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Blue Rock Rolls On Sidney-based Blue Rock Distributing passes centennial mark and continues giving back

BY TODD TRAUB ContributingWriter

What’s the message in the bottles at Blue

RockDistributing? Actually, company president John Olson

has a number of messages that govern the way his family operation has done business through the years, but when trying to list them, daughter and company vice president Karen Beenken falls back on “keep it simple.” “We’re a beverage wholesaler,” she says.

“We just want to sell refreshing beverages and keep the people on board who share the same passion.” Some of Olson’s other watchwords,

according to his daughter, include giving back to the community, people are the most important assets and to approach problems head first and lead the way, by example. Apparently they’re all words to live by. The

long-time bottling and distribution company, a Montana mainstay based in Sidney, has survived in some capacity for 101 years. “We’re just so entrenched as a family

business in eastern Montana,” Karen Beenken says.

10 Celebrating last year’s centennial, Blue

Rock underscored its longtime presence, playing special roles in several community events including the Wings of Freedom Air Show, the Town and Country Festival and the Fairview Festival. The 100th anniversary was also commemorated on Blue Rock cans. Whether handling new products,

distribution logistics, expansion and new construction, relocation or, more recently, dealing with the double-edged sword of the local population explosion caused by the Bakken oil boom, Blue Rock has held fast in Montana and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. “They’ve always been active,” says Barry

“Spook” Stang, executive vice president of the Motor Carriers of Montana. “They’re a good, community oriented company. They take part in the community and I think that’s good for trade associations. Because if they take part in the community they usually take part in the trade association.”

HISTORY IN A BOTTLE Blue Rock was born when F.W. Murphy,

of Bismarck,N.D. founded the company in Fairview in 1913, along with bottling companies in Glendive,N.D., andWillistonN.D. Always a cozy, family owned company,

Blue Rock would only have six full-time employees as late as 1967, until it began to grow to its more-or-less current roster of 50- some employees in Sidney and more than 120 overall. It was J.C. Johnson, who bought the

original company and perhaps unwittingly — by making one youthful hire — set the pattern for Blue Rock’s success and growth into the Montana institution it is today. Primarily a beer distributorship at first,

Blue Rock shipped its product, and the soft drinks it bottled in lesser quantities, by rail to its various destinations, cooling the beer kegs with blocks of ice, some of which were hauled by the future owner Olson, then age 9. The soft drink side of the house began to grow — Orange Crush,Hires’ Root Beer and OsoGrape were the big sellers — then Blue Rock became

ROADWISE | ISSUE 5, 2014 |

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