John Rudolph, 1924-2013: Snack-food firm’s founder helped fuel pork-rind craze


LIMA, Ohio — John Rudolph, who started a snack-food company that helped fuel a national craze, died Tuesday in his home in Allen County’s Bath Township. He was 88.

He’d been dealing with complications of Parkinson’s disease, his son Rich said.

Mr. Rudolph was senior chairman of Rudolph Foods, which he founded 58 years ago and which still has headquarters in Westminster, Ohio, southeast of Lima. That same year, his brothers Fritz and Phil and their cousin Allan Libbe formed the Rudolph/Libbe Cos., which grew into a leading construction company.

“I had a chance to go with them, but I was selling pots and pans for Alcoa here in Lima. I liked the town and decided not to go with the big corporation,” Mr. Rudolph told The Blade in 1994.

Instead, he took a sales job with a local snack maker and later bought the business. Pork rinds became a specialty, despite an early temporary setback: Bacon processors who supplied most of the rinds stopped curing it with the skin on.

Mr. Rudolph’s wife, Mary, a Bowling Green State University home-economics graduate, developed a process and the firm survived, unlike several competitors. He never retired and still went to the office, said Rich Rudolph, who now is president while Rich’s brother Jim is chief executive and chairman.

“He always had a spirit of ‘We can get it done,’ ” son Rich said. “He loved people and treated them very much with respect and recognized that those around him helped build the company.”

Mr. Rudolph sold the company in 1966 to Beatrice Foods, for which he became a vice president, overseeing his own operation and other Beatrice brands.

He bought back the company in the late 1980s and not long after, President George H. W. Bush declared his affinity for pork rinds. Sales -- and media interest -- exploded.

Mr. Rudolph was a relentless booster of Lima, not only as a civic benefactor but also by persuading others to pitch in.

He was a leader when a YMCA was built downtown and, most recently, when a historic building was renovated as office space for the chamber of commerce, the City Club, and other entities.

“He was a real pacesetter — ‘Here’s where we’re going. You’d better keep up,’ ” Tim Stanford of Yocum Realty said.

“He wore his love for the community on his sleeve,” Mayor David Berger said. “He was constantly looking for opportunities to make positive changes.”

Mr. Rudolph was born Sept. 16, 1924, to John and Verna Libbe Rudolph, and grew up in Wood County’s Lake Township. He graduated from Lake High School and was an Army technical sergeant in Europe during World War II. He received a business management degree from BGSU.

Surviving are his wife, Mary Rudolph, whom he married June 27, 1948; daughters, Kathy Rudolph and Susie Cornell; sons, Jim and Rich Rudolph; brother, Philip Rudolph; sisters, Mary Oberdick, Helyn Kurfess, and Kathleen Holzman, and eight grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2-4 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Friday in the Shawnee Chapel of Chiles-Laman Funeral Homes. Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Lima, where the body will be after 10 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to the Lima YMCA or St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, where he was a member.