Celeste F. Rogge, Who Inherited The Sunny Jim Fortune, Dies At 84
The Sunny Jim peanut butter her father began making with a peanut roaster he bought in 1921 has graced the lunch boxes of generations of Seattle-area schoolchildren.
And the family business shaped both the life and contributions of Celeste Firnstahl Rogge. Savvy business executive, heir to the Sunny Jim fortune and Seattle patron of the arts, Mrs. Rogge died peacefully Wednesday (Sept. 20), surrounded by family. She was 84.
Mrs. Rogge was born in 1911 in Stanley, N.D. As a young girl, she moved to Seattle, where her father, Germanus Wilhelm Firnstahl, started shopping his peanut butter around at Pike Place Market. He modeled the apple-cheeked trademark "Sunny Jim" boy after Mrs. Rogge's brother Lowell.
For many years, a huge reproduction of the label was visible from Interstate 5, affixed to the company's then-headquarters on Airport Way South, near Rainier Brewery.
At its peak, the company had annual sales of $10 million, and its peanut butter sold in stores throughout much of the western United States. Sunny Jim also supplied peanuts sold at the Kingdome and Seattle Center.
Mrs. Rogge graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in drama and served as president of the family-owned company for 12 years, expanding it and adding a canning plant.
"I've been associated with this business since I was 15," Mrs. Rogge once said. "I've picked peanuts, put on labels, worked in the office. I've been signing company checks since I was 21."
With her husband, Edgar, an orthopedic surgeon, she raised four children at the family home on the shores of Lake Washington in Laurelhurst.
Her daughter Jeanne Greener recalls her mother as a generous, gracious woman - a doer who didn't get bogged down in details, who was just as at home painting the dock as hosting lavish fund-raisers for the arts.
"Even though she was blessed with a lot of material success, she was a fixer-upper of old places and things," Greener said. "She taught us a lot about hard work."
When she wasn't tending family business, Mrs. Rogge could be found taking care of rhododendrons, roses and apple, pear, plum and cherry trees in her garden. She was an active member of Saint Bridget Church in Laurelhurst, a member of the Board of Regents of Seattle University, and a strong supporter of the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Opera and Seattle Symphony.
Mrs. Rogge was the last family member to run the Sunny Jim business. The family sold it in 1979 for $3 million to the Bristol Bay Native Corp., of Anchorage.
Mrs. Rogge was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by her children, Janet Rogge of Seattle, Barbara Flint of Tacoma, Jeanne Greener of Seattle and Leland Rogge of Seattle and by nine grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Saint Bridget Church, 4900 N.E. 50th St., Seattle. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery after the church service and reception.
Remembrances may be sent to Seattle University and the Providence Foundation of Seattle.
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