Written by Deanna Toncray, executive administrative assistant
The story of Dot Foods goes back to August 8, 1924, when Dot Foods co-founder Robert Tracy (RT) was born in Jerseyville, Illinois. He was raised on the family farm along with his sister and two brothers. His small-town upbringing, military service, and college experience shaped him into the strong-willed man who went on to build Dot Foods with his wife, Dorothy.
From Dot Foods' humble beginnings to 11 distribution centers across the U.S., the company's growth far exceeded RT's expectations before his passing in 2006. Today, Dot sits at No. 67 on the Forbes' America's Largest Private Companies list. The company doubles in size every seven years. It employs more than 5,700 across North America. And it is being steered into the future by many Tracy family members and the company's talented employees.
To help celebrate his birthday and share a glimpse of the man who formed Dot Foods, RT's 12 children shared a favorite RT memory of him from their youth.
RT used to come to many of my high school football games. During my junior year and the start of my senior year, he watched me miss tackle after tackle. During one game, RT called me over to the sideline. He said I was tackling like I was afraid that I would get hurt. And I was. The previous year I had been knocked out cold while tackling a running halfback. He told me that if I hit them harder than they hit me, it wouldn't hurt as much. And he was right. I went on to be an All-Conference Cornerback with his advice.
One day RT took Don and me to the Mississippi River on a boat with his partner in Dot Ray Rendlin. Ray was an accomplished fisherman, so Don and I were confident our catch for the day would be big. I was trying to cast my bait into a certain spot where I thought I would catch the granddaddy of all fish, but I missed the spot with every cast. RT, observing my failing, stepped in to show me how to hit that perfect spot. On his first cast, he hit the spot perfectly, except he hit the spot with the bait, line, and rod and reel! The entire gear slipped out of his hand and went about 60 feet. I thought Ray would fall out of the boat laughing. Dad never offered to cast for me again.
When I was young, Dad bought an airplane to conduct Dot's business with customers and suppliers. The airplane saved him time on the road. I got the opportunity to go with him on some of these trips and really enjoyed the time spent in the airplane with Dad. I liked it so much that I started taking flight lessons and eventually got my license to fly.
I moved to Memphis after graduating from nursing school in 1974, and I began my nursing career at Baptist Memorial Hospital. Having a regular paycheck led to acquiring my first credit card, which led to overspending on my love of fashion. I had to call Dad and confess my irresponsibility and ask for help in paying it off. After a necessary lecture on finances, Dad agreed to loan me the money this one time. And then he advised me to do my banking with Tom in the future!
During a high school football game, I suffered a broken neck and was transported to a local hospital for treatment. Dad was out of town, traveling for business when the injury occurred. He and Mom came to the hospital the second night, and I could see they were deeply concerned. I mentioned I could not see what time it was or determine if it was day or night. RT pulled off his wristwatch and handed it to me. I never returned it, nor did he ask about it.
I loved to see Dad laugh and smile. All who knew him could attest to the fact he sometimes had a reputation of being a bit gruff and grumpy, but who wouldn't be with the responsibility of 12 kids and a business to keep afloat?! So, when Dad took time to relax, laugh, and have fun with his family and friends, it was terrific.
I was moving trailers from Dot West to the old Quonset huts on a Saturday when I was 17. I had no CDL or license to operate the truck. I failed to engage the 5th wheel on the trailer properly and dropped the trailer on the street before pulling onto Route 24. RT was in his car right behind me, and he promptly got out, gave me the look only he could give, and simply grunted, "Go get Jerry Yates (RT's right-hand man at Dot)," and drove off.
Growing up, Sunday evenings were special. Mom always cooked a big dinner Sunday afternoon, and in the evening, she let us make our own supper with either leftovers, popcorn, or some kind of sandwich. Inevitably, at 5 p.m., either Louie Markert or Phil Quinn would drop by to play gin rummy with Dad. He poured them a drink, mom set out a light snack, and in the background the TV carried the hushed voices of the announcers for that weekend's golf tournament. I can still picture Dad at the table, bantering with his buddies, playing cards with one eye on the television, and smiling. Always smiling.
Dad came home from work early one afternoon and asked who wanted to go on a plane ride with him. Jane and I quickly and happily volunteered and jumped in his car for the short drive to the airport. I remember thinking after we were up in the air in this very tiny airplane how lucky I was to have a Dad to give me this opportunity to see my world from the sky. It was scary but beautiful and thrilling all at the same time.
My first year as a marketing manager/business development, I was getting ready to go to the restaurant show in Chicago. Dad and Mom loved going to that show and wanted me to go with them to some of the hospitality events, which I agreed to since I was new and didn't know many people and suppliers in the industry. Dad took it upon himself to call Park Plank (long-time Dot employee) to get me invited to the Sara Lee brunch, which was a hard invite to get! After that call, Park came over smiling, telling everyone that my Daddy called to get me an invite to Sara Lee. The brunch was a lot of fun, but I never lived that one down!
My favorite memory of Dad was heading out after dinner to run his "traps." We would first pay a visit at the Dot garage, then stop by the office to make sure all the lights and copiers were shut off before heading uptown. RT would always stop by Sportsman's (bar and grill) to make sure the Dot drivers were staying out of trouble. His next stop would be to one of his old friends. They all appreciated his visits, and it was fun to see how he interacted with people.
When I was around 10 years old, RT would occasionally take me golfing at Rolling Greens Golf Course, sometimes by ourselves and other times with his buddies. He was always in a hurry, and the golf course was no different. Our golf cart barely stopped moving by the time RT was hitting his next shot.
Never-before told stories such as these will be available in the Dot Foods history book, "Of Small Towns and Big Dreams: The First 60 Years of Dot Foods" later this year.