Jerry Kurowski's History of the Tootsie Roll Drive


I was in Council 6521, St. Dominic, in Bolingbrook for over 20 years and got introduced to the Tootsie Roll drive in October of 1980. That first year my wife and I worked the Jewel store in Romeoville. I have many stories to share over all the years like the time we found an engagement ring in the can with the money. The lady called Village Hall and said it might have slipped of when she made a donation. The village gave her the number of our Grand Knight and she called him and got her engagement ring back.
When I asked Jim Koller if he wanted me to present a History of the Tootsie Roll Drive at our next open meeting he said sure, check with Bob Purpura. Bob said sure and maybe I should include a history of the Tootsie Roll. So I will start out with that brief history.


The tootsie roll was founded by an Austrian Immigrant, Leo Herschfield, in New York and named for his daughter in 1896 and sold for 1 cents and starting out with a store front operation.
1905 Moved production to a 5 story factory.
1917 Changed the name to The Sweets Company of America.
1922 The business was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
1931 The tootsie roll pop was introduced and was very popular during the depression due to its low price.
1938 The company moved to Hoboken, NJ.
During WW II, the tootsie roll became a standard part of the American soldier’s field rations.
1950’s The Company sponsored TV shows like Howdy Doody, Rin Tin Tin and Rocky and Bullwinkle.
1966 Changed the name to Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc. and moved to Chicago at 7401 So. Cicero Ave. which became and is now their headquarters.
1968 – 1970 Expanded to the Philippines, Far East, Mexico and Canada.
1972 Purchased Dots and Crows.
1988 Purchased Blow Pops and Charms.
1993 Purchased Junior Mints, Sugar Daddies, Sugar Babes and Charleston Chews.
1996 Celebrated their 100th Anniversary.
2000 Purchased Fluffy Stuff, Cotton Candy and Andes Candies.
2004 Purchased Concord Confections in Toronto Canada.
Today they manufacture 60 million tootsie rolls per day and 20 million tootsie roll pops per day.


The idea of the Tootsie Roll Drive was initiated by three men from Council Number 4698, CC Boyle Council, in Tinley Park in 1970. They got together for a beer and they understood that organizations serving the people with mental retardation needed money and the Knights of Columbus in Illinois needed a charitable mission to offer their members. (I don’t know that they actually got together for a beer but since I am telling the story, they got together for a beer.) They knew that other fraternal organizations like the Lions, Shriners, Elks and others had members that reached out to the community with focused projects.
Since one of the three had a daughter who was mentally retarded they had no difficulty to determine that the money would go to the mentally retarded. They decided that they would stand in public places and solicit donations giving out a token product. Initially they thought about giving out packets of Forget Me Nots flowers which would provide a good marketing slogan “For the Mentally Retarded - Forget-Me-Not”. After further thought they had concerns that people would not want a packet of seeds and would not use them and probably would not donate. Their next thought was Tootsie Rolls since this was a well-established candy company based in Chicago. Tootsie Rolls were a well-recognized item with very good shelf life. They piloted the program in their own Tinley Park Council.
They picked a weekend and got men from their Council and the candy from Tootsie Roll. They stood at busy stores and intersections with canisters and the candy and asked for small donations from the public. The first time collection was highly successful raising over $30,000 for the two day effort.
They drew up a resolution to have the Tootsie Roll Drive become a statewide program and submitted it to the Illinois State Council which was presented at the State Convention in 1971. That resolution was adopted unanimously. Since that first drive in 1970 raising over $30,000 for Council 4698, the Illinois Councils have increased the annual profit to nearly two million dollars. It should be noted that the main purpose of the drive is to support Special Olympics.
The news of the success of the MR in Illinois was published in the K of C magazine and newsletters and spread to other states. There are currently 44 States that have drives for the Mentally Handicapped. Tootsie Rolls are the prime product given out by all Councils. There is the exception for a few Councils that give out a different product. One can say that this is a win situation for both the K of C and the Tootsie Roll Corporation.
The Virginia State Council in 1971 formed the state program known as KOVAR (Knights of Virginia Assisting the Retarded).
In Illinois the Tootsie Roll Drive was established to be the last weekend in October which often coincided with Halloween. However after many years with many weekends of cold and inclement weather, the date for the drive was changed to be in September. Also the political correctness of Mentally Retarded was challenged and that changed to the MH Drive (Mentally Handicapped) for a time and is now known as the ID Drive (Intellectually Disabled). So currently the tootsie roll drive is politically correct.
Now I want to focus on how the money we collect has been distributed over the years in Illinois. Initially when the State Council introduced the resolution for the Tootsie Roll Drive, the main purpose was to help fund Special Olympics. So a percentage of what every Council collected went to the State Council for Special Olympics. It was very simple back then, the Councils would collect the money, deduct expenses for the candy, etc. and send a percentage to the Illinois State Council. The rest of the money would go into the Council’s checking account to be spent on organizations that worked with and had programs for autistic people. It was up to each individual Council to disperse the money. After several years, the State Officers wondered how Councils were distributing the money and to whom and decided to audit the Councils MR funds. What they found out is that many Councils had as much as $60,000 in Tootsie Roll money in their checking account that they never spent. This brought forth another resolution by the State Council at the next State Convention and was passed. With this resolution, Councils had to turn in all the money to the State Council every year. Councils were also required to liquidate those funds within one year. In addition to the percentage allocated for Special Olympics, the State initiated another program to help finance and build houses for Autistic people. So an additional percentage was collected by the State Council for that program and if a Council had not liquidated its Tootsie Roll funds in one year, those funds would go to the State Council for this new program.
So now when Councils wanted to give money to a specific organization, they had to request their money from the State Council and the State Council would issue a check payable to that Council. After several years of handling of the Tootsie Roll money in this fashion, the IRS questioned if the Illinois State Council monitored that the requested money was indeed being spent for the purpose requested and also if the organizations receiving the money were certified as having programs assisting autistic people. Another resolution was in order at the next State Convention.
So now if a Council wanted to donate money to a specific organization, they had to provide a copy of that organization’s certificate with their request to the State Council. The State Council would then issue a check payable to that specific organization. So today the State Council maintains a list of acceptable organizations that can receive money from the Tootsie Roll Drive and money is distributed with a check made out directly to that organization. The IRS is very happy.
The switch from receiving a check from the State Council made out to the Council and now being made out to the organization initially was a problem for me. For over eleven years I chaired a MH Christmas Party for autistic people in our community. I worked with the Bolingbrook Park District which has a large program for autistic people known as the JBSRA (Joliet Bolingbrook Special Recreation Association) and the special education people in our school district. So we would request a check for around $3,200 for this event and the Council would get the check and issue me a check to implement this Christmas Party. But now we had no check from the State Council for this party. The JBSRA had the check. So I talked to the Deputy Director of the Park District, Margaret Resnick, and explained the situation. She said not a problem. So now I would give her the check from the Illinois State Council and she would put it through their books and give me a check made out to Jerry Kurowski. Problem was solved and the MH Christmas Parties continued.
At our Council today, we requests checks from the State Council for the organizations we wish to support. Their certificates are on file. The State Council sends us the checks payable to these organizations and we invite representatives of these organizations to one of our business meetings and present them with the checks. I would assume that all other states most likely handle the Tootsie Roll Funds the same as we do in Illinois. You should be aware that anyone in our Council can request a qualified organization to receive a portion of the Tootsie Roll money we collect.
The fact that the K of C and other charitable organizations have success with taking to the streets and store fronts has prompted other organizations to do the same such as school bands to fund trips, scout troops and many other organizations wishing to raise money for a special purpose. This has prompted local governments to develop rules for organizations that wish to collect money on the streets and the store fronts. The individual stores like Jewel have also developed rules for collecting money in front of their stores. Besides scheduling a weekend with local villages and cities, we need to show proof that we have insurance. Some organizations that collect money don’t even have identifying aprons. So the local villages and cities have their own aprons that are designed to be very visible for traffic conditions. Thus we have to wear the village apron in addition to our K of C ID aprons. Also the State Council realized the insurance aspect of the Tootsie Roll Drive and has provided insurance coverage for all Councils in Illinois. Proclamations are issued every year by our governor and our local mayors proclaiming that the weekend of our ID drive is dedicated to helping autistic people.
So starting with three people have a beer and an idea, we are where we are today with the State Wide Tootsie Roll Drive and 44 other States have followed in our footsteps.
Let me tell you about another program we have locally started by one of our Brother Knights from the Dr. Dooly Assembly, Reese Evans. Reese and his wife were on vacation in Florida and stopped by one of the local Councils who told them about a program that they help sponsor for autistic people. They call it Special Camps. Reese said to his wife this is really a great program we should do this where we live. So Reese talked to his council and to the Boy Scouts who have a camp ground in the area. Special camps in the western suburbs of Chicago had become a reality. Special camps is funded by the K of C councils and assemblies in our area. Funds from the Tootsie Roll Drive are not used to fund Special Camps. Every year for two weeks in July, autistic people attend and it is like a summer camp with archery, swimming, fishing, cook outs, etc. Volunteers consist of professional people who work with autistic people, and many Brother Knights. It is a very dedicated effort every year. If you never heard of special camps, now you have. If we so desire, we can contribute and support Special Camps.
Well I hope I have provided everyone with how this whole Tootsie Roll Drive got started and how all the funds ended up being distributed as they are today. I thank you for having me give this presentation and if you have any questions, I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.