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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 4, 2003

Walter Lappert, ice cream magnate, dead at 82

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Walter Lappert, 82, the ice cream magnate with an Ernest Hemingway look and a Kangol hat, died Monday.

Walter Lappert went to Kaua'i to ease into retirement, but ended up building an ice cream empire, with stores in six states.

Advertiser library photo • 1990

Lappert arrived on Kaua'i in 1983 ostensibly to retire, but he set about building an ice cream empire instead, using what he said were old family recipes for super-rich ice creams with butterfat ratios of 16 percent to 18 percent.

Later, he added sorbets made of fruit purée and cane syrup. Then he rolled out his line of Lappert's coffees. Some shops also sell shave ice and baked goods.

He sold them initially out of his small factory along Kaumuali'i Highway in Hanapepe, then through Lappert-brand shops — dozens of them in Hawai'i, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. There are also franchises in Japan.

Lappert's white-bearded face is found on every container of his products, which according to one report generated $12 million a year. For more than a decade, many of the photos included Lappert in his white beard and cap, carrying a walking stick and accompanied by his black Labrador, Maxi, who died this summer.

Former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka recalls going on visitor promotion trips with Lappert. "He contributed all the ice cream, and we were always very popular when he was along. Everyone recognized that profile," Kusaka said.

Lappert was an international man. He spoke a half-dozen languages "and he loved to tell jokes in all those languages," said his companion of six years, Jacquelyn Ruskjer.

He was born March 22, 1921, in the Austro-Hungarian empire and was raised partly in Prague, where he and his sister regularly visited an ice cream shop that served as the pattern for Lappert's ice cream.

After World War II, he moved to South America, where he marketed liquors in Venezuela. He later ran a crepe shop in San Francisco and a fish-and-chips shop in Sausalito, Calif.

Lappert's move to Kaua'i, which he first visited in 1972, was to be semi-retirement, but his flair for foods and promotion quickly took hold.

He is survived by sons Michael of California, Patrick of Nebraska and Brendan of Michigan; daughter Julie Lucas; 13 grandchildren; a sister, Edith Cohen; former wives Eileen Lappert of California and Mary Pratt; and companion Jacquelyn Ruskjer.

A private family memorial has been held; a public memorial is to be announced.