Many Osborne County natives have left the county and gone on to fame and fortune in several fields. The story of confectioner Russell William Stover began on the Kansas prairie south of Alton in 1886. His parents, John and Emma Stover, bought the northeast quarter of Section 28 in Mount Ayr Township of Osborne County and moved into a sod house.
Two Stover children were born during the family’s stay in Kansas. Jeremiah was born in December 1886, but died the following July and lies buried in Osborne County’s Pleasant Plain Cemetery, and younger brother Russell was born May 6, 1888.
Russell was only a year and a half old when his father grew discouraged with their Osborne County homestead and decided to take the family back to Iowa. In Iowa Stover attended country school and the Iowa City Academy. After one year of pharmacy study at the University of Iowa he moved to Chicago, Illinois, and went to work for the American Tobacco Company.
On June 17, 1911, he married Clara Lewis. Their wedding present was a 580-acre farm in Saskatchewan Province, Canada. A year on the farm taught Stover that he would never be a farmer. He sold the farm and over the next nine years the Stovers lived in Winnipeg, Canada; Chicago; and Des Moines, Iowa. They attempted twice to start their own candy-making business but failed.
In 1921 Russell Stover was head of candy operations for the Graham Ice Cream Company when he formed a partnership with Chris Nelson to market Nelson’s invention, the Eskimo Pie – the original ice cream bar. Sales over the next two years exceeded six million dollars. But in 1923 Stover sold his share in the phenomenon for only thirty thousand dollars. The Eskimo Pie was, unfortunately, easily duplicated and all the profit had been lost in lawsuits against illegal competitors.
1923 also saw the Stovers moved to Denver, Colorado, where they once again attempted to start their own candy-making business. This time the company was a success. “Mrs. Stover’s Bungalow Candies” grew quickly into five outlets in the Denver area. In 1943 the company moved its headquarters to Kansas City, Missouri, and changed its name to “Russell Stover Candies.” Today Russell Stover Candies remains the largest producer of fine-boxed chocolates in the United States, with retail shops in all fifty states and Canada.
In addition to overseeing his company, Russell Stover was involved in numerous civic and national organizations. In 1946 the confectioner industry voted him their Candy Kettle Award for lifetime achievement. Stover passed away suddenly in Miami, Florida, on May 11, 1954, at the age of sixty-eight.
Russell’s wife, Clara, published his biography, The Life of Russell Stover: An American Success Story, in 1957. She sold the company in 1960. Upon Clara’s death on January 9, 1975 she was interred with her husband Russell in the Mount Moriah Cemetery at Kansas City, Missouri.