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May 25, 2018

Founder of Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream dies at age 90

Courtesy / Gifford family
Courtesy / Gifford family
Randall H. Gifford Jr., founder of Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream, died Monday at the age of 90.

Randall H. Gifford Jr., who founded with his wife Gifford's Famous Ice Cream after they purchased a small dairy in Farmington in 1971 and another dairy in Skowhegan three years later, died Monday at the age of 90.

His death was announced on the company's Facebook page on Thursday with these words: "It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Randall H. Gifford Jr., Founder of Gifford's Dairy Inc. Randall went to be with the lord on Monday, May 21, 2018, with his wife Audrey at his side. Randall's legacy will continue to inspire our company and future generations of the Gifford Family. He will be greatly missed."

An obituary published in the Waterville Sentinel stated that Gifford was born in Portland on June 10, 1927, but went to schools in Connecticut, where he graduated from the University of Connecticut's School of Agriculture. After his Sept. 13, 1947, marriage to Audrey Main, Gifford worked at two different dairies in Connecticut. In 1954, he and his wife purchased a dairy milk business in Forestville, Conn., which became R.H. Gifford Dairy & Sons and is described on the company's website as "a small milk business and ice cream shop."

According to the company's website, Randall and Audrey "from early on, were steeped in the tradition of delicious old-fashioned ice cream" and brought that passion with them to Maine when they purchased a small dairy in Farmington in 1971. Three years later they purchased another dairy in Skowhegan, where the Gifford's Famous Ice Cream plant remains today.

"The family began creating small batches of creamy ice cream using Audrey's parents' recipes for strawberry, peach, wild blueberry, and coffee," the website states. "The first seasonal ice cream stand was opened in Skowhegan, followed by another in Farmington. Eventually, Randall and Audrey sold the milk portion of the dairy business to Oakhurst Dairy. Their sons Roger and John took over the ice cream portion of the business and transformed the milk plant into a world-class ice cream factory."

Expanding outside Maine

Under the sons' leadership, Gifford's made 10,000 gallons of ice cream annually "with a core of six determined employees." By 1987, Gifford's Famous Ice Cream was being sold outside of Maine and the company added three more ice cream stands in Bangor, Waterville and Auburn to its original seasonal stands in Skowhegan and Farmington.

Today, according to the company's website, Gifford's sells 2.2 million gallons of ice cream each year and serves more than 1 million cones each summer from its five family-owned and operated stands. The company offers more than 100 unique ice cream flavors, frozen yogurts, sherbets and sorbets, which can be found in in grocery stores, independent ice cream shops, colleges, universities and restaurants "from Maine to the Mid Atlantic, to the Midwest and as far west as Nevada."

The company's flavors regularly win acclaim in national competitions.

Last year, its Old Fashioned Vanilla won a gold medal in the traditional vanilla category at the World Dairy Expo's yearly competition, and its orange sherbet was the open sherbet winner. The expo had 1,489 entries in 79 dairy categories from cheese to whey, including 14 ice cream categories.

From 2009 to 2014, the company's World's Best Chocolate not only came in first in the chocolate category, but was named ice cream Grand Champion. At the time, no other company had won that title twice in a row.

Gifford's CEO Lindsay Gifford Skilling, granddaughter of Randall and Audrey Gifford and a 2016 Mainebiz Women to Watch honoree, told Mainebiz last fall that the company now employs 42 year-round, 120 when its seasonal stands in Farmington, Bangor, Waterville, Auburn and Skowhegan are open.

Skilling said local sourcing has always been a company philosophy.

"As a small Maine business, we're trying to support other local businesses," she said. "It's something we're looking at all the time. We try to support those who will turn into lifetime supporters of us as well."

Milk and cream come from Oakhurst Dairy, the maple syrup in Gifford's is the real Maine product, and its Maine Wild Blueberry ice cream has been a favorite for years.

The family said there will be no funeral services, but plans to hold a memorial graveside service this summer in Farmington.

In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations be made to The Jimmy Fund or Shriners Hospitals for Children.

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