Robert D. Lindner Sr., who built United Dairy Farmers, dies at age 101 – The Cincinnati Enquirer

Robert D. Lindner Sr., who went to work every day into his 90s and helped build United Dairy Farmers into a business that combined a regional chain of convenience stores and dairy product manufacturing, died on Wednesday. He was 101.

“One of his proudest accomplishments was the success of this company,” a statement from UDF said. “He loved everything about UDF; making and eating ice cream, being in the stores and especially the people who made it all happen.”

The money from milk, cream and ice cream sales at UDF became the basis for the rest of the Lindner family’s business ventures, including American Financial Group – now ranked 376th on the Fortune 500 list of American businesses.  “We leveraged the dairy company,” Lindner said in a 2010 interview with The Enquirer.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine remembered Lindner as a member of the Greatest Generation who “served in the Pacific in World War II and was a steadfast supporter of the USO.” he sent condolences to his family and friends in a statement Thursday night.

UDF started on May 6, 1940, when he and his siblings began selling milk, cheese, cream and buttermilk from a storefront on Montgomery Road in Norwood. That first day’s sales, Lindner remembered in a 2010 interview, were $8.28.

United Dairy Farmers' co-founder Robert D. Lindner Sr. (left) along an ice cream packing line at the company's Norwood headquarters with his sons David, Brad and Robert Jr. in May 1990. The elder Lindner died on Feb. 16, 2022 at age 101.

UDF has grown into what now ranks as the region’s 15th largest privately held company on the most recent Deloitte Cincinnati USA 100 list. The company didn’t disclose revenues, which totaled more than $828 million based on where UDF stands on the list.

The company now has nearly 200 stores in three states and more than 2,000 employees. Its corporate headquarters and plant are still at that Montgomery Road spot in the heart of blue-collar Norwood.

A lot has changed since 1940, but more than 80 years later, UDF is still a family-owned business based on selling dairy products at the corner store. An example of the family-owned touch: UDF offered free ice cream cones on Aug. 5, 2020 for Lindner’s 100 birthday and the 80th anniversary of the company.

The Lindner siblings celebrate United Dairy Farmers' 50th anniversary in 1990. From left: Richard Lindner, Dorothy Kreuzman, Carl Lindner Jr. and Robert Lindner. The Lindners' father started UDF.

Lindner and his three siblings built on a dairy business their father, Carl Sr., started in the early 1900s by delivering milk to homes, ladling it out of a jug. But by the early 1930s, he had come up with what was then a revolutionary idea: selling milk from a store and undercutting the milkman.

They called it “cash and carry,” and at 28 cents a gallon, they were selling milk cheaper than anyone else.

The family opened a few more stores from 1940 to 1942, then Robert went off to World War II and so did brother Richard. Carl H. Lindner Jr., the best known of the siblings who later owned the Reds, stayed behind to mind the store.

When the war was over, they resumed their expansion. Each had responsibilities. Robert oversaw production and the plant’s operation; Richard maintained the fleet of vehicles and facilities; Dorothy kept the books; Carl was the salesman.

The sibling bonds were evident as Robert Lindner talked in that 2010 interview about the early days of what became UDF. “When I say ‘I,’ I’m speaking as much for Carl, Rich and Dorothy, because we’re all together,” he said.

University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, left, congratulates Robert D. Lindner Sr., in October 2010 for winning the Carl H. Lindner Award for Entrepreneurial and Civic Spirit. The award, named for Robert's brother, is given to a current or former leader of a company on the Deloitte Cincinnati 100 list of the largest privately held companies headquartered in the Cincinnati region.

One family’s multiple businesses

As UDF grew, the unions came calling. Robert remembers Carl sitting for hours talking to the late Jim Luken, head of the dairy workers union and a future mayor of Cincinnati. But UDF never unionized.

The Lindners started a life insurance business in Texas. In the 1950s, they started buying savings and loans that were used to build American Financial Group, now a $4 billion giant.

Brother Carl bought some of Robert’s interest in AFG in the 1980s. Robert bought Carl’s interest in United Dairy Farmers in 1980, solidifying Robert’s leadership of that business. Carl Lindner died on Oct. 17, 2011, at age 92.

Richard in the 1960s began running and expanding the Thriftway chain of supermarkets. He died in January 2010 at age 88. Winn-Dixie bought the Thriftway chain in 1995, then closed or sold the stores in 2004.

Dorothy married in the 1950s and bowed out of the business, after being a key player at UDF during World War II and after, to raise a family. Dorothy Kreuzman died on Sept. 20, 2021, at the age of 98.

Robert D. Lindner Sr. at a press conference for the upcoming opening of the Omnimax theater at Union Terminal in September 1990. His family donated $1.5 million to help build the facility. Lindner died on Feb. 16, 2021 at the age of 101.

History of philanthropy

With the wealth that Robert Lindner built over decades, he supported a variety of causes, some of them behind the scenes.

He supported the $1 million renovation of what is now called the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater at the Cincinnati Museum Center in 2006. He was a major donor to the Robert D. and Richard E. Lindner Sports Complex at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.

Campus housing, a conference center and an endowed professorship at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill., are named after either him or his wife, Betty.

He also was instrumental in starting a Baptist seminary in Moscow, Russia, and was a big supporter of the Montgomery Community Baptist Church.

As a sergeant stationed on a remote island in the Pacific during World War II, he remembers the USO showing up, even as bullets were still flying, to cheer up the troops. He later showed his appreciation with steady financial support for the service organization.

He and his wife, Betty, also supported a variety of substance-abuse prevention programs, including Cincinnati Teen Challenge and City Gospel Mission. She died on Dec. 24, 2013, at age 89.

Robert D. Lindner Sr. and his wife Betty Lindner are congratulated in October 2010 after Robert Lindner received the Carl H. Lindner Award for Entrepreneurial and Civic Spirit at a luncheon at Music Hall. (Carl H. Lindner, Robert's brother, was not in attendance.) One of the Lindners' sons, Brad, who now leads United Dairy Farmers, stands in the background at the Music Hall Ballroom.

Lindner gave to political candidates and causes, but not as lavishly as his brother Carl.

For example, ​​​​​​UDF made a contribution of $260,000 to Swift Boat Veterans & POWs for Truth in 2004. That placed UDF fifth among donors to the group that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s war record. AFG led by brother Carl was fourth at $350,000, according to Open Secrets, a website that tracks money in U.S. politics.

Norwood Mayor Joseph Sanker, left, joins a parade with co-grand marshals Robert D. Lindner Sr. and Carl H. Lindner Jr., in the annual Norwood Daze Parade on July 21, 1989. Robert D. Lindner died on Feb. 16, 2022 at age 101.

Robert Lindner owned four working ranches and a farm near Pagosa Springs, Colorado, which he placed in a conservation easement, ensuring that 15,000 acres of rangeland, ponderosa pines and mountain streams will never be developed. “I call them my Rembrandts,” he said in the 2010 interview. “The way they are today is the way they’ll be forever.”

Lindner visited the ranches, but usually not for more than 10 days at a time, preferring not to be away from the business for that long even when he was 90.

“When he does go to the ranch, he calls in to see what’s going on,” his longtime assistant, Phyllis McCoy, said in 2010.

A list of survivors and funeral arrangements weren’t immediately available.

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