Growing Up Kretschmer
Charles Henry Kretschmer Sr. stocked his grocery store with wheat germ back in the early 1930s. But it was his son, Charles Henry Kretschmer Jr., who was the real mastermind behind the fresh, toasted wheat germ we all enjoy today. Charles’ daughter, Kathleen Kretschmer Bertrand, an artist who now lives in California, was very close to her father, who passed away in 1969. She sheds light on what it was like growing up a Kretschmer, with a father who was driven to make this original superfood a commercial success.
Her father, Charles H. Kretschmer Jr:
As far back as the late 1930s, my father saw the potential in wheat germ and it was his business from the very beginning. He worked in Grandpa Kretschmer’s grocery store and it was here that the idea to bake the wheat germ to lengthen its shelf life was born. The original baking was done in his mother’s oven. Then Dad hired a chemist to determine the correct temperature to maintain the highest level of nutrients. He also designed the huge stainless steel ovens for the factory, which would toast the wheat germ quickly and in large quantities.
These fundamentals put my father’s ideas and his company, Kretschmer Wheat Germ, on its way to becoming a household name.
He was a person of great vision. He foresaw a gigantic market in frozen foods, when they were still a novelty. He also saw the future of supermarkets and thought my grandfather should have expanded.
Growing up a Kretschmer:
Every Christmas Eve my three sisters and I would go with my parents to the employees’ homes and give them a Christmas basket. After presents and Mass, Christmas Day was always celebrated with a large formal breakfast, and Dad did most of the cooking. There were pancakes with wheat germ, eggs, bacon, coffee, melon and freshly squeezed orange juice.
We had a summer home on Lake Huron and my father was an enthusiastic sailor. So we sailed in his Highlander on the lake and had a wonderful time.
The Kretschmer legacy:
My father was a visionary. He was always testing the market, trying something new. Although his health failed him early, he knew enough to sell the business before he got too sick so that our family would be taken care of. But he loved building it.
Business was my father’s thing; he went to Notre Dame and he was a natural. The other family members did not have much of an interest in it. I did, but at the time women usually quit work after college and marriage, which is what I did.
I look for the Kretschmer jars at my neighborhood supermarket and always have one in my refrigerator. For many years I would make sure all of them were pushed forward and visible on their shelf—my father always, always did that.
We were very proud of the business our father built. I still miss him very much.