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UIS will award honorary degree to Dairy Queen visionary

December 2, 2005

SPRINGFIELD – The University of Illinois at Springfield will award an Honorary Doctor of Letters to Gilbert N. Stein of Springfield, the man who helped elevate Dairy Queen to worldwide status in the 1960s.

UIS is honoring Stein in recognition of his role in helping to create International Dairy Queen in 1962.  As the first president of IDQ, Stein became known as a visionary in the business world because of his innovative franchising, marketing, and mentoring skills and solutions.

Stein, who will celebrate his 92nd birthday on Saturday (December 3), will receive the honorary degree from UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen and UIS Provost Harry Berman during a private ceremony on December 16.  He will also be invited to take part in the university’s graduation ceremony in May.

“The university wants to recognize Mr. Stein for his perseverance in overcoming difficult times, technological challenges, and changing society and market cultures to build Dairy Queen into an international enterprise,” Ringeisen said.  “In doing so, he made significant contributions to the world of business with his innovative approaches, unwavering determination, and boundless energy.”

“We also want to honor him because he values higher education but was not able to obtain a formal university education during his youth because of the economic obstacles posed by the Depression,” said Ringeisen.

While in high school, Stein started in the raw milk business in the basement of his father’s farm near Canton, Illinois. “I figured I could pay Dad more for his milk than he was getting and at the same time make myself a profit by selling it to the Canton housewives, working before and after school hours,” Stein said in an article in Tracings published in the 1960s by Beck Vanilla Products Co. of East St. Louis.

Stein’s business increased immediately in spite of the Depression. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was delivering 200 quarts of milk per day in his Model T Ford to Canton households.  His desire to “go to the state university to take a four-year course in dairy manufacturers,” was thwarted by his early success in business and lack of reserve capital, although he did take a series of dairy short courses.

On a visit to Moline, Illinois, in 1945, Stein saw the original Dairy Queen store and became interested because of his previous success in selling soft-serve ice cream in his Canton sales business. The operation so appealed to him that he opened his first Dairy Queen Store at Normal, Illinois, in 1946. His franchises covered 63 counties in central and southern Illinois. Then in 1951, he located his office and mix plant in Springfield and bought the franchise rights for 21 more counties in northern Illinois in 1957. He also acquired the franchise rights for two-thirds of the state of Missouri in 1960.

Stein’s dream of being one of a group that would some day buy the international franchise came true in 1962 when he and four partners acquired the international and national franchise from the Hugh McCullough family.  IDQ represented the interests of about 3,400 Dairy Queen stores throughout the world and controlled 150 “Brazier” stores in 20 states.   In 1998, IDQ and its subsidiary companies were purchased by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Stein’s daughter, Phyllis Fairchild, is president of Capital Dairy Queen Incorporated in Springfield. She said her father still comes to work every day.

Stein’s wife, Frances, died in 2002.  His son, Charles, is in the restaurant business in California.

 

    The University of Illinois at Springfield, one of three U of I campuses, is a small, public liberal arts university that offers 42 degree programs – 21 bachelor’s, 20 master’s, and the Doctorate of Public Administration. UIS has a special mission in public affairs and service and is known for extraordinary internships, a wireless campus, extensive online offerings, and a commitment to teaching.
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