How Krispy Kreme's founder successfully managed business, family and service to his country

The butcher, the baker, the doughnut maker. During World War II they came from all walks of life to serve and protect America through service in Civil Air Patrol.

So was the case with Vernon Rudolph, the man behind Krispy Kreme doughnuts. But Rudolph had more on his plate than CAP and doughnuts; following his wife’s death in a car crash, he also had the care of his 1-year-old daughter.

The businessman

Krispy Kreme was destined to become an international company, but the business was just a few years old when America entered the war. It can be traced back to Kentucky in 1933, when Rudolph’s uncle, Ishmael Armstrong -- with whom Rudolph was living at the time -- began making doughnuts from a recipe given to him by an Ohio River barge cook, Joe LeBoeuf.

(LeBoeuf later became known as the best boat captain on the Ohio River, but he never realized that his yeast-raised doughnut recipe became the doughnut of Krispy Kreme fame.)

After some disappointments -- the Great Depression was in full swing, after all -- Armstrong sold the doughnut concern to Rudolph’s father, who opened a second store in Knoxville, Tennessee, and a third in Atlanta.

By 1937, Rudolph, however, wanted a place of his own and moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There he rented a small 18-by-60-foot space in a building across the street from Salem College and Academy and began his own wholesale doughnut business. His customers were local restaurants and snack bars, with some doughnuts sold retail on the premises.

Rudolph stepped back a bit from his business during World War II, putting his love of flying to work for his country, first as a Civil Air Patrol pilot at Coastal Patrol Base 16 in Manteo, North Carolina, and later as a flight safety officer in Atlanta.

It wasn’t until after the war in 1947 that Krispy Kreme Corp. was officially founded. The existing stores were merged into a single company, with ingredients purchased and mixed in Winston-Salem. Rudolph served as the corporation’s chairman and president, and his brother, father and uncle made up the majority of directors. They began selling franchises in the 1950s, with the only required cost being the purchase of all ingredients and packaging from the home office.

The father

About the same time he was getting his business off the ground, Rudolph married Ruth Ayers. When the couple could not conceive children, they adopted a baby girl, Patricia Ann, in 1943. The next year, Ruth and her father were killed in an automobile accident.

In 1946, Rudolph remarried, this time to Lorraine Flynt, and the couple had four children -- Carver, Sandy, Curtis and Beverly.

The CAP pilot

With all the turmoil going on in his personal life -- his fledgling business, his wife’s death and the struggle over who should care for his infant daughter -- Vernon Rudolph still answered his country’s call.

Records from Civil Air Patrol Coastal Patrol Base 16 show he first arrived for duty July 27, 1942, less than eight months after CAP was founded Dec. 1, 1941. He brought with him his own aircraft, a Stinson 10A, said John Ratzenberger, who oversees the Dare County Regional Airport Museum, where Base 16 was located. During CAP’s early days, the planes members flew were actually privately owned and on loan to the organization.

Rudolph temporarily left the CAP base in September -- Ratzenberger assumed this was for business reasons -- but his plane remained. Before Rudolph returned to Base 16 early the next year, the plane was lost on patrol and its two occupants, Julian Cooper and Frank Cook, perished.

“My brother-in-law, Bill Hollan, bought a Stinson 10A, and I had the opportunity to fly it,” Carver Rudolph said. “We can attest to how tiny and underpowered these planes were in comparison to today’s standards.”

The museum’s artifacts include the pistol Rudolph used during his Civil Air Patrol service.

“CAP members were required to bring their own personal weapons, even if assigned to the base as a guard,” Ratzenberger said.

On the Dare County airport’s front lawn today stands a monument to those who served at Base 16. It’s dedicated to the two who died in Rudolph’s Stinson, Cook and Cooper, and is inscribed with the names of all who served there, including that of Vernon Rudolph.

The patriot

Base 16 closed in August 1943, but Rudolph went on to receive an officer’s commission in the U.S. Army Air Corps, thanks to his CAP experience. He served until the war ended in 1945.

His family continues to honor the country’s veterans. Carver Rudolph helped establish a veterans’ memorial, Carolina Field of Honor, in Triad Park, which is situated in North Carolina between Winston and Greensboro. Newly dedicated, it honors all American veterans.

Carver refers to the World War II veterans, particularly those from CAP Coastal Patrol Base 16 during 1942, as “national treasures” and proudly placed a paver engraved to his father and Base 16 - 1942 in the park’s “Walk of Honor.”

And on a very personal level and at the suggestion of someone who served in CAP with his father, Carver put the insignias of both the U.S. Army Air Corps and CAP on his father’s tombstone. Vernon Rudolph died in 1973 at age 58.

Sidebar: Krispy Kreme: The business Rudolph built

By the 1960s, the Krispy Kreme brand was well known throughout the Southeast. The corporation went public in 2000 and began expanding internationally, beginning with stores in Canada. From there, the company has established itself in 23 more countries, most recently in Columbia.

Setbacks occurred along the way -- too rapid an expansion, complaints from health advocates. But Krispy Kreme has worked to overcome these problems and today employs 4,000 people with revenue of $362 million and net income of $7.6 million (2011 figures) and assets today of more than $340 million.

Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a non-profit organization with 60,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. Mount Pocono Composite Squadron 207 is the local chapter of the CAP.

CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs about 85 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 70 lives annually.

Its unpaid professionals also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies.

The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 25,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet programs.

CAP received the World Peace Prize in 2011 and has been performing missions for America for 72 years.

CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. Visit www.capgoldmedal.com for more information.