New scholarship honors Ritter’s Frozen Custard founder
A new scholarship created in honor of the founder of Ritter’s Frozen Custard will support students interested in creative advertising or film production.
Before John Ritter was an ice cream entrepreneur, he was a commercial animator — the artist behind recognizable mascots like StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna.
Ritter and his wife Bonny have six children. Their son Steve Ritter, MD’93, created the scholarship fund to ensure his father’s legacy for years to come.
After graduating from high school, Ritter served in the U.S. Navy from 1951-54. He was assigned to the U.S. Naval Aerial Photography School in Pensacola, Florida. There, he worked on various models and illustrations of aerial photographic techniques. He also did an assignment in the animation department at the Naval Photographic Center in Washington, D.C. He had a knack for drawing and did a lot of his art by hand.
When he left the Navy, he worked for Leo Burnett, an advertising agency in Chicago, before founding the animation company Ritter-Waxberg & Associates.
“He has always loved Disney,” Steve said. “He was very interested in motion picture animation, which required 30 frames for every second of film. It was extremely laborious and super high-quality.”
Ritter-Waxberg specialized in creating fully animated television commercials in addition to stylized work for commercial trade shows. One of their most innovative accounts was creating the titles for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Examples of other accounts they worked on are Tombstone Pizza, Little Green Giant and Old Style beer — a Chicago staple.
As computer technology evolved, and the industry veered away from traditional motion picture animation, Ritter was ready for a change. It was his son Steve that suggested starting an ice cream business.
“He was always an entrepreneur and never one to work for someone else,” Steve said. “He wanted to influence everything.”
John and his wife, Bonny, put a lot of work into the business, traveling and tasting various ice creams in search of the right recipe. After looking at properties, they settled on Franklin, Indiana, for the first shop and moved their home to Martinsville, where they still live 30 years later. The business eventually grew to more than 60 stores and franchises.
John’s creativity and strong work ethic made an impact on his six children, who are now spread all over the country and have careers spanning medicine, academia, business and IT.
“My dad is big on education,” said their daughter Kathy Heeger, a nurse. “It was where we were going to go to school, not if.”
The Ritter children credit their parents for their success.
“He has always been a skilled artist and photographer and a great entrepreneur, but his creativity and drive for perfection is what makes him stand out,” Steve said.
Undergraduate students will be considered for the John E. Ritter Scholarship based on the annual general Media School scholarship application.