Full of Grace – Ice cream entrepreneur was House of Charity leader

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mrsofteeguy-webThe jingle flowing out of the ice cream truck is legendary, and for children and adults alike, the cold, sweet treats are a summer tradition.

Today, there are more than 600 Mister Softee trucks rolling into neighborhoods in 15 states. And it all began with William A. Conway, and his brother James, who were devout local Catholics.

Growing up in South Philadelphia, William A. Conway received a basketball scholarship to St. Joseph’s University, and during World War II served in Italy and France.

After the war, he began working as an accountant for the Navy, and sold insurance on the side.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1956, Conway and his brother James gave away green ice cream to West Philadelphia neighbors from a soft ice cream truck, the beginning of Mr. Softee.

With its cone-headed namesake on the side of the truck, its ever-present jingle, and selection of sweets treats for summer, Mr. Softee soon became an international brand.

By 1958, Mr. Softee moved to its current headquarters in Runnemede, and William Conway remained its president until the late 1990s.

A longtime Haddonfield resident, Conway was a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus, who served on the Parish Council at St. Rose of Lima Parish, Haddon Heights; was a member of the Camden Diocese’s Financial Council; and chaired the House of Charity’s Committee for Business and Industry. (James also was a supporter of Catholic Charities.)

In 1982, Conway was inducted into the Papal Order of the Knights of St. Gregory, and in 1989, he received the Camden Diocese House of Charity Award.

Conway died Feb. 25, 2004, at the age of 81, but his legacy lives on every summer day, when the Mr. Softee jingle brings children running. (“The creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream you get from Mr. Softee!”)

Researched by Peter G. Sánchez and James A. McBride