Eric Jones, 30-year veteran Union Carpenter and the youngest grandchild of Popcorn celebrity and Valparaiso legend, Orville Redenbacher, has a lot of fond memories of his grandfather and growing up in Valpo. As we move towards the 39th Annual Popcorn Fest here in Valparaiso, he thought it would be nice to speak about What his grandfather means to him and the community as a whole.
“We were close my whole life, even when in the 70’s he exploded on the scene, he was still just Grandpa,” said Jones as he recollected his time with his grandfather, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 88.
As kids, growing up in Valparaiso with their grandfather, Jones recalls time spent with him and the other grandchildren in his grandparents’ home in Coolwood Acres across from Strack and Van Til on US 30.
“He had a basement down there, and he used to churn homemade ice cream for us. I remember that from when we were really little. It’s one of the earliest memories I have of him,” said Jones, who was one of 12 grandchildren waiting for a scoop of homemade ice cream.
He may have been known as the “Popcorn King” by many, but to his grandchildren like Jones, he was just grandpa, and the memories were much more varied. Sometimes it is the little details that stick out and make the memory richer. For instance, Jones spoke of details he recalled about Redenbacher’s yard, full of trees and giant leaf rakes that were four feet wide and playing shuffleboard in his basement. Jones keeps those memories a little closer to home as well, as he is the only remaining grandchild still in Valparaiso, and his mother the only remaining of the three daughters.
Jones could also remember the quintessential family memories of everyone gathering for Christmas and other important events. His grandmother wanted the family around for the Holidays, so all three daughters and 12 grandchildren would crowd into their home to celebrate and enjoy their time together for a few days.
“He wrapped a lot of gifts for us; he was very, very generous. He treated all the kids so great. It was just family; it wasn’t the Popcorn King,” Jones said of those occasions. This was typical of Redenbacher, who kept the business side of his life generally separate from family life according to Jones. Though the family did get free popcorn, which Jones enjoyed, though that has since ended.
When the Popcorn business took off, though, it certainly did influence the lives of the family in some ways, and the creation of Popcorn Fest was certainly a testament to the lasting change Jones’ grandfather would make in his public life in the community of Valparaiso.
“He was very, very proud of it. Very Proud,” said Jones of how his grandfather reacted to the initial event which started out as Orville Redenbacher Recognition Day in 1979.
“He was proud; he was humble, you know, that they recognized him and all his hard work with Charlie Bowman. It was pretty cool,” said Jones.
This was not unusual of his grandfather, as Jones could attest. His general demeanor and attitude towards life was very positive and well-grounded according to the grandson.
“He was funny, he smiled all the time and he was always very generous with his time,” Jones recalled, “If we were out in public with him he would talk and give out autographs to every single person. Any single person that came up, he was always open to talk and discuss it. He was popcorn. That was his thing.”
Still, though all of Redenbacher’s grandchildren don’t attend Popcorn Fest every year, they do keep his memory with them in different ways. Jones’ mother has a collection of her father’s bowties and Jones himself has Orville Playing Cards and, curiously, an Orville Redenbacher Magic Kit in a tin box. The kit was made by a promotional company for Redenbacher to convince him to market it, but it is one of a kind.
Though Redenbacher didn’t go for the magic kit, Jones said that part of his success was in how he was marketed and how he represented his business to the public.
“If you were to go back and watch the commercials in the early 70s when he first really started, they marketed it so well. It was easy to market him because what you saw was what he was,” said Jones of his grandfather’s genuine personality. “That was not an actor, that was grandpa on those commercials, the way he acted, smiled and talked. That’s the way he was. He was genuine. Just a guy from Southern Indiana, graduated from Purdue and worked hard.”
Now, Jones works on high rises in Chicago in his career as a carpenter, “It’s exciting out there. Things are booming,” Jones says of his own work, quite removed from the world of popcorn.
However, it isn’t so far removed in a way, as a lot of Redenbacher has certainly trickled down to Jones in his life growing up around the Popcorn King.
“He was definitely a role model. His work ethic influenced me for sure. You could never put enough effort into it, always give it your best. That definitely transferred down to me and to probably all of my cousins and sisters,” said Jones of the lasting, personal impact Redenbacher has left on the family.