The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

R.I.P. Dad

April 11th, 2020 · 29 Comments · Posted in Blog

Edward H. Bruske III, my father, the singularly focused, relentlessly striving and emotionally distant owner of a small Midwestern brush factory who personified the American spirit of entrepreneurial grit and self-made success, died today of natural causes three days before his 91st birthday.

Born in Chicago to sturdy German stock, my father raised bees and studied whistling as a boy, was an accomplished football and basketball player at the Swedish North Park Academy and married his high school sweetheart, the captain of the cheer leading squad, whose parents had preferred she finish secretarial school and settle down with a nice bank vice-president. Their partnership survived seven turbulent decades.

After studying business at Northwestern University, my father and his bride moved to Tacoma, WA, where he planned a career in timber but instead found his calling as a Fuller Brush man, selling household and personal products door-to-door. He quickly rose to the company’s industrial division and moved back to the Midwest: first Des Moines, where the struggling couple  redeemed savings bonds to pay the mortgage, then to Park Forest in suburban Chicago  where, as a sales manager, dad learned to fly his own plane in order to cover a territory that encompassed a large swath of several states.

Drawn to the John Birch Society while the civil rights movement was roiling the country, my father’s attitude toward politics and government was strictly libertarian. His investment approach was quirky, sometimes disastrously so. Even as an accomplished salesman he seemed especially drawn to outlandish business schemes. At home, he was alternately sentimental and controlling, kind hearted and domineering, jovial and aloof. Deep in his own world, he could devour an entire take-out pizza watching football without sharing a single bite. Roused to discipline his five children, he applied a thick, leather dog strap to boy and girls alike. His special delight on Sunday mornings was tuning the radio to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and cranking the volume loud enough to wake the whole house, then dragging us all to sit in the front pew at Faith United Protestant Church for 9 a.m. services. We weren’t rich, but he had enough to send all five kids to college and keep a fleet of Saabs in the driveway.

As a sideline, my father raised champion Labrador retrievers and turned show and field trials into a version of family vacations. When Fuller Brush was purchased by Consolidated Foods, my father’s renegade views ran afoul of the new management and after being fired he scraped together enough money to start his own company—Bruske Products–out of an old turn screw factory in Tinley Park, IL, manufacturing push brooms, street sweepers and other brushes for industrial and retail use. The company expanded into a new building and thrived for many years, with salesmen nationwide, but lately had fallen on hard times under intense competition from China and after totally missing the advent of online marketing.

My father traveled and read widely, was a regular patron of Chicago theater, but maintained simple habits. He rarely missed Judge Judy and “Bounty Hunter” on television. He ordered discount clothes through the mail, relished cheese in a state well beyond putrefacation and prided himself on a makeshift wine cellar stocked with the cheapest quaffable vintages he could find. He took lunch at a Greek diner near the factory, finished everyone else’s dessert at Thanksgiving and insisted on being the one to hand out presents from under the Christmas tree one at a time. Having undergone heart bypass surgery years earlier, his health declined rapidly in recent months. After returning from this year’s annual February sojourn at the parents’ condo in Puerto Vallarta, his heart was clearly giving out, he may have had a stroke and he finally lapsed into renal failure. In typically irascible fashion, he refused to check himself into the local hospital for treatment and was running the family business to the very end, even though he kept falling down in his clothes closet and needed help getting in and out of his car.

He died in bed under hospice care.

He is survived by his wife, Priscilla; his sister, Barbara Perloff, of Appleton, WI; myself and four daughters, Diane, Susan and Laura—all residing in the Chicago area—and Linda, of Boynton Beach, FL, as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Instead of sending flowers, please hug your kids.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Your comment may have to wait for approval to be published to ensure that we don't accidentally publish "spam". We thank you for understanding.