Donald Goerke, 83, creator of Campbell's SpaghettiOs
By Sally A. Downey
Donald E. Goerke, 83, dubbed the "Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs" for creating the pasta product while a Campbell Soup Co. executive, died of heart failure Sunday at his Delran home.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Goerke was marketing research director for the Franco-American division of Campbell. Hoping to boost sales, his group considered different pasta shapes that would appeal to children, including baseballs and stars. He decided to go with O's.
"We wanted to keep it simple," he told a reporter.
Campbell president W.B. Murphy was so excited about the product that the company rolled it out nationally without trying it in a test market.
In commercials, Jimmie Rodgers sang the catchy jingle, "The neat, round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon: Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs."
It was a great hit with youngsters and mothers because it was "spoonable" and didn't make a mess, Mr. Goerke later told reporters.
During his 35-year career with Campbell, Mr. Goerke introduced more than 100 products, including Campbell's Chunky Soup in the late 1960s.
"The company was built on condensed soup and had to overcome a lot of skepticism to introduce a ready-to-serve soup," he told a reporter in 1990. By then SpaghettiOs and Campbell's Chunky Soup had combined sales of more than $500 million a year.
Mr. Goerke joined Campbell in 1955 as a market analyst. After developing two blockbuster products, he was president of Champion Valley Farms, a Campbell division that produced Recipe Dog Food, sponsor of the Lassie television series.
In the 1980s, he was director of marketing for Campbell's ready-to-serve products and then was general manager of its Red and White line of condensed soups. He retired in 1990 as manager of Campbell's microwave-soups division.
Mr. Goerke continued to consult for the company, and in 1995 Campbell asked him to participate in a SpaghettiOs anniversary event. He appeared on What's My Line? and attended a celebration at a SpaghettiOs plant in Ohio.
While he was with Campbell, Mr. Goerke often represented the company at golf tournaments, the Super Bowl, Miss America contests, and other events. He got to meet President Ronald Reagan and Arnold Palmer, said his son, Brian.
Campbell made him a goodwill ambassador, his son said, because "he was very outgoing, upbeat, and easy to talk to."
A company spokesman released a statement yesterday saying, "Don made many valuable contributions to Campbell Soup Company throughout his long career. He was a great marketer, a mentor and a friend to many. He will be missed by all who knew him.
A native of Waukesha, Wis., Mr. Goerke was a member of the Waukesha High School basketball team that won the state championship in 1944. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force in Arizona.
After his discharge, he earned a bachelor's degree from what is now Carroll University in Wisconsin, where he met his future wife, June Marie Uthus. He earned a master's degree in statistics from the University of Wisconsin. Before joining Campbell, he was a market researcher for Blatz Brewery in Wisconsin.
Mr. Goerke and his wife lived in Cinnaminson for more than 30 years. Ten years ago, they moved to Ashley Crossing, a residential development in Delran.
He was past president of the Merchantville school board and the Ashley Crossing Board of Directors. For more than 40 years, he was an active member of the Riverton Country Club and initiated modifications to make the golf course more accessible to older and handicapped players, his son said. He was also an active member of Bethany Lutheran Church.
Recently, he had been involved in efforts to increase pensions for Campbell retirees, his son said.
"He engaged people and was willing to take leadership responsibilities," his son said. "He was respected, but he was comfortable to be with."
In addition to his son Brian, Mr. Goerke is survived by a son, David; a daughter, Ann Nassoura; and seven grandchildren. His wife of 59 years died in 2008.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Bethany Lutheran Church, 617 Morgan Ave., Palmyra, N.J. 08065. Friends may call at 10 a.m.
Donations may be made to the church.