Growing up Wawa: Bonnie Collins recalls her childhood on the Pennsylvania dairy farm

By on May 19, 2023

The old Wawa milk truck brings back bygone days. (Photo credit: Hagley Museum and Library)

Before Wawa broke ground in Kill Devil Hills on their first North Carolina location; before they had more than 1,000 stores, before they opened their first store in Folsom, Pennsylvania, Wawa was a thriving dairy farm just outside Media, Pennsylvania.

Bonnie Collins, the wife of noted musician Mojo Collins, knows that because she lived on the farm until she was 12 years old. Her dad, Herbert Dunlap, worked for Wawa delivering milk.

It was the end of an era when her father worked there. At one time, before every store had a dairy department and milk came in square containers, dairy products were delivered fresh every morning in glass bottles to individual homes. By the mid-1950s, that business was dying out and by the early 1960s, it was a thing of the nostalgic past as refrigeration and improved roads and transportation systems meant families didn’t need the daily deliver of milk anymore.

But a few years after WWII, after serving part of his time in the Army in Kitty Hawk, Herbert Dunlap and his family moved back to where he grew up, and he began a career delivering milk for Wawa Dairy.

Wawa headquarters are still there, close by the location of the original dairy, although by the time Collins moved there with her family, the very first Wawa farm was long abandoned. “The old dairy the original dairy, it was an old stone dairy, and it was just a pile of rocks,” she said.

Much of where Collins spent her childhood is now Wawa Preserve, a 75-acre nature preserve, donated by the Woods family that has owned the dairy farm for more than 130 years.

Collins has vivid memories of what it was like growing up on the farm. “It was huge,” she said. “Gosh, it went all the way back to the creek.”  She remembers there were three houses on the lane where they lived—her family’s, “a farmer’s house and one other one. And then, it just was open land all the way up to US 1.”

Her brothers fished in the creek and her dad and brothers, she recalled “hunted back there…It was quiet.”

The farmer’s family lived just up the lane and Collins recalled the first meeting with the family’s youngest son. “His name was Butch. He was about five or six. And he knocked on our door, smoking a cigarette,” she recalled.

He was there asking if they wanted some rabbits, explaining to Collins and her mother that he had some rabbits, but as it turned out, the rabbits pooped a lot. Only his language was far more direct. “I was appalled,” Collins said.

Before refrigeration or pasteurization, the best defense against milk-borne disease was a spotlessly clean dairy and Wawa Dairy established its reputation as a sanitary dairy in the 19th century. Living on the dairy farm, Collin saw firsthand how that tradition was carried on in the 1950s.

“Sometimes my mom and I would go up there to the dairy and…I got to see the big tanks for milk that was pasteurized and homogenized. I still can remember the smell of walking into where they processed milk and what it smelled like. It was all tile, and it was so clean,” she said.

The Wood family that her father worked brings back fond memories.

“They were wonderful people,” she said. “They would have Christmas parties and bring everybody to their home which was lovely. They had taffy pulls for the kids and we got to roast marshmallows. They had gifts for everybody. It was always really, really nice.”

The Dunlap family moved to nearby Wallingford, Pennsylvania in the late 1950s, about the time Collins was 12. The little cottage the Dunlap family lived in is no longer there. Collins’ brother was at Wawa Preserve last September, and he reported that “our old house was just covered with briars and brambles. He could see that there had been structure there. But it’s been long gone.”


  • Bob Sheetz

    The Outer Banks Voice presented by WaWa?

    Friday, May 19 @ 10:10 pm
  • surf123

    Thanks for the great historical WaWa information and the connection to the Outer Banks.

    Saturday, May 20 @ 9:33 am
  • Jeff Walker

    What a wonderful ad for a gas station disguised as journalism. Hope it pays the bills for a good while.

    Saturday, May 20 @ 10:45 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Oh yeah, Jeff, I’m gonna retire and buy my own island now.

    Saturday, May 20 @ 8:56 pm
  • Sandflea

    WAWA…. The official GAS STATION of the Outer Banks. Nothing like free advertising.

    Saturday, May 20 @ 12:31 pm
  • Glenn

    A fun & interesting article…thanks for sharing!

    Saturday, May 20 @ 1:17 pm
  • Bill

    Wawa does have that “homey” feeling. Almost like 7-11.

    Saturday, May 20 @ 4:16 pm
  • surf123

    @Mark Jurkowitz…the haters and naysayers will be buying gas at Wawa when it opens and if not they will be thanking them for forcing the other stations to match their pricing. Wawa is no Target, Marshalls, Staples, Food Lion or any other publicly owned company. It was started by single person and grew slowly over time. They (and Sheetz) have redefined the gas station model by adding legitimate food at more than fair prices.

    Sunday, May 21 @ 9:58 am
  • Wayne

    Yes i’m so excited that Wawa is hear and that mark is happy .You know I bet Kill Devil Hills can Condemn about a dozen homes across 5th street on north corner and put a Sheets home owners will not know what Hit them! KDH Commissioners don’t care about homeowners. They are corrupt as the day is long.

    Sunday, May 21 @ 12:44 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    Hey Wayne, how come my name is capitalized?

    Sunday, May 21 @ 3:14 pm
  • Dan

    Now, if we can get that bridge built and a Wawa up in Corolla!

    Monday, May 22 @ 9:37 am
  • Smokey

    Wayne, I totally agree with you. The kdh commissioners are a joke. Allowing so much inappropriate buildings everywhere. I’m ready to get out of dodge before they allow for more over building.

    Monday, May 22 @ 5:47 pm
  • Smokey

    Wayne, I totally agree with you. KDH commissioners have allowed the developers free range. Time to get them out of office.

    Monday, May 22 @ 5:49 pm