Ann Bassett, 86, of Blue Bell, a fourth-generation leader of Bassetts Ice Cream who pushed to expand the company’s presence beyond Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, died Wednesday, July 17, of a heart attack at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in East Norriton.
Starting as a teenager, Ms. Bassett worked behind the counter dipping ice cream at the Bassetts Ice Cream store in the market.
In 1973, Ms. Bassett went to work for her father, Lewis L. Bassett Jr., and gradually assumed control of the business operation. She had no formal business training.
“She learned on the fly what she had to do,” said son Michael Strange.
At the time, Bassetts’ rich, creamy ice cream was available only at the store and a handful of restaurants in the region. Ms. Bassett saw the potential to expand the business, her family said.
Overcoming resistance from her risk-averse father, she acquired a truck to make wholesale deliveries in the Philadelphia area, introduced a prepackaged pint of ice cream for sale in grocery stores, and negotiated deals for distribution of Bassetts products up and down the East Coast and beyond.
Her innovations were timely and came as other brands like Häagen-Dazs rolled out their luxury ice creams in pints, aiming to win a niche on store shelves beside Sealtest and Breyer’s, the New York Times reported in February 1981.
By 1981, Bassetts was selling its products in 18 states, the newspaper wrote. In 1980, the company sold 4 million pints in 27 flavors. The Bassetts line was known for its high butterfat content and the relatively low amount of air whipped into the dessert. The company kept developing new flavors to entice the public while retaining the old.
''Ice cream is a nostalgic item, and right now people want to take refuge in a gentler age,'' Ms. Bassett was quoted in the Times as saying.
She increased revenues and was the public face of the business until 1994, when she turned the reins over to her son. She maintained daily contact with her son, the current president.
“As matriarch of the Bassetts Ice Cream family, she was fiercely proud of her role in sustaining and carrying forward the ice cream brand and stayed interested in all aspects of the business until her passing,” her son said. “She was warm, funny, smart, hardworking, strong, ambitious, and ahead of her time.”
Born in Rose Valley to Lewis and Mary Ferguson Bassett, she graduated in 1951 from the Solebury School in New Hope. Inspired by art, she attended Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia but didn’t graduate.
She married Navy Capt. Robert C. Strange, who took the family to England, Florida, Maine, and Virginia. They had two sons before divorcing in 1973. She moved back to the Philadelphia area and later spent two decades with a companion, Fredric March. Both men predeceased her.
Ms. Bassett was a skilled bridge and scrabble player, an accomplished artist, and an excellent guitar player. She read widely. “When she undertook a new hobby or interest, she tried to be exceptional,” her son said.
She supported the Salvation Army, Philabundance, and the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission in North Philadelphia.
More than anything, Mrs. Bassett was devoted to family. She looked forward to an annual reunion that was the highlight of her year.
In addition to her son, she is survived by another son, Andrew; three grandchildren; and a brother.
A visitation starting at 10 a.m. will be followed by a 10:30 a.m. memorial service Friday, July 26, at the Chapel of Peace, West Laurel Hill Cemetery, 225 Belmont Ave., Bala Cynwyd. Burial will follow the service.