A Guide to the
Elizabeth "Libby" Custer Collection, c.1930s-1997
Compiled by: Victoria M. Edwards and Tracy Harter
Repository: Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University
Title: The Elizabeth "Libby" Custer Collection, c.1930s-1997
Collection No.: SC# 2002
Creator: Elizabeth "Libby" Custer
Extent: 1/2 Hollinger box; .209 linear feet, and digital images
The Elizabeth "Libby" Custer Collection, c.1930s-1997, consists of 1/2 Hollinger box (.209 linear feet) of business and personal records relating to the Custer family business, Virginia Valley Processors, Inc., of Hinton, Virginia.
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The Elizabeth "Libby" Custer Collection, c.1930s-1997, SC# 2002, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.
The collection was donated in April 2008 by Mrs. Libby Custer of Hinton, Virginia.
Digital Images of photographs and other material were made froma scrapbook retained by the donor. Images are available in Special Collections.
Elizabeth "Libby" Custer was born on March 27, 1913 in Dayton, Virginia to Charles Wampler, Sr. and Sadie Zigler Wampler. The Wampler family has been one of the most influential families in the Rockingham County, Virginia, area. Libby's father was a pioneer in poultry raising and was considered the founder of the modern turkey industry. In 1927, he and two brothers established the Wampler Feed and Seed Company. One of nine children, Libby worked in the family business from a young age. She later attended Juniata College, a Church of the Brethren liberal arts college in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. She married Harry Lawson Custer (11/17/1909 - 2/22/1981), a Fulks Run native, on October 12, 1934, and continued working with him in their poultry processing business, Virginia Valley Processors, Inc. They had three children, Kay, Stephen and Judy.
Throughout her life Libby Custer also expressed herself through painting. Between 1935 and 1959 she occasionally took classes taught by Olive Delp Graham at Bridgewater College. In 1964, at the age of 41, Libby participated in the first adult education class offered by Harrisonburg Public Schools under Mrs. Carrie K. Showalter. Over the years, Libby has painted various properties, homesteads, and scenic vistas at the request of friends and family, often on unconventional materials such as planks of wood, reflecting her pragmatism: "You can paint on anything." An exhibit of her work and a reception in her honor was hosted in 2007 by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, where she continues to volunteer.
Harry Custer and Virginia Valley Processors, Inc.
The history of Virginia Valley Processors is part of a larger "family tree" of poultry and other business ventures. After starting a small business in 1928, Harry Custer made a name for himself as a distributor of poultry and eggs in the Washington, D.C. area in the 1930s. In 1942, Custer bought property in Hinton, Virginia, where he had decided to settle. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Harry made a living hauling live poultry and established H.L. Custer Poultry in 1947, originally operating from a barn on the property. The business flourished, with Custer distributing poultry to markets in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, as well as entering into business ventures in West Virginia. In 1956, he and two associates, Homer and Jim Long, organized as Virginia Valley Processors, Inc., which operated from a plant on the property in Hinton through the 1960s. By 1970 the company merged with Custer's father-in-law's company, Wampler Feed and Seed, Inc., and other Wampler family operations which were reorganized as Wampler Foods, Inc. The Hinton plant thus became the processing division, with Custer serving as vice president and a member of the board of directors.
A 1984 merger with poultry processor Horace W. Longacre resulted in the formation of Wampler-Longacre, Inc. Shortly after another acquisition in 1988, the company reorganized as WLR Foods, Inc., and continued to acquire several other businesses in the decades that followed. In 2001, Pilgrim's Pride, Inc., acquired WLR Foods, Inc. In 2004, after a reported three year loss, Pilgrim's Pride, Inc., announced the pending closure of the Hinton plant. This prompted swift action by the newly formed Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, Inc., in its successful efforts to purchase the plant. The Hinton plant continues to operate today under the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, Inc.
Scope and Content
The Elizabeth "Libby" Custer Collection, c.1930's-1997, consists of 1/2 Hollinger box (.209 linear feet) of business and personal records relating to the Custer family business, Virginia Valley Processors, Inc., of Hinton, Virginia. The collection is arranged in three series: Account Books, Publications and Clippings, and Digitized Material.
Account Books, 1951-1955, includes payroll accounts, live poultry purchases, and refrigeration expenses during transport. The original covers were removed and the pages retained. One payroll account book records the names, hours worked, and rates of pay of female employees from February 18, 1955 until December 21, 1955, while a second account book documents the names, hours worked, and rates of pay of male employees from April 29, 1955 until December 30, 1955. Information regarding a possible temporary closing of the plant is also present. An account book regarding live poultry purchases between May 17, 1954 and December 21, 1955, documents the seller, type of poultry (i.e., toms, hens, culls, chicks), and amount paid. Pages from the account book for Cassco Ice consists of twenty pages that document expenses for transporting refrigerated dressed poultry to various named vendors, including dates, lot numbers, number of boxes, and cost. The last three pages contain entries from 1951-1952 recording stock purchases, listing stocks, shares purchased, costs, and dividends.
Publications and Clippings, 1939-1997, consists of photocopies of articles and brochures relating to the local poultry industry and its history. One folder contains seven issues of the Wampler Foods, Inc., publication "Turkey Talk." Another folder of material pertains to the takeover of one of Virginia Valley Processors' New York customers, Murray Packing Company, in 1963 allegedly by an organized crime family under the auspices of Berkshire Foods. As a result, Virginia Valley Processors suffered an unrecoverable loss of approximately $200,000. Also notable in this series is biographical information relating to Harry Custer's 1973 Virginia Poultry Federation awards and a typed memorial after his death in 1981, a news clipping regarding Charles W. Wampler, Jr.'s 1997 Lifetime Achievement Award in Industry from the Science Museum of Virginia, and an undated article about a longtime employee of the Hinton plant, Sissy Obaugh.
Digitized Materials, c.1930s-1960s, consists of photocopies of digital images from a scrapbook Mrs. Custer loaned to Carrier Library's Special Collections. Images pertain to the early days of Virginia Valley Processors, Inc., various employees, and family. Digital images are available for viewing in Special Collections. See a descriptive list of these images.
The collection is arranged in three series:
I. Account Books, 1951-1955
II. Publications and Clippings, 1939-1997
III. Digitized Materials, c.1930s-1960s
The Charles W. Wampler Collection, SC# 3095, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.
"Harry Custer Receives Award." Turkey Talk, Vol. 2:21 (May 31, 1973): 1.
"Libby Custer Art Exhibit on Display Now at HRHS." Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 29:2 (Spring 2007): 9.
Wampler, Charles W. My grandfather, my grandchildren, and me: an autobiography of Charles W. Wampler. Harrisonburg, Va.; Dayton, Va.: Shenandoah Press, 1968.
Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative website. http://www.vapoultrygrowers.com/VPGC-Web/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=1 (accessed November 5, 2009).
Location of Originals
Mrs. Custer retained the original scrapbook from which digital images were created.
Charles W. Wampler, Jr. Collection of Wampler Family Papers, 1798-1962, SC# 3095
Charles W. Wampler, Jr. Collection of Wampler Business Records, SC# ___ [still in process]
William D. Wampler Collection of Wampler Business Records, SC# 2003 [still in process]
Digital images of photographs and other material were made from a scrapbook retained by the donor. Images are available in Special Collections.
Account Books, 1951-1955: Payroll, Women, 1955 Folder 1 Payroll, Men, 1955 Folder 2 Poultry Purchases, 1954-1955 Folder 3 Cassco Freezer Account (undated, c. 1951) Folder 4 Publications and Clippings, 1939-1997: Turkey Talk, 1972-1973, 1985 Folder 5 Murray Packing Co., 1963-1964 Folder 6 General, 1939-1997 Folder 7 Digitized Material (see list) Folder 8