The sign at Fred Imler Sr.'s parking space reads "for the person most responsible for the success of Imler's Poultry."
The humble Imler doesn't necessarily agree.
"I said, 'Who put that sign out there?' I didn't object, but we are all here together," Imler said. "There have been so many people. We have been very fortunate to surround ourselves with very, very dedicated employees who know the business, and it is because they learned it from the bottom up."
Fred Imler Sr. chats with Sonya Garber (left) and Logan Lynn while packaging chicken nuggets at Imler’s Poultry.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Fred Imler Sr. talks with Corey Young at Imler’s Poultry. Young was driving a forklift with an order for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Imler, 79, a partner in Imler's Poultry with his son, Fred II, and grandson Bryan, will be the 11th recipient of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Excellence Monday at the Jaffa Shrine Center.
Imler said he was surprised and honored that he was selected for the award.
"It is a very humbling award. The award is one thing, but when you look at who the previous recipients are and their involvement in the community, to put me in a class with them is very exciting," Imler said.
Joe Hurd, chamber president and CEO, said Imler had been nominated for the award several times.
"The number of people who nominated Fred speaks to the success he has had as a business leader and speaks to the excellence and to the quality of the man; the character of the guy [is] displayed in everything he does," Hurd said. "Fred does a lot of things behind the radar. He underwrites many charitable causes with the understanding that no one is to ever know. He is a worthy recipient."
Imler has been involved since his childhood with the family business, which was founded by his great-great- uncle Leff Imler in 1903 in the Rainsburg area of Bedford County.
"I always recalled working at the farmers market on Green Avenue and Eighth Street. I waited on my second-grade teacher, Miss Kepler. I always looked for her coming to the market," said Imler, who attended Canan Station Elementary School.
Imler said he planned all along to work in the family business.
"Dad [Lester] had been in business for 30 years. He was hoping I would have an interest in the business. He thought it might be better to have a college background," Imler said. "I figured I knew the business from the bottom up since I had been there for 10 years."
Imler officially joined the business shortly after graduating from Hollidaysburg High School in 1951. He became a partner with his father in 1952.
"I convinced him I was not going to go to college. He said if we were going to operate, we would do it as a partnership," Imler said.
Lester Imler died in 1968 and Fred Sr. and his older brother Richard assumed ownership of the business. In 1977, Richard left and Fred Sr. purchased his share of the business.
Imler's Poultry, which was on 58th Street until 1984, operated a turkey farm from 1948 to 1979 on the site of what is now Sugar Run Plaza. Imler's stopped raising turkeys in 1979 because of the competition from large conglomerates that owned feed mills, hatcheries and processing plants.
Fred Sr.'s son Fred II became a partner in the early 1980s, and officials of the company, which had moved to 3421 Beale Ave., decided to focus on distribution. They added pre-packaged deli salads, fresh pork and beef, deli meats and seafood to the product line.
"We brought in a bigger line of products, more than just fresh poultry. We started to travel to parts of the state we weren't covering," Imler said. "The bottom line is we stress fresh and have always been very precise in the level of service we can provide at a competitive price. Back in the '60s and '70s, we had 11 competitors in the area doing what we are doing. There is only one still operating today. The rest are gone."
To get the products delivered, the company started its own trucking company - Imler's Poultry Transportation - in the 1980s because the independent trucks they were using before often ran late.
Today, Imler's Poultry distributes about 4,000 different products to 3,800 customers in a 300-mile radius of Altoona. The business has a fleet of 75 trucks.
In July 2010, Imler's Poultry moved into the former W.S. Lee building on Route 764 in Allegheny Township.
"We needed more space. We have about 40,000 more square feet here. We are using all of the space," Imler said. "With the additional space, it makes it easier for our receiving and shipping areas. We can receive and ship products at the same time. We now have a huge refrigerated dock area. We can do more business quicker here."
Imler credits his employees - which now number 175 - for the company's success.
"We could have never begun to do what we do without the dedicated employees we have. We have some super people. We have never had a rapid growth but are up to a $90 million company," Imler said.
Imler is active in many local organizations, but the Shriners hold a special place in his heart. He has been on the board of Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia for 30 years and is active in the International Shriners.
"We see kids with orthopedic and burn problems. We are able to make a better life for them. My friends tell me I should be out golfing, but I would rather spend my time taking care of the kids," Imler said.
The keynote speaker at the event honoring Imler will be Imperial Sir Raoul Frevel of Baltimore, Md., a member of the Board of Trustees at Shriners Hospital for Children and a former imperial potentate of Shriners International.
Imler also has served on the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation board for years.
"He has been extremely valuable in his judgment and giving advice to us. He has committed himself to the community," said Allan G. Hancock, board president.
Imler said he will remain active in the family business and has no plans to retire.
"I feel I have had a lot of friends over the years, and hopefully we have made the community a little better place and made life a little better for some of the people as well," Imler said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.