Prestley “Pres” Blake was a great friend of the Springfield Museums. We are saddened to hear of his passing and we celebrate his remarkable 106 years as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and humanitarian.
On the second floor of the Wood Museum of Springfield History, visitors will find a display of Friendly Ice Cream memorabilia, including an original ice-cream making machine once used by Pres and his brother Curt and the sign for their first restaurant that Pres made by hand in 1935. The brother’s entrepreneurial partnership gave rise to Friendly Ice Cream, the iconic Friendly’s restaurant, and a favorite at county fairs—the milkshake named the Awful Awful (awful good and awful thick!). Over time, Friendly’s Ice Cream grew to be a major corporation with more than 500 restaurants in seventeen states.
At a 2017 appearance at the Springfield Museums for a lunchtime lecture to talk about his book A Friendly Life, Pres was asked for the recipe for peach ice cream. He explained that although that was a delicious flavor, it is very hard to keep ice crystals from forming in peaches, so the flavor was discarded. This was of course information earned from years of early morning churning to supply the Friendly ice cream shop with the flavors people loved. The dedication to serving fresh food made with the best ingredients in a warm and inviting atmosphere made Friendly’s a legendary hub for family dining for generations.
As young adults Press and his brother could only afford to share one car. Over time with continuing business success, Pres began to collect automobiles, especially Rolls-Royces. At the Museums most recent Rolls-Royce show (2019) Pres drove one of the two Rolls to the show himself. In 2008, he gave the Wood Museum his Springfield-made Rolls-Royce, the 1925 Silver Ghost. Pres and his beloved wife Helen have been generous benefactors to the Springfield Museums for decades. They named the Blake Court in the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, supported the construction of the Blake House Café and have contributed to every major fundraising effort launched by the Museums, including the Capital Campaign that Pres chaired in 1985.
In addition to his philanthropy, Pres was always willing to share his remarkable life experience with people of all ages. During his book signing events at the Museums, Pres would emphasize that his goal was always to give everyone “a taste of how much fun you can have if you work hard, look for any opportunities, mind your manners, and stay smart. I really believe that if I could do it, so can you.”
Pres is and will continue to be an inspiration for us all. We will miss him.
Kay Simpson is President and CEO of the Springfield Museums.