Polak achieves international fame in the maple syrup industry
Merrill man inducted into the NAMSC Maple Hall of Fame
TINA L. SCOTT
At the Annual Joint Conference of the North American Maple Syrup Council (NAMSC) and the International Maple Syrup Institute, held on October 24, 2019, in Duluth, Minn., it was announced that Merrill area resident, Joe Polak, owner of Maple Hollow, W1887 Robinson Dr., Merrill would be the 2020 recipient of the industry’s highest honor. He was scheduled to be inducted into the NAMSC Maple Hall of Fame in 2020, an honor reserved for just one American and one Canadian each year. Polak was named the American inductee.
Due to COVID, the annual meeting and conference and award ceremony for 2020 was canceled and the official recognition postponed to 2021. In 2021, the annual meeting and conference, along with the award recognition, was held virtually. Though it took a while, Polak now has his official award, and his portrait will hang in the NAMSC Maple Hall of Fame at the International Maple Museum Centre located in Croghan, [upstate] New York. The purpose of the award and the Hall of Fame is “to recognize those who have excelled in research, development, and leadership in the North American maple industry.” This is the highest honor afforded by the maple syrup industry.
Polak has been active in the maple syrup industry nearly all his life.
Born in 1952 into a northern Wisconsin family that has always been very involved in the outdoors, Joe, the youngest of four children, began making maple syrup with his family. His father, John, was a farmer and logger and his mother, Lena, was a cook at a logging camp and helped on the farm. Originally, Joe’s grandfather owned the family’s maple syrup operation. In 1971, it passed to his father and became known as Maple Hollow. Joe worked for his father and then purchased the business from him in 1985. He then added maple equipment sales to the business and his father was the primary salesperson and delivery man until he retired.
In 1998, a new sales room and canning facility was built, new websites were added, and an online store was established. Today, Joe and his wife, Barbara, own Maple Hollow and continue to sell pure maple products and maple making equipment. “We are a distributor, wholesaler, and retailer of maple products,” Joe said. “We sell pure maple syrup in a variety of grades, maple sugar, maple crème, maple butter, whiskey barrel aged pure maple syrup, cinnamon maple, cherry maple and cranberry maple syrup, local honey, and special order gift boxes, in addition to maple related gift items, maple root beer, and maple cookbooks. We also sell maple making equipment to encourage others to make maple syrup.”
“Barbara has been part of the business since our marriage,” he said. “This award is due to her support.”
“Pretty good for a California girl,” Joe added with a smile.
He is a member of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association and has been President, Vice President, Director, and Editor of the newsletter, the Wisconsin Maple News. He currently is a member of the Marketing Committee and has held the position of Secretary-Treasurer of the North American Maple Syrup Council since 2003. A MHS graduate with a degree and previous experience as an educator, his educational background prepared him well, as he now promotes pure maple syrup and gives many educational seminars and classes on making maple syrup at county and state association meetings, as well.
His two older brothers both have maple operations of their own, and his sister owns and operates a gift shop in southern Wisconsin, which sells Maple Hollow products.