Melaleuca founder and executive chairman Frank VanderSloot loves East Idaho and has done much to enhance the lives of as many as he can. For his economic and philanthropic efforts over several decades, VanderSloot was recently recognized by the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI). To honor VanderSloot for his commitment to and cultivation of East Idaho, REDI presented him with the Outstanding Innovator & Builder of Dynamic Economic Ecosystems Award. This was the first-ever presentation of this award, and until REDI finds another worthy patron, the award will not be given again.
Scott Reese, REDI’s board chairman, presented the award and listed some of VanderSloot’s contributions to East Idaho as merit for the presentation. “Frank has developed Melaleuca into one of the largest privately held companies in the state of Idaho,” said Reese, “generating over $2 billion annually, employing more than 5,000 employees in 20 countries and generating 400 nutritional, pharmaceutical, personal care and household cleaning products across the globe.”
But VanderSloot’s contributions to East Idaho extend far beyond his success with Melaleuca and consumer packaged goods. Many people don’t realize that more than two decades ago Frank VanderSloot saved the East Idaho dairy industry and the livelihoods of more than 100 families.
Helping Farmers, Saving the Dairy Industry
In 1996, Kraft announced that it would be closing its factory in Blackfoot, Idaho — a move that would devastate 115 family-owned dairies surrounding it.
For two local dairymen, Gaylen Claysen and Merlin Morgan, that just wasn’t going to happen. They made a plan to partner with a Texas investment venture to rebuild the factory. But they needed $1 million. The two men humbly approached Frank VanderSloot for help. He sat down with them and listened.
VanderSloot let the men know that he had no interest in the cheese industry, but he did want to help all the local dairyman. Those two men walked away with the funds they needed. Unfortunately, the Texas investment firm mismanaged the plant, and eventually $2 million was owed to various families for delivered milk. The men again approached VanderSloot, in need of money and especially in need of management. VanderSloot again agreed to help. He paid the families the $2 million and bought the plant himself. He managed it for several years and made it prosperous for the dairymen.
Coincidentally, Scott Reese was the mayor of Blackfoot when the plant was in danger of failing. He wanted to present this award because he saw the tremendous impact of VanderSloot’s involvement. “I credit Frank for saving an entire industry,” Reese said.
“Frank probably lost a fair amount of money on the deal,” said Claysen. “He never told us how much he lost, and he never complained about how helping us ended up hurting him.”
In 2013, VanderSloot sold the plant to Glanbia Foods, the world’s largest producer of American-style cheese, and the factory has been successful ever since.
Restoring a Historic School, Building Community Facilities
Through his generous efforts, VanderSloot has helped in other restoration and building projects throughout the Idaho Falls area. Through a $2 million donation, VanderSloot helped fund the restoration of the historic New Sweden schoolhouse, and the use of the facility was donated to the American Heritage Charter School.
He also donated $600,000 to save the renovation project for the city’s ballpark, thereby keeping a Pioneer League baseball team in Idaho Falls. With a $250,000 donation, Melaleuca and VanderSloot helped build a new event center for the 4-H Program and other events at the Bonneville County Fairgrounds.
Melaleuca also contributed $2.3 million to expand the Shelley sewer system, leading to economic development in the area.
Teresa McKnight, CEO of REDI, was proud to award VanderSloot with the distinction: “We cannot thank Frank enough for his heartfelt contributions, many made in private, across our region,” she said. “Frank is a great role model, true innovator, and builder of ecosystems — systems that make the Eastern Idaho region a great place to live and work.”
Few have done more to help the economic vibrancy of the East Idaho economy than Frank VanderSloot, McKnight pointed out. His contributions to East Idaho are many. Although he is certainly a worthy recipient of this rare and prestigious award, VanderSloot isn’t a philanthropist for the honor. He is driven by a desire to make East Idaho a great place to live, to lift others, and to ensure that opportunities are plentiful for Idahoans.