How the pandemic revealed some hidden family business gems

By Caru U. Rock

This March marks the one-year anniversary of Family Business Magazine’s shift to remote work following the outbreak of Covid. Our team pivoted well, moving to a virtual environment as seamlessly as possible. Our suite of conferences shifted from in-person to virtual events. We increased our communications and leaned into technology. In many ways, this made us smarter and more nimble. And, like many of you, we excelled.

Most of us quarantined in our homes, and this isolation had some practical applications when it came to long-overdue projects like decorating rooms, updating bedding and baths, pantry culling and the much-dreaded attic decluttering.

My attic was overflowing with my grown children’s third-grade art, geography projects, old sporting equipment and baseball awards (for third place). The clutter also provided a historical look at fashion. I unearthed 30 years of clothing, each decade represented by its signature trend. Remember shoulder pads? I also uncovered a lot of magic in that attic — family heirlooms from generations on both sides of the family. Interestingly, I had post-Civil War items from the Southern contingent as well as antiques from the Northern side.

I sifted through mountains of hand-painted porcelain, decorative collectibles, antique furniture, old letters and photos. I reached out to my sons to see what part of this multigenerational treasure trove they wanted to keep. It turns out they didn’t want much of it. I tried to contain my disappointment. But, as they were quick to explain, young families today want simplicity, in look and in maintenance.

All was not lost, however. My sons had a keen interest in our family business’s artifacts — and we had plenty of those. Our family business was cereal and flour — Wheatena and Maypo hot cereals and Ceresota and Heckers flour. These legacy brands had a rich history and plenty of stories to tell. These stories were told in the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal and other magazines of the time. I have framed copies of these full-page ads, as well as old trade cards, advertising mementos, needlepoint kits and promotional dolls. Many items date back to the turn of the 20th century. Some of you may recall our family business mascot, Markie Maypo. The ads featured Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris crying, “I want my Maypo.” I had several of these famous photos and advertisements in my attic.

My children connected to these pieces of history because they are a part of our family and our family’s lore. To them, our brands are a key to understanding and appreciating the heritage of our family business. Heirlooms and memorabilia make time and history tangible to future generations. Some family companies even set up a museum or a room with their memorabilia for NextGens to learn about the family history. I am pleased to see our artifacts are now part of a permanent collection on my sons’ walls and are hanging in our office as badges of success, survival and history.

Holding tight to these treasures is essential, and I imagine my sons will pass these items down to their children. However, I do hope the pendulum swings back in time for the grandchildren to want the antique brown furniture.


March/April 2021

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