painter Benjamin Knox, the unveiling of new sculptures by prominent artists
Veryl Goodnight and Robert Hogan, and to top it all off, a gigantic birthday party
with over 30,000 in attendance during July in Brenham, home of Blue Bell for the
past 100 years.
One of most attention-
getting features of the
celebration has been
named the Blue Bell 100
Years Tour, includes a
wheeler which features
presentations of the
history, how ice cream
is made, and a taste-
tempting display of the
current lineup of Blue
The story of Blue Bell is begin the Brenham Creamery Company to make butter from excess cream
one of the great
stories with almost-
how several local
farmers decided to
produced by area farms. Several years later the creamery decided to start making
ice cream, delivering it to neighbors by horse and wagon, and during 1930 the
company changed its name to Blue Bell Creameries after the native Texas
Today, the company is ranked among the top three best-selling ice cream
producers in the country, and the company’s ice creams have been enjoyed in
such far-reaching and notable places as the International Space Station
(“Houston, we need more Rocky Road!”) and at Camp David (Texas presidents are
naturally partial to Texas ice cream). Along the way, as of 1997, Blue Bell’s
Homemade Vanilla became the best-selling single flavor of ice cream in the
Central to the year-long celebrations are members of the Kruse family, offspring
of E. F. Kruse, a 23-year-old former schoolteacher, who took over the financially
troubled company in 1919 and helmed the creamery until his death in 1951 when
his sons Ed and Howard took over leadership of the company. Paul, Ed's son, has
been CEO since 2004 of the privately-held company in which employees own 40
percent of the stock of the remarkable business that has never had a layoff and
has almost always been led by a Kruse.
Ed, E. F.’s oldest son, started working the summer of 1941 (he was thirteen at the
time), served as CEO from 1951 until 1993, and continues today as Chairman of
the Board. He is a vibrant, living history of the company who loves to share the
story of “The Little Creamery in Brenham” as no one else can.
MyBestYear.com caught up with Ed recently to both reminisce and look forward
as the company celebrates its 100th anniversary:
MBY: Blue Bell has become such an
important part of the Brenham
community and the Texas tradition,
how did you end up building your
EK: We started near Brenham in 1907,
then it grew slowly for a long time. It has
not always been easy. For instance,
we had a real tough time just prior to
World War I, but then things picked up
afterward. Over the years we added on to the plant at various times. By the time we
became known outside of the Brenham area, we had gotten fairly good sized, so it would
have never been an easy job to pick everything up and move it to a major city, as so many
MBY: One can only imagine what the “experts” told you as you began to expand.
EK: There were times back in the Fifties when I even thought, “I wish we had started over in
Houston and grown with it.” Then, as time went on, I realized how happy I was that we
started and stayed out in the country. One of the main reasons is that we have been able
to get such good people to be part of our company.
MBY: That’s incredibly important, isn’t it?
EK: No matter how you get around it, we are an ice cream business, of course, but we are
mainly a people business, and we feel that we have the finest employees in the world.
MBY: What have been the biggest challenges in the 100 year anniversary of Blue Bell?
EK: There were a lot of challenges through the years. During my dad’s time, when he took
over the management, the company had lost money for three years in a row. In order to try
to keep the company from not looking bad, he didn’t cash his paycheck for six months. It
kept the company in the black, but it was an awfully big challenge for him.
MBY: He must have been an exceptional man. What kind of a man was he, and what did
you learn from your father?
EK: He was a pretty special guy. He went to college and got a degree in education and had
an offer to become the Superintendent of Burton Schools. Then the men who owned Blue
Bell were looking for a manager and asked him if he would take over the operation.
MBY: Even though he had no experience with dairies or creameries?
EK: None at all. However, they saw that he was a highly moral man with an impeccable
reputation. He believed in hard work and clean living. He definitely passed these values on
to our family and the people who worked with him.
MBY: You started with the company at 13. What did you and your brother Howard do at
EK: Everything that needed to be done. We cleaned. We helped with the laundry. We
bagged and made popsicles, fudgesicles and ice cream sandwiches. We both liked making
butter because that was a sit-down job.
MBY: What kind of money did you make then?
EK: A dime an hour, $4.80 a week. Out of that we paid a nickel to Social Security, $2.75 to
Mother for groceries, and we each had two dollars left for spending money. I remember
working all summer long and ending up with a total of $26.00, and it definitely taught us the
value of a dollar.
MBY: Since so much of your life was centered around Blue Bell, you got to see your father
up-close. You have mentioned that he believed in hard work and clean living. How did that
EK: He believed that an idle mind was the devil's workshop, so he saw to it that we stayed
busy. That has definitely carried over, and the family has stayed very busy our whole lives.
MBY: What was his leadership style?
EK: He mainly set such a great example. He was at the Blue Bell office every morning six
days a week before 7:30. He always worked until 6 o'clock. On Sundays he received cream
because the farmers brought it in on Sunday just like other days.
MBY: What was he like on a personal level?
EK: In my entire life I never heard him use any type of vulgarity. He believed in setting the
example of being a person of character, truth and integrity to the family. That was such a
tremendous influence on us. He was very, very firm, but he was also a very, very loving
individual. I remember him walking through the plant and hearing someone using an
expletive, and he just looked at the person and said, “Does that really help you do the
job?" That’s all he would need to say. I had a good deal of respect for him in so many
different levels, and I’ve tried to carry on his legacy.
MBY: Was it a challenge to work so closely with your brother, especially when the helm
passed to you in 1951?
EK: We’re both strong and independent, but we also grew up very close as kids. We
played softball and hunted together. We slept in the same double bed all our lives until we
got married. We have remained very close through the years.
MBY: That kind of family closeness seems woven into the fabric of Blue Bell and has
helped you survive some of the things that could have stopped you. Let’s go back again to
some of the challenges you had to face once you became part of the company. You
mentioned the challenges right before World War I. What major challenges did you face
during World War II?
EK: Those were tough years, too. You couldn’t hire anybody. All the controls were in
place—rationing on gasoline, butter, sugar, automobiles, tires. All the metal was being
used to make planes, ships, tanks, guns, and so forth, so you couldn’t get parts for the
equipment. Wages were frozen, so you couldn’t give raises to anyone, no matter how
deserving they were. There aren’t too many people living today who can really understand
what it was like with all the controls.
MBY: How about the challenges that came later? How did the 1970s and the gas shortages
EK: The Seventies were pretty so we can nail down the loan for this new building we’ve started.” They said, “Well, we’ve
tough, but it wasn’t just about the
fuel. Back in 1971, we were
getting ready to build our new
plant, and I had a verbal
commitment with one of the major
banks in Houston. I knew them
pretty well, I thought. We started
turning dirt here and building a
plant that was going to cost
several million dollars. As we got
started, I called the bank and
said, “I need to come to Houston
been thinking about that, and we don’t know how to run an ice cream plant.” I knew what
MBY: Uh oh!
EK: It blew me out of the saddle. I was still relatively young and naïve, so I had taken them
at their word. Well, we had to get to work and do something else. But in a way it was a
blessing in disguise, because we had to sell some stock and do some creative financing.
We were successful, and it all turned out okay. We just had to work extra hard to overcome
the obstacles we suddenly faced.
MBY: There had to be major challenges simply because of geography, since you weren’t in
a large metropolitan area.
EK: At one time, we had nearly
thirty competitors we ran into
anytime we went into places like
Houston and Dallas. There were
ice cream plants in Waco, Lufkin,
Temple, several companies in
Austin, El Campo…they were
everywhere, it seemed. Slowly
they began selling out, going
bankrupt, or quit. We mainly
managed to survive some of
those tough times as the
competition got weeded out.
MBY: And you are obviously thriving today!
EK: We think we are. We sure want to keep it that way.
MBY: If this is a dream, don’t wake me up, right?
MBY: We’ve talked about some of the major challenges. What about some of the major
victories along the way?
EK: Going into the Houston market was a big victory. There were so many good
competitors there. They told the grocers, “Why buy from a company where the ice cream is
made `way out there in the country when you can get home-made product right here in
Houston?” They had a point, but we turned it around and said, “Buy from us because we
are from `way out in the country! The ice cream is so much better from up in the rolling hills
of Washington County where everything is wholesome and good!” Still, we couldn’t get a
lot of business there, but the big break when we sold to a store called Sacco’s. We got to
be pretty popular in one area of Houston, then the manager at Weingarten’s called from
the Post Oak area and said, “I want your ice cream in here!” At the time they were the
biggest chain in the city. I said, “Well, do you have authority from the home office? In the
past they didn’t want us to call on the individual stores.” He said, “I run my own
store…bring the ice cream!” We did, and it went from one store to another. At the time
Weingarten’s had 104 stores in five states, then sold to Grand Union, who resold the
stores to Safeway, Randall’s and Gerland’s Food Fair. It was a great breakthrough for us.
MBY: And you never looked back, right?
EK: I think it was Satchel Paige, the baseball legend, who said, “Don’t look back because
they might be gaining on you.”
MBY: You have become such an important part of the Brenham and Washington County
as one of the largest employers in the region and the main customer of the dairies. Then
you have the other two manufacturing facilities in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and
Sylacauga, Alabama, as well as 46 sales and distribution centers spread throughout your
17-state market. With 2,900 employees, 850 in Brenham alone, that has to be a lot of
weight on your shoulders.
EK: We see it as a responsibility, of course,
but it is also a tremendous opportunity. The
Chamber of Commerce says for every dollar
you bring in, it turns over seven times. So if
you apply that to Blue Bell, we're going into the
billions of dollars that are being turned over
from this industry in this community. And so it
has just a tremendous affect. It takes 60,000
cows to produce the milk we use on a daily
basis, and that means a lot of feed and support
for the agricultural community, as well. It’s very
rewarding, even though there is a lot of
responsibility that goes with it.
MBY: Well, the 100th Anniversary of Blue Bell
is a great time to look back and look forward. It
has been a huge success, so far. With the
traveling exhibit, the commemorative book and all the festivities, what has stood out as that
one moment when it really hit you how special the anniversary celebration is to you,
EK: We’ve had a lot of those moments, all right. We had a couple of nights here at the
Brenham plant where we celebrated and a lot of dignitaries were invited. Former President
George Bush made a video for us and we played it—very complimentary to Blue Bell, the
Kruse family and all of our workers. That was a very nice moment and a great testimonial
to free enterprise and what makes our country so great.
MBY: Looking ahead, what is in the future for Blue Bell?
EK: I hope the company continues to grow and prosper. I am no longer active in the
management of the company, but I serve as Chairman of the Board. We want to merit the
plaudits that people give us. We mainly want to have a good company made up of good
people who enjoy working here. We have built a nice legacy, and I’d sure like to see it
MBY: Where do you see your company growing?
EK: We aren’t all over the nation. We are in part or all of seventeen states, primarily in the
Southeast, Southwest and Midwest. We aren’t truly international, but we sell products into
Mexico and Puerto Rico, and we have a distributor who takes our ice creams into Qatar,
Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.
MBY: What are the most interesting stories about people doing unusual things to get their
favorite Blue Bell Ice Cream?
EK: I can’t even start to tell all the stories we get about people getting ice cream shipped
overnight, or getting up in the middle of the night to drive somewhere to buy some ice
cream. I go fishing to Alaska once a year, and each time I take a cooler with me because
the people up there at the fishing camp just love it, and they can’t get it. We get lots of
funny stories about people transporting it. Actually, I’d like to get it transported a lot more
MBY: What’s the most
unusual flavor, whether it
sold well or not, that Blue
Bell has tried.
EK: Two flavors come to
mind…we made them as
dipping parlors. They were
more of a conversation
piece than a great flavor.
I don’t really care for either
one, but lots of people still
talk about them. One was
dill pickle flavor and the other
MBY: One final question that has to be asked of a man who has spent his lifetime with a
company that makes some of the best ice cream in the world: What is your favorite flavor,
and you aren’t allowed to say vanilla?
EK: Actually, Blue Bell’s Homemade Vanilla really is still my favorite. Other than that, I really
like our Butter Pecan, Rocky Road, and Mocha Almond Fudge. We have so many great
flavors. And I still eat ice cream virtually every day. We have an ice cream dip shop here at
the plant, and I go out there and taste some. It never, ever gets old to me.
MBY: Nor, apparently, to the millions of people who have made your company one of the
top three in the country. In fact, we are likely to cause a stampede in ice cream stores all
over the place after INTERVIEW SPOTLIGHT readers go through your list of tantalizing
descriptions of favorite Blue Bell flavors…
EK: Please do…get more than one! (laughs)
Blue Bell is now a down-home Texas institution that has become a popular family-
friendly destination for well over 100,000 people each year from all over the
nation and many foreign countries. For a nominal admission price, the customer
gets a tour of the factory where, as the Kruses say, “the milk is so fresh it was
grass only yesterday” gets transformed into the unforgettable ice cream that
“hooks you from the first spoonful” (according to the New York Times, no less!).
Best of all, at the end of the tour, you get to sample the tasty frozen treat named
by Forbes Magazine as “the best ice cream in the country!”
And if you hurry, you can help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the “Little
Creamery in Brenham!”
Blue Bell Creameries in the small south central
Texas town of Brenham celebrates its 100th
anniversary this year!
Activities have already included a traveling
historical exhibit, a “Taste of the Country” flavor-
naming contest (Mary Jane Hegley of South
Carolina won the Grand Prize with umm-good
“Southern Hospitality”), special anniversary ice
cream flavors (Century Sundae and Anniversary
Cake!), a Texas historical marker, a
commemorative 160-page coffee-table book about
the company (Blue Bell Ice Cream: A Century at the
Little Creamery in Brenham, Texas 1907-2007,
written by remarkable author Dorothy McLeod
MacInerney), an original work of art by renowned
...Blue Bell Ice Cream Makers Mark 100 Memorable Years
|E. F. Kruse led "The
Little Creamery in
Brenham" for 32 years
|Ed (left) and Howard
Kruse, legacy builders
of the remarkable
|A sculpture of
E.F. Kruse and his two
sons, Ed Kruse and
Howard Kruse, by the
Dallas artist Robert
Hogan. The sculpture
shows the three men
looking over a
clipboard. Ed and
Howard, as young men,
are receiving direction
from their father.
|Paul Krause, Blue Bell
CEO since 2004.
E.F. Krause managed
the Creamery from 1919
until his death in 1951.
Ed managed the
1951-1993 and Howard
served as president
|What better way to celebrate Blue
Bell's 100th Anniversary than with
delicious ice cream?
|In honor of the company’s 100th Anniversary,
Blue Bell Creameries introduced two new ice
cream flavors, Century Sundae and Anniversary
Cake. Yes, both flavors are every bit as
memorable as the names imply!
|A special dedication
ceremony was held at
Blue Bell Creameries to
unveil the company's
Texas Historical Marker
granted by the Texas
in recognition of the
company's 100 years
and feature for
by bestselling author
by Benjamin Knox from
College Station, Texas
|Painting of the Traveling
|A statue of the famous
Blue Bell Cow and Girl
logo by Colorado artist
unveiled as part of the
|Mary Jane Hegley
South Carolina, won the
Celebration Blue Bell
"Taste of the Country
mixture of Homemade
Vanilla Ice Cream with
and a strawberry
|Want to read more
about the company?
Click below to go to
Amazon.com to order
book, Blue Bell
Ice Cream: A Century
at the Little Creamery
in Brenham, Texas
|This INTERVIEW SPOTLIGHT from 2007 continues to be a
MyBestYears.com fan favorite, so it is with great sadness we
mention the September 23, 2015, passing of ice cream icon
and former Blue Bell CEO Ed Kruse at the age of 87 after a
lengthy illness. He is survived by his wife Evelyn, a son and
daughter and many grandchildren. He will be remembered as a
food innovator, great community leader, loving husband,
father, grandfather and friend who will be greatly missed.