and a visionary like her great-grandfather. She understands the importance of her family legacy. I told her about my idea for the walk three years ago, and she loved it,” Tennant said. “I told her we could recreate the walk for our 100-year anniversary. Jodi’s father John Barnard is really into long distance walking. He is still doing long distance walks into his 70s. Jodi was very enthusiastic about this idea. This is all about the heritage of a brand. The family came up with the best blender in the world. It is not only sold in homes but in commercial use as well. You will see our blenders in restaurants, coffee shops, and homes all over the world.”

Jodi Berg, Vitamix president and CEO, is the fourth generation of her family legacy.

Tennant said the founding values of Vitamix was about the zest for life and finding a good connection to nutrition and healthy living, similar to the Dansville Castle. 

“This kind of healthy living never ends. It is a job we are proud to do. You change the way people see food. It is all about word of mouth. You change the way one person sees whole foods and they tell someone else. We rely on that a lot in this company,” he said. “Papa (Barnard) spent hours on that walk with Macfadden. They shared many ideas together. Everyone is very supportive of this walk.”

Tennant said most of the walk will be through rural farmlands and he is looking forward to a peaceful and enlightening journey.

Barnard’s legacy began in 1921 as a travel salesman trying to make life a little easier in a time when it was very difficult. He helped a friend through illness and connected the value of whole foods to sustain a healthy lifestyle. From there he created The Natural Food Institute. He was a pioneer in health and wellness that carried through four generations. In 1937 the birth of blenders and Vitamix came into existence. In 1949 he created the first infomercial that first aired in Cleveland in 1950. It was broadcast on National TV. John Barnard expanded the ever-growing company in 1985 to the first high performance blenders in the food service industry. Jodi joined her family legacy in 1997.

Vitamix Founder William Grover Barnard

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