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The Strawberry Story

How The Manthei Group Began

Brothers, Ted & Ernie Manthei are lovingly referred to as Gen 1 of the Manthei Group family businesses. This is their story.

After Ted Manthei completed his eight grades of education, he moved out of the family house and lived in a small shack he had built with his business partner, Johnny Kopenkosky. They had purchased a 40-acre section in the neighborhood for farming. One evening he took a short-cut through the Edgerton farm on his walk home for dinner with the family. Ted couldn’t resist sampling those bright red strawberries. They were the most delicious flavorful berries he had ever tasted! He just couldn’t resist them and, pretty soon, he found himself sneaking over there to steal more berries. Eventually, his conscience caught up with him and he struck a deal with Edgerton to buy the whole crop! He also bought some complete plants.

The varieties were Fancy Fairfax and Dorsett. They were advertised as the most delicious strawberry ever grown and showed great promise for farming profits. However, although they were truly delicious, they didn’t live up to the marketing promotions. In fact, in time they were listed as “unsuitable for commercial production.” The plants grew gloriously but they produced only a few nubbins. Ted and Ernie watched the Edgertons lose their farm because of failed attempts at berry production.

Despite that, Ted wanted to try his hand at it. He worked with the Emmet County Agricultural Extension program of Michigan State University and learned what nutrients the berries required to thrive and how to balance the soil. He read about the nutrition - al value of marl from the bottom of the lake. He also learned that berries need lots of water. By this time, Ted’s brother Ernie was out of school and partnered with Ted. Ernie worked with Professor Roby to engineer a water cannon for irrigation. They installed a pump by the lake and laid pipes across the fields. They pumped that nutrient-dense water out of the lake and covered acres of berry fields with fresh lake water every day.

Wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles… those delicious berries grew to an enormous size and quantity!

Eventually, they grew so many berries that they had trouble finding enough crates to ship them to market. That’s when they decided to produce their own crates. But in the process, they mistakenly bought equipment for making wood veneer. They had never heard of veneer! They thought they were going to make crates! But that “mistake” became “the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Not long after that, the berries developed a disease. Then WWII broke out and it was hard to find enough pickers. But by that time, they were already heading into the veneer industry.

Ernie always said, “It wasn’t our smarts that got us to where we are. Man thinks and the Lord leads. To Him be all the glory!” God turned their “mistake” into something beyond their imagining.

And so, the Manthei family transitioned from agriculture into industry. They went from being the poorest family in the neighborhood to hiring the neighbors and providing an income for many families to thrive. Glory to God!

We grew up with lots of strawberry shortcake and egg pancakes with butter, maple syrup and strawberry sauce!


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