A man who delivered ice cream on a bicycle in his youth to help his family business thrive died Sunday. He was 94.
Albert Yarnell, the son of Ray Yarnell, the founder of Searcy-based Yarnell Ice Cream Company, spent almost 75 years of his life working and running the company. After the Searcy plant closed in 2011, he served as a consultant during the brand’s rebirth the following year.
Yarnell was known as a strong civic leader in his community and the state, and for his willingness to quietly help anyone in need, according to his son, Rogers Yarnell said. He was an active member of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce since 1970.
Ray Yarnell bought the defunct Southwest Dairy Products building in 1932 and established the family brand. Albert started work as a “wood banger” for his father when he was 12. During the 1930s Albert Yarnell augmented the company’s truck routes by delivering ice cream with his bike, according to the encyclopedia of Arkansas.
After serving in the signal corps during World War II, Albert Yarnell returned to Searcy and was named the company’s vice president and sales manager. He oversaw the company’s expansion in the 1950s. The expansion allowed the company to distribute its products through central and south Arkansas. Albert Yarnell became the company’s president after his father died in 1974.
By 1970 the company had annual sales of more than $1 million. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Yarnell introduced the first all natural ice milk ice creams. In 1991 the company began sales of its “Guilt Free” selections. The fat-free, no sugar ice cream selections were the first of their kind in the country, according to the company’s Web site.
The company offered innovative choices, and it expanded into Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. At its peak, the brand was in more than 3,800 super markets and grocery stores. An economic downturn and the inability to find a buyer forced the company to close in June 2011. In November of that year, Schulze and Burch Biscuit Company, based in Chicago, bought the company for a reported $1.3 million and relaunched it in 2012.
Among his many accolades, Albert was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2007. He served on the International Ice Cream Association and is a member of the Arkansas Dairy Products Hall of Fame.
Albert was predeceased by a son, Reagin, and is survived by his wife, Doris and their three children, Rogers Yarnell, Camille Yarnell Fort and Melissa Yarnell, all of Little Rock. He also leaves behind four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A visitation and celebration of his life will be held in the family ministry center of the First Baptist Church in Searcy on Thursday (Jan. 11) from 12:30 to 2 pm. Yarnell Ice Cream will be hand dipped along with other snacks. His funeral will be held at 2:15 pm in the church sanctuary.