When my dad was a kid, hours of weed-pulling in his family’s yard earned him a nickel. As soon as the Good Humor bell rang, he ran down the street, enthusiastically exchanging the coin for an ice cream bar.
So for his birthday two years ago, we invited a Good Humor truck to the celebration.
You could glimpse that little boy in the eyes of the 80-year-old so surprised to see the once-familiar truck pull in to the parking lot, bell ringing. It was driven by St. Charles’ Dick Royce, wearing the classic white Good Humor uniform and cap.
Since Royce, 67, turned the restored 1969 truck into the coolest and most generous retirement project ever, he’s enjoyed plenty of similar reactions.
"You can’t believe the looks I get from people — from the guy who’s 80 to the kid who’s 4 or 5. Everyone is happy to see me — and not everyone can say that!"
For $2, customers can choose from all the original products: ice cream bars with chocolate or vanilla coating, Oreo cookie, chocolate eclair, candy crunch, strawberry shortcake and toasted almond — Royce’s personal favorite ever since he was one of the excited kids chasing a Good Humor truck.
"We’d hear the bells, go running and say, ‘Mom, can I have a dime?!’"
Then, in 1960 at the age of 12, Royce became a real Good Humor boy.
"A friend of mine’s father owned 20 bike versions with a bell. I picked it up in the morning, got dry ice and rode down to Touhy Beach to give away — not sell — ice cream. I didn’t ask for the 12 cents — I just didn’t have it in me to collect the money. Finally my boss said, ‘I can’t continue to do this,’" says Royce.
The grown-up Royce does collect the money, but doesn’t keep it. Profits generated by his Good Humor business are donated to charity, usually St. Jude’s hospital.
"Last year we gave about $8,000 to St. Jude’s," he says. "If you tried to make a living at this, you couldn’t, but it’s the perfect thing to do in retirement — it gets me out and my wife and I can do
When Royce retired from AT&T three years ago, he and his wife, Susan, had "nice retirement programs" so he made good on an idea he’d broached earlier.
"At our anniversary dinner, I asked her what she thought about getting an ice cream truck and selling ice cream. She said, ‘That’s a great idea!’ We’ve been married 40 years, so she’s as crazy as I am."
It’s an awfully genuine, down-to-earth crazy. The Royces love spending time with their three grandchildren (a Dreamsicle and two Push-Ups). They don’t go on many vacations — unless you count the time he drove all the way to South Bend, Indiana for a Notre Dame alumni function in 45 degree weather — in an ice cream truck that has no passenger seat and, naturally, no heater. Susan followed in their car so he could warm up occasionally. No problem, he says.
"Everywhere we go, everyone is happy. Even when we go 50 on the highway — these trucks were built for streets, not highways — no one gets mad. They slow down and take pictures!"
With just 90 of the early models of the Good Humor truck left in the country, the Royces visit a lot of car shows. All told, they’ve scheduled 92 events between May 1 and Oct. 15, including graduation parties, birthdays, weddings and employment appreciation days at car dealerships. (www.thegoodhumorman.com)
Every Wednesday night through Sept. 15, they’re booked at St. Charles’ Heritage Farm family nights, which feature wood-fired pizzas topped with organic farm vegetables. There’s entertainment and — thanks to the Royces — Good Humor bars for dessert.
"We just had a bunch of these little 3-year-olds there and one of them told me he remembered me from last year. I said, ‘you’re only 3!’"
Moments like those put the good humor in the Royces’ retirement. "There are a lot of nice people still out there, and when we’re out with the truck, they come out of the woodwork."
In the truck are two more nice people, spending their retirement making people happy.