For decades, children growing up in small western Kansas towns looked for the trucks.
The E.G. Stevens Tobacco and Candy Co. trucks were some of the most recognized vehicles on Kansas highways, supplying candy for football and basketball concession stands, mom and pop grocery stores and filling stations. The company, which started from a Lebanese peddler’s simple wares, grew to be the largest distributor of candy and tobacco in Kansas.
Frederick Ellis Stevens, the co-owner of the company, died Oct. 10. He was 96.
The funeral service will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, 7515 E. 13th. Graveside service will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Resthaven Gardens of Memory, 11800 W. US-54 highway.
“His smile was infectious, his eyes twinkled and his pockets were always filled with candy,” Don Stephan said of his uncle.
Mr. Stevens was born March 14, 1921, in Wichita. He was the son of Humdmee and E.G. Stevens, one of Wichita’s prominent Syrian-Lebanese families who immigrated to Wichita at the turn of the 20th century.
He was a 1938 graduate of East High School.
He briefly attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence but left to join the Coast Guard when his brothers, George, Leroy and Raymond were drafted into the Army.
Fred Stevens’s father and uncle, E.G. and Joseph, joined forces to start the company shortly after the turn of the 20th century. The family had several ventures, including an ice cream parlor and then the tobacco and candy business by the 1920s. As a first generation Kansan, Mr. Stevens worked in the family business along with his brothers, learning the trade.
“They came over here with nothing and walked around the streets in Delano District and sold candy and cigarettes and cigars in a shoebox,” said Jan Mattingly, Mr. Stevens’ daughter. “From my understanding, their business evolved into opening not one warehouse but three – in Wichita, Liberal and Salina.”
By then, the company had developed a fleet of trucks that traveled across the state.
Mr. Stevens and his brother, Raymond, became the second generation to operate the business and ran it until the late 1980s. He then retired and began golfing. In his spare time, he cleared tables at Tony D’s Deli, visited the Wichita State University Heskett Center and attended basketball games. He took pride at attending every basketball game since 1958, Mattingly said.
“He loved to go to WSU and threw candy out to people who sat around him,” Mattingly said. “Everybody knew him in Wichita.”
He was a regular volunteer at the Braeburn Junior Golf Program and, in 2009, received the Wichita Area Junior Golf Volunteer of the Year Award. He received the Braeburn Men’s Club Eagle award for outstanding service and support of WSU golf teams.
The Stevens family were members of both St. Mary’s Orthodox Church at 344 S. Martinson and St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral, 7515 E. 13th.
He is survived by his brother, Raymond of Wichita; son and daughter-in-law, Dr. Ron and Pam Stevens of Newton; daughters and sons-in-law, Jan and Jim Mattingly, Stephanie and Dr. Jay Stanley Jones, all of Wichita; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Memorial donations have been established with both St. Mary and St. George and with the WSU Foundation, Fred and Geneva Golf Scholarship, 1845 Fairmount, Box 1, Wichita, Ks. 67260-0018.