Henry R. C. Elser died February 6. Known for his omnipresent cigar, wry wit and passion for Thoroughbred racing, the longtime owner and breeder of flat and steeplechase horses, Elser was 90.
Born October 1, 1923, Elser was the youngest child of Maximillian F. and Helen E. Elser of Greenwich Village, New York City and Lititz, Pa. Elser attended The Kent School and graduated from Yale University with the Class of 1945 after serving in World War II. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 82nd Airborne Army paratroopers, he served as a demolitions expert. His missions included jumping into Sicily to help secure the port of Naples and into southern France as part of Operation Dragoon. He also took part in the Battle of the Bulge.
Fond of saying “All businesses are the same,” Elser started out selling soap and became sales manager for Fels Naptha Soap Company. He moved on and with his brother, Peter F D Elser, invested in The Tetley Tea Company and other businesses. Later, after a poker game at The Dude Rancher Lodge in Billings, Montana, Elser joined with friend and business partner William Goan to be the first to put soda in a can on a commercial scale at their WY-Mont Beverage Company. This lead to the purchase of EB Evans & Co. where they developed and manufactured toppings and syrups for the food and beverage industries. He later became Chairman of The National ICEE Corp., a manufacturer and distributor of frozen carbonated beverages, syrups and equipment. The ICEE Bear, a big white polar bear, was a mainstay mascot and sponsor at the steeplechase meets in the 70s and 80s.
With his wife Joan, an avid horsewoman, Elser was involved with flat and steeplechase horses as an owner and breeder. They started with steeplechase horses, including stakes winner Too Few Stripes and Flasher before gravitating to flat racing. The Elsers provided future Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot with her first horses. The Elsers bred and raced Channel Three, who won nine races for trainer Mike Goswell, including the Grade II Astarita at Belmont Park in 1988. Elser campaigned Grade II stakes winner Masseuse in partnership with the Nicholson family, Elser campaigned homebred Shetan to win an allowance race at Parx and finish second in the Alphabet Soup Stakes in 2013. Elser’s passion for the sport was lifelong and continues through his children.
Henry was predeceased by his wife Edith Joan Elser in 1994 and his grandson Christopher B. Elser in 2004. He is survived by four sons: Christopher L. “Kip” Elser of Camden, S.C. (Helen Richards); George H. Elser of Strafford, Pa. (Angela Scully); Andrew H. Elser of Lewisville, Pa.; and H. Richter Elser of New Haven, Ct. Henry is also survived by three grandchildren: Clara Elspeth “CE” Elser, Matthew H. S. Elser and Taylor S. Elser.
A Celebration of Elser’s life will be held on Sunday March 16, 4:30 p.m. at the Radnor Hunt Club, Malvern Pa.
The Elser family encourages memorial contributions to:
– Christopher B. Elser Memorial Fund at Johns Hopkins University
c/o George H. Elser,
130 West Lancaster Ave. Ste 203
Wayne, PA 19087
– The Tamworth Fund at The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
c/o Jane Simone
382 West Street Rd
Kennett Square PA 19348
– The Thorncroft Equestrian Center
190 Township Line Rd
Malvern, PA 19355