Archive | February, 2011

Clara Stover

13 Feb

"I love you" is now said with dental bills

This Valentine’s Day, the odds are good that you’ll succumb to the temptations of a Missouri Woman.  And they’ll probably be in a heart-shaped box.  Starting from next to nothing, chocolate queen Clara Stover went on to redefine how the world says “I love you”. 

She was born Clara Lewis, in rural Iowa in 1882.  Her parents were farmers, but she had bigger dreams.  Over her father’s objections, she borrowed tuition money and moved to Iowa City to study music.  There she met Russell Stover.  He had just dropped out of college to become a candy and tobacco salesman.  But Russell was also a big dreamer, and the two hit it off.

Clara and Russell married in 1911 and, as a wedding gift, received… a farm.  In Canada.  Needless to say, that didn’t go well.  Russell and Clara soon returned to the States, where Russell went back to learning the business of candy.  He and Clara began their own confectionery experiments in their Chicago apartment, using “a large marble slab, some kettles, and a garden spade”.  History does not relate the purpose of the garden spade; we can only presume it was used for nougat mining.

While Russell was busy introducing the world to the Eskimo Pie, Clara was growing more and more skilled in the art of dipping chocolates.  She and Russell had been selling these sweets on the weekends, for extra cash.  In 1923, they decided to make them their main focus.  They moved to Denver and opened “Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies”.  Clara became president and secretary of the new business, continuing to work out of her own kitchen.  Somehow, she also found time to raise five orphans and her adopted daughter, Gloria.

Clara Stover

The chocolates were immediately and wildly popular.  To keep up with demand, the Stovers opened a factory in Denver.  And then another in Kansas City.  Clara now spent most of her time travelling around the country, supervising production and scouting out new candy innovations.  By 1929, Russell and Clara owned two factories, some twenty-five stores, and a fleet of motorcycles with houses on them.  Nothing could stop the Stovers, short of a catastrophic economic collapse… Oh, right.  1929.

When the stock market crashed, it hit Clara and Russell hard.  They lost their house in Denver, their luxury apartment in Chicago, and half of their stores.  But their loss was Missouri’s gain.  The Stovers moved their headquarters to Kansas City, determined to cut costs and rebuild their chocolate empire.  They succeeded, but somewhere along the way, Clara’s name was taken off the candy box.  The newly organized company was simply called “Russell Stover”.  Clara was no less active, though.  After Russell’s death in 1954, she ran the company by herself for another seven years.  Clara died in 1975, at age 93.

Yes, their tombs do look disturbingly like their candy boxes.

If you want to pay Valentine’s Day respects to Clara, you can visit her tomb in Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Kansas City.  And if you don’t mind crossing the state line (and feeling extremely poor), you can also drive by the Stover Mansion in Mission Hills, Kansas. 

Alternately, you could just keep shoving your face full of chocolate.

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