The convenience store industry lost more than a century of entrepreneurial, innovative experience with the passing of six iconic leaders since the end of last year. It's only March as I write this, but it's a sad time for the families and many friends of Jay Erickson, Tom Love, Don and Charlie Hunt, Bruce Bott and Bob Born, all of whom died since the closing days of 2022.
Most recently, Love, co-founder of Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores with his wife Judy, passed away March 7 at the age of 85. With a $5,000 gift from Judy's parents, the couple leased an abandoned gas station in Watonga, Okla., in 1964. Within a few years, the company had 40 stations and began to open convenience stores alongside its gas pumps. Named as one of the c-store industry's 50 Most Influential People in 2019, Love's creation today has a network of 600 locations in 42 states, along with 430 truck service centers.
Tom and Judy are renowned for their charitable giving almost as much as their business acumen. Tom's passion for service and helping those in his community led to the Love family donating to local and national organizations such as Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, United Way, Catholic Charities and the University of Oklahoma, which opened the Tom Love Innovation Hub in 2018 to provide a space for future entrepreneurs and other workforce development programs. Tom was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Just before the end of last year, Charlie and Don Hunt, the last living co-founders of Hunt Brothers Pizza, died on Dec. 22 and 27, respectively. They were 78 and 88. Alongside their two other brothers, Don and Charlie formed Hunt Brothers Pizza in 1991. They teamed up to forge a company with more than 9,000 store partnerships, 550-plus team members, and the support of countless communities and charities over the years. Hunt Brothers is the largest brand of made-to-order pizza in the convenience store industry.
In late January, Ira "Bob" Born, founder of the Peeps brand of candy, passed away at the age of 98. As son of the founder of Just Born Quality Confections, Bob joined the company in 1945 after serving in the Navy during World War II. He is credited with designing a machine that deposits the Peeps marshmallow chicks; the treats were originally made by hand. Bob is also credited with inventing the Hot Tamales brand by finding a creative way to rework Mike and Ike candies. He was a true innovator in the candy industry.
Bott, founder of Advanced Digital Data Inc. (ADD Systems), passed away in February. Bruce pioneered software for the energy distribution industry, building ADD Systems from a one-person operation to a thriving corporation that employs more than 150 people across the United States and Canada. His fuel management software automated the process of predicting fuel deliveries for hundreds of clients across the industry.
Perhaps the toughest loss to take was the unexpected passing of Erickson on March 2. Jay was only 51 years old. As chief operating officer, he helped Canada-based Parkland Corp. establish a beachhead in the U.S. with an amazing 21 acquisitions in three years. Most recently, he served as interim president of Parkland USA after the departure of Doug Haugh in December 2022. The c-store industry veteran also made his mark at Kroger's c-store division, and then EG Group.
My condolences to all the thousands of people positively touched by these inspiring spirits.