Bob and Kay Neal: Eat ice cream and love your community

December 29, 2023

Kay and Bob Neal

Bob and Kay Neal: Eat ice cream and love your community

Foundation Focus is a presentation of the Community Foundation for Mason County in partnership with Mason County Press.

LUDINGTON — Bob and Kay Neal’s many accomplishments, dedication to community development, and faith have led them to name the Community Foundation for Mason County as a beneficiary of a charitable account. Bob and Kay’s gift will create an unrestricted fund to support the greatest needs and opportunities in Mason County. Just like their story, the Bob and Kay Neal Fund will have an impact on this community forever.

Fateful Beginnings

No one could have predicted Bob and Kay would someday be partners in life — and ice cream — when Bob’s father rented a room from Kay’s grandmother on Rowe Street in the 1940s.

Fateful moments followed Bob throughout most of his young life, from catching fire at age 4 to surviving a truck accident that landed him in a full-body cast as a teenager. Along the way, he learned how to make ice cream — a business that would propel the military school and Michigan State University graduate into a life punctuated by adversity and, eventually, prosperity.

Kay grew up two blocks from Park Dairy, which later became House of Flavors. She remembers seeing the “Neal boy” cruise through town in the summertime. She also remembers playing “ice cream store” with her sisters at the dining room table and going to Park Dairy to buy gum ball machine trinkets with loose change. “To think that I ended up being Queen of the Ice Cream Parlor is kind of unbelievable,” Kay said.

Bob’s father, Robert, Sr., who purchased Park Dairy in 1948, offered him a job as the plant manager for $100 a week and 20% of Park Dairy in 1962. He oversaw three employees; the small business produced a half gallon of ice cream every 10 seconds. Bob and his dad changed the company name to Ludington’s iconic “House of Flavors” in 1964.

Bob had three children with his first wife and continued to expand the ice cream business. Kay lost her father shortly before her 18th birthday, married her high school sweetheart, and immediately started a family.

Eventually, Bob and Kay married in 1974 and formed their own “Brady Bunch” family, blending Bob’s three kids with Kay’s four.

Adversity, Hard Work, and Prosperity

Despite hardships, losses, a changing market, and land and zoning disputes with the city, the business “just kept growing, growing, growing,” Bob said.

Bob’s nickname, “Scoops,” fits his career, through which he and his team of employees created a powerhouse in the industry, making the sweet treat for private labels big and small, turning what was the local Park Dairy into the state’s largest ice cream manufacturer. Want a taste of House of Flavors ice cream when you’re traveling? Go to any Aldi’s or pick up Ashby’s Sterling, among the dozens of private-label ice creams produced by House of Flavors in Ludington.

“We both have landed on our feet multiple times through difficult times,” Kay said.

The Neals sold their shares of House of Flavors to Protein Holdings in 1999. Bob and Kay said they are both proud to have sold to a Christian-based company that makes “a difference in God’s world.” Since that sale, the company’s beneficiary, the Protein Foundation, has continued to tithe its profits worldwide, but especially in Mason County and neighboring counties.

The restaurant portion of House of Flavors is now owned by Bob’s son, Barry and his wife Cindy. It continues to be one of Ludington’s top tourist destinations. In 2016, House of Flavors Restaurant made national news when it achieved the Guinness World Record for longest frozen dessert, forming a 2,970 foot ice cream sundae on Ludington Avenue.

Bob and Kay’s impact is evident throughout the community. Bob, with close friends Pete Heyse and the late Dr. Scott Rose and others, imagined and helped bring to life the annual Ludington Lakestride. Bob worked with the Ludington Chamber of Commerce, now the Chamber Alliance for Mason County, and, more than 30 years ago, helped secure the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Charity Basketball Tournament for Ludington.

The Neals’ real estate investments have transformed the appearance and economy of downtown Ludington, from donating land to starting and growing businesses to fostering space for the arts. When the members of the United Methodist Church of Ludington were ready to build a new home, Bob and Kay chaired fundraising for a new building, purchased the old church building, and gifted it to become what is now the Ludington Area Center for the Arts.

Their work leaves a lasting impression.

“It’s been very joyful for both of us to see the positive improvements and the impact that we’ve been able to make in our little town,” Kay said.

An Incredible Life and Legacy

If ice cream production is any measure of success, Bob and Kay have come a long way. Today, the company employs more than 250 people – including a chaplain who supports valued employees – and produces 100,000 gallons of ice cream a day. “We’ve had just an incredible life,” Kay said. “God has been so good to us.”

Skiing has been a significant part of Bob and Kay’s lives, leading them to spend 23 winters in Colorado. Now they winter in Florida, but no matter where they’ve traveled, “Nothing is as good as where we live,” Bob said.

The Neals wanted to continue their legacy of loving this community when they named the Community Foundation as a beneficiary of a charitable account. They know that an unrestricted fund will support Mason County’s greatest needs and opportunities in perpetuity. “Because we’ve been blessed, we want to support organizations that will help others be blessed,” Bob said.

How can you help this community? In typical “Scoops” fashion, Bob advised, “Eat ice cream.”

You can also help by contacting the Community Foundation to talk about giving back to the community you love! To learn how you can name the Foundation as a beneficiary on one of your accounts, reach out to Andrea Large at alarge@cffmc.org or 231.845.0326.

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