Albert L. Rheb, 83, chief executive of family-owned candy company

November 16, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Albert L. Rheb, head of a family-owned candy-making company known to generations of Baltimoreans, died yesterday of undetermined causes at the Charlestown Retirement Community's nursing facility in Catonsville.

Mr. Rheb was 83 and lived nearly all his life above the still-active candy factory his parents established in a Wilkens Avenue rowhouse basement the year before he was born.

He began his association with the Southwest Baltimore confectionery company in the early 1930s, when he was a City College student. He often made deliveries to stalls in the Hollins and Lexington markets, where his parents, Louis and Esther Rheb, sold their sweets.

While he also took courses at the old Baltimore College of Commerce and attended a confectioners' school, Mr. Rheb learned his trade from his parents. He did not tamper with their recipes, and he prided himself on his plant's cleanliness and order.

"It worked right for his mother and father, and it worked right for him," said a niece, Karen Myrick of Baltimore. "He wasn't image-conscious. He just wanted to make a good product and keep it the way it always had been. He succeeded nicely -- he kept the quality high and the cost down."

"He made a top-quality candy," said Nicholas Konstant, a fourth-generation candy-maker whose family stall opened in Lexington Market in 1896. "He served the people of Baltimore a long time."

Because of a knee injury suffered playing football, Mr. Rheb was not eligible for military service during World War II. Wanting to serve in the war effort, however, he resigned from his candy factory job and became a Bethlehem Steel shipyard worker.

In the early 1950s, he oversaw the construction of Rheb's only free-standing retail store -- a converted garage in the 3300 block of Wilkens Ave. He also decided to give up the Hollins Market stall and concentrate his energies on the Wilkens Avenue and Lexington Market operations.

He worked long hours at the plant and often drove fresh candy shipments to Lexington Market during busy holiday periods, when it was not uncommon for customers to wait in long lines for hand-packed pound boxes. He rarely took a vacation -- occasionally a few days at Ocean City -- and his one sport was playing golf at the Rolling Road Country Club. He was a Mason and member of Boumi Temple.

Mr. Rheb became the company's president and chief executive officer in 1961, a year after his father died. He held the post until 1988, when he gave up active management.

Mr. Rheb always dressed in a heavily starched white shirt and dark trousers for work. If any chocolate stained his shirt, he went upstairs and put on a fresh one, family members said.

Of all the truffles, nougats and creams he sold, the family said, chocolate-covered caramel remained his personal favorite.

Services will be held at noon tomorrow at Loudon Park Funeral Home, 3620 Wilkens Ave.

In addition to his niece, he is survived by a sister, Esther Harger, and two nephews, Edwin "Wynn" Harger and John Harger, all of Baltimore and active in the family business.

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