Henry R. C. Elser, a steeplechase horse owner and the father of prominent horseman Kip Elser, died Feb. 6 at the age of 90.
He attended the Kent School and graduated from Yale University with the class of 1945 after serving in World War II. A second lieutenant with the 82nd Airborne Army paratroopers, he served as a demolitions expert. He jumped into Sicily as part of the operation to secure the port of Naples and into southern France as part of Operation Dragoon. He also took part in the Battle of the Bulge.
He started his business career selling soap and became sales manager of Fels Naptha Soap Co. He and his brother, Peter F. D. Elser, invested in the Tetley Tea Co., and he was a part of the group that first bottled soda in cans commercially.
He then specialized in the food-and-beverage industry, buying E. B. Evans Co. which developed and manufactured toppings and syrups. 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 1970s and 1980s.
With his wife, Joan, an avid horsewoman, he first became involved in steeplechasing, a sport in which his son Kip was a well-known amateur rider before becoming a leading international sales consignor through his Kirkwood Stables. The Elsers’ best steeplechase horse was Too Few Stripes, winner of the 1980 Rolling Rock Hunt Cup and 1981 Midsummer Steeplechase for future Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot. Elser was one of Elliot’s first clients.
The Elsers also were involved in flat racing. They bred and raced Channel Three, who won nine races for trainer Mike Goswell, including Belmont Park’s Astarita Stakes (Gr. 2) in 1988. Elser also raced Grade 2 winner Masseuse in partnership with the Nicholson family.
Henry Elser 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, Conn. He also is survived by three grandchildren: Clara Elspeth Elser, Matthew H. S. Elser, and Taylor S. Elser.
A celebration of his life will be held on Sunday, March 16, at 4:30 p.m. at the Radnor Hunt Club, Malvern, Pa.
The Elser family encourages memorial contributions to:
The Christopher B. Elser Memorial Fund at Johns Hopkins University, Sarah May Campbell, JHU Development Office, Wyman Suite 500W, 3400 N. Charleston St., Baltimore, Md. 21218. www.cbefund.com
The Tamworth Fund at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, c/o Jane
Simone, 382 West Street Road, Kennett Square Pa., 19348
The Thorncroft Equestrian Center, 190 Township Line, Rd Malvern, Pa. 19355, www.thorncroft.org