Arkansas Business Hall of Fame 2013: Buddy Coleman Jr.

W.C. “Buddy” Coleman Jr.
Former Chairman and CEO, Coleman Dairy
Little Rock

W.C. “Buddy” Coleman Jr., as many Colemans had before him, grew up on the family dairy farm on the outskirts of Little Rock. In time, he became president and then chairman and chief executive officer of a family-run Coleman Dairy operation that faced decades of technological and business trends that fundamentally changed the dairy landscape.

But Coleman managed to guide the business to even greater success with support from his sons and a community that always knew he cared.

Coleman was born Aug. 31, 1928, on the farm and grew up in the company that his great-grandfather Eleithet B. Coleman had founded in 1862. The dairy celebrated its 150th year in 2012.

The Colemans had started selling milk by the quart-size ladle in Little Rock in 1862. Eleithet Coleman delivered the milk in his horse-drawn wagon. His son, Fred, joined the business in 1877, and saw his son W.C. take over from him 40 years later.

Buddy Coleman graduated from Little Rock High School and earned a business degree from Louisiana State University. After serving two years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, Coleman returned home to the family dairy business in 1953. He worked in the dairy business alongside his older brother H.S. “Boots” Coleman, with Buddy rising to be named president of Coleman Dairy Inc. in 1964.

In 1971, after the sudden and unexpected death of Boots Coleman, Buddy was elected chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the company. Buddy’s sons Bob, Walt, Charlie and Cherb joined the dairy in the 1970s.

The 1950s and 1960s were a time for rapid growth and expansion for Coleman Dairy. The 1950s were when the company recognized the value of advertising on television, which led to the dairy sponsoring Little Rock native Gail Davis in the nationally broadcast “Annie Oakley Show.” Beginning in 1957, Louise Lueken became the public face of Coleman Dairy, a relationship that would last for the next 37 years on local television.

The dairy joined the Quality Chekd Dairy Products Association in 1960. By 1962, Coleman Dairy was producing 10,000 gallons of milk a day. Several dairies merged into the Coleman operation in the 1960s: Camden Ice Cream, OK Ice Cream, Dairyland, Dixon Dairy, Prickett Dairy, Morrilton Dairy, Cook Ice Cream and Midwest. With the mergers and growth, Coleman Dairy was producing more than 35,000 gallons of milk a day by the end of the 1960s.

Coleman Dairy introduced plastic milk jugs in 1971 and in 1981 became the first dairy in the United States to give hand-held computers to route delivery drivers.

More consolidation in the dairy industry saw mergers continuing in the 1970s, with the dairy producing 45,000 gallons a day in 1977. The Colemans sold the dairy to the Associated Milk Producers Inc., a dairy farm cooperative, on Jan. 1, 1995. Turner Holdings of Covington, Tenn., bought the cooperative in 1998. Prairie Farms of Carlinville, Ill., owner of Hiland Dairy, bought Turner Holdings in 2007 and made Coleman a division of Hiland.

The Coleman Dairy headquarters moved to an expanded plant at its current location of 6901 Interstate 30 in Little Rock. The Asher Avenue plant, on the original dairy farm land, closed in July 2003, but the Coleman Dairy brand continues to be used to sell milk and members of the Coleman family still help operate the dairy. Today, the operation ships dairy products to eight states in the southeastern United States, the Bahamas and locations in the Caribbean.

In 2010, the family donated 10 acres of the original 200-acre dairy farm land to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for a recreation and sports complex.

Buddy Coleman was recognized for his business and industry accomplishments many times, but none more important than his service as vice president and four years as president of the Quality Chekd Dairy Products Association, a member-owned organization of 27 independent dairy processors that focuses on quality and food safety. Coleman was a respected force for Quality Chekd when many significant issues faced the organization and the dairy industry.

He also was president of the Southern Association of Dairy Food Manufacturers and the Arkansas Dairy Products Association, a board member of the National Dairy Council and a member of the Governor’s Advisory Committee to the Arkansas Grade “A” Milk Program.

In 1988, Coleman was honored as the Top Manager of the Year by the Sales and Marketing Executives Association of Little Rock. He was voted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1997.

Coleman is also known as a sportsman and civic leader. He was chairman of the Pioneer District of the Boy Scouts of America and president of the Little Rock Boy’s Club. He also was widely known for his and the dairy’s involvement with Little League baseball.

He was a 50-year member — with a 42-year perfect attendance record — in the Little Rock Downtown Kiwanis Club, where he also served as president. He also was chairman of Kiwanis Activities Inc., which runs the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp for children. He was a 20-year plus member of the Little Rock Executives Association.

Coleman also served as president of the St. Vincent Infirmary Development Foundation and was named the Honorary Big Brother of the Year in 1975 by the Big Brothers of Pulaski County. In his long and distinguished civic career, he also served on the boards of the Associated Industries of Arkansas, the Young Presidents Organization and the Salvation Army.

Coleman also was highly visible on Friday nights and Saturdays as a football official. He was a Southwest Conference official for 26 years, working in more than 250 college football games. He officiated in two Cotton Bowl games, five Sugar Bowl games, two Gator Bowl games, two Orange Bowl games, two Fiesta Bowl games and the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo. His numerous bowl officiating assignments included two national championship games.

He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Arkansas High School Officials Hall of Fame in 1995.

Buddy Coleman kept the support of his community through his dedication to its people and especially his concern for its children. He always had the support of his family: his wife Carolynn; Walt and his wife Cynthia; Bob and his wife Beverly; Charlie and his wife Patti; and Cherb and his wife Connie; plus his seven grandchildren: Bob Jr.; Walt IV and wife Morgan; Turner and wife Anna; Courtney; Arden; Jacob and wife Lindsay and Jonathan; and one great-granddaughter, Ella Arden Coleman.

Coleman passed away on Oct. 24, 2011.