Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 1, 2011

Good people, good ice cream

One of my tasks as director of the university's Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media is to secure a speaker for the center's annual public lecture. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the center, so it helps if the person is well known. But it also has provided me with the opportunity to meet some interesting people such as former Sen. Bob Dole, TV personality Bill Kurtis, and Marlin Fitzwater, Presidential press secretary for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In a few cases, such as with the late Sen. Paul Simon, I also served as chauffeur and breakfast companion.

In almost every case, I have been struck with how personable and approachable these people were. Sure, one of the keys to their success is possessing exceptional skills in dealing with people. Still, I find it surprising and refreshing.

Husband Art has a story about a similar experience he had a number of years ago when he was at the university. He had won a teaching award and with it came the requirement that he give a five or ten minute speech at the college's commencement. He soon settled on what he felt was an appropriate story to share and then gave the whole matter little additional thought.

On commencement day, he and the others who had official ceremonial roles took their places in the first row of chairs on the McCain Auditorium stage, while the graduates filled in behind them.

As the graduates entered, the fellow to Art's left asked him about his role at the university and followed up with questions about the college. About all Art learned about him before the ceremony began was that he was a past graduate of the College of Engineering and what things were like when he was at K-State.

So it was not until the dean introduced him that Art learned the man he had been chatting with was Tom H. Barrett, the president and later CEO and Chairman of the Board of Goodyear Rubber Company. Barrett was there to receive the college's outstanding achievement award. Art said he never would have guessed from his down-to-earth manner of speaking that he was anything more than an average person.

We had another such experience during the surprise Spring-Break vacation Art arranged for us in Vermont last week. One day, we decided to take the Ben and Jerry's ice cream plant tour.

Making ice cream isn't really very complicated, but Ben and Jerry's story is one of those that just makes you feel good. How can you not like a tale about two guys who met in the seventh grade, became friends, decided after graduating from college to go into business together and ended up becoming successful beyond their wildest dreams? The fact that they learned all they knew about making ice cream from a $5 correspondence course and wanted to be socially responsible in such matters as what employees were paid, how their business affected the environment and where they bought their ingredients makes the story even better.

We arrived at the Waterbury plant about 2:30 p.m. and bought tickets for the 3 p.m. tour. Art spent the time in between watching a video about the trials and tribulations the two had getting the company up and running back in the '70s - a story told primarily through interviews of founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

When the tour was over, we wandered through the gift shop. As Art was passing one of the counters, an employee leaned over and pointed out a fellow chatting with the workers at the welcome desk.

"That's Jerry," he said.

Having watched the video, Art recognized him immediately.

Art then pointed Jerry out to me and our girls. Being the picture-taker that I am, my immediate reaction was to see if he would consent to a photo with the gals. We encouraged younger daughter Katie to ask him, buts she was momentarily overcome with shyness.

So Art went over, put his hand on Jerry's back to catch his attention, and, when he turned around, asked if he'd mind having his picture taken with our gals.

With a big grin, Jerry responded, "Where are they?"

Soon the deed was done, but not before he asked where we were from and why we were in Vermont. He said he had friends in town and, whenever that happens and he isn't sure what to do to entertain them, he suggests a tour of the factory.

"That's always good to kill a couple of hours," he said.

He added that he doesn't usually take the tour himself as he feels that some of the employees may feel he is there to "check up" on them and the last thing he wanted was to make them feel intimidated.

After some additional joking and small talk, we thanked him and left.

In 2000, Ben and Jerry sold the company, leaving them both wealthy. Passing time with five folks from Kansas was unlikely to be of any personal benefit, leading me to conclude that Jerry is just a nice guy.

We entered the "scoop shop" next door to do what one does when excellent ice cream with amusing names such as "Imagine Whirled Peace," "Karamel Sutra" and "Chubby Hubby" are at hand. Art and daughter Katie were still at the window when Jerry came into the area behind the counter.

Pointing at them, he turned to the gal taking the orders and said with a big grin, "Hey, there are my buddies from Kansas!"

Later, after we were on our way, we reflected on our encounter with one of the men responsible for bringing a bit more flavor and fun into the world. We all agreed it had made the ice cream seem even sweeter.

Mariya's partner Lacey, older daughter Mariya, Jerry Greenfield
(Ben and Jerry's co-founder) and daughter Katie in the factory's Welcome area.

Lacey, Mariya, Gloria and Katie in the snowy picnic area outside the factory.

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