Samuel 'Sacha' Spector, 86, founder of Mary Sue Candies

June 25, 1995|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writer

Samuel "Sacha" Spector, who satisfied Baltimore's sweet tooth with a candy named Mary Sue, died of pneumonia Friday at Sinai Hospital. He was 86.

He founded Mary Sue Candies Inc. in a rowhouse basement at 601 S. Smallwood St., in Southwest Baltimore, in 1948. In the 1950s, he built a candy factory at 707 S. Caton Ave. There, the company made a variety of confections -- with Mary Sue Easter Eggs the most famous.

The enduring advertising jingle is one of the best-known in the Baltimore area:

"Here's a treat that is sunny

For your Easter bunny,

The creamiest candy that's made.

Mary Sue Easter eggs, Mary Sue Easter eggs,

Brighten your Easter parade.

"It's funny," said John Unitas, who as a young Baltimore Colts quarterback sang that jingle on local television in the late 1950s, "people even today see me and yell, 'Hey Mary Sue!' "

At the height of his success, Mr. Spector sold 8 million Mary Sue eggs during the Easter season. "He never compromised on his ingredients -- the best chocolate, butter, nuts," said his grandson, Mark Berman, who now runs the company.

"Even though he was semiretired, he was usually at the factory before 6 a.m. every day just to make sure things were going right. . . . He was there the week before he died."

Mr. Spector immigrated with his family to Baltimore from Russia when he was 2 years old.

"They had been candy makers in the old country, so they just continued what they knew when they arrived in their new country," said Mr. Spector's daughter, Libby Berman of Owings Mills.

The family formed the Eagle Candy Co. and later changed the name to the Great Eastern Candy Co., specializing in hard candies.

Baltimore had dozens of candy companies then, and Mr. Spector's first interest was to become a lawyer. After finishing his job in a grocery store each day, he hitchhiked to classes at the University of Maryland College Park and earned a law degree. But that was not to be his career.

"He didn't like practicing law, so he started Mary Sue," said his daughter. Mr. Spector named his company after a co-founder's two daughters, both of whom became nuns in the Sisters of Mercy. The co-founder, Harry Gerwig, died about a year after the company was formed.

Though the Easter egg, which sold along the East Coast, was his most popular candy, Mr. Spector produced many other confections. Mary Sue's butter creams, for instance, came in four flavors and were marketed in vending machines across the country.

Mr. Spector often could be found at the candy factory, checking on the correct touch of Brazil nuts, the proper -- of lemon peel, the perfect consistency of the bittersweet chocolate.

"In the old days, the recipes were closely guarded secrets," Mr. Berman said. "My grandfather never wrote down what went into the candies. When I graduated from college, I had to interview people in the company, my grandfather included, to get the recipes and have them recorded."

Mr. Spector was one of the local founders of Hias, an organization that helps Jewish immigrants assimilate into life in the United States. His daughter said Mr. Spector hired many non-English-speaking workers for his factory.

"When the Vietnamese came here in the mid-1970s, he was quick to offer them work," Mrs. Berman said. "Same went for Bulgarians and Russians. He helped educate them and clothe them. My father learned sign language, so he could hire and communicate with the deaf."

In 1966, he manufactured a 200-pound chocolate Easter egg, the sale of which benefited Catholic grade schools. He also donated candy to synagogues across Maryland to help celebrate the holiday Simchas Torah.

He was a devoted fan of the Baltimore Colts. A season-ticket holder, Mr. Spector carted a huge sack of candy to every game played at Memorial Stadium. When the Colts scored a touchdown, Mr. Spector would shower fans with his candy.

In addition to butter cream and fruit-and-nut Easter eggs, the Mary Sue company produces saltwater taffy, sold from Maine to Florida.

Negotiations are under way with the city to move the Caton Avenue factory to the Market Place area near the Inner Harbor by 1998. Mr. Berman said candies would be manufactured there, with the public able to watch the process.

"If everything goes according to plan, we'd like to do it in '98 for the 50-year anniversary," Mr. Berman said. "It's something my grandfather would like."

Services were to be held at 1 p.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 6010 Reisterstown Road.

In addition to his daughter and grandson, Mr. Spector is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Anne Sumers, who was his childhood sweetheart; and two other grandchildren, David Berman of Baltimore and Dr. Bonnie Berman, a veterinarian, of Newark, Del.

The family suggested donations to the Samuel "Sacha" Spector Memorial Fund at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, 3300 Old Court Road, Pikesville 21208.

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