The Ice Cream Man

Scoops out patriotism all year round

Written by Karen Long

When Army veteran Carl Brandt discovered that his daughter and sons had signed him up for a Kansas Honor Flight in May 2015, at first he refused to go. “I don’t need to do that,” said the self-effacing Korean War vet, who lives in La Crosse, Kansas.

“Most daughters can get their daddies to do something,” relates Carl’s daughter, Patty Brandt-Crowell, who eventually did convince her father to go on the Kansas Honor Flight, a trip to Washington D.C. where U.S. veterans visit the landmarks and war memorials of our nation’s capital, and are given a hero’s welcome at the airport on their return home — all at no cost to veterans, thanks to an army of volunteers.

Patty says she was fortunate enough to accompany Carl as his guardian. “He had the most phenomenal experience. When we were going through the airport, people stopped and they clapped. When we went to all the memorials, there were a lot of school groups there, and the teachers would have the students come over and shake the vets’ hands, and that was very emotional. You could see all the vets tear up.”

When they flew back to Kansas, Carl looked at his daughter and said, “We’re paying this forward. We’re gonna make sure we send another vet. I want other vets to know about this and the organization to have more people on the flights.”

The ice cream cart

For many years Carl’s hobby had been restoring vintage carts originally made by the Cushman company. Since 1903 Cushman has developed multiple lines of carts and scooters used in agriculture, construction and manufacturing, and they’ve developed something of a cult following. Carl had an idea to restore one of the Cushmans for use as an ice cream cart.

“I want to give away five-cent ice cream cones to the kids,” he said.

When Patty ran the numbers, she figured it would cost 50 cents to give away a five-cent ice cream cone. Then she had a brainstorm: “Why don’t we marry this with your idea of wanting to do something for the honor flights — we’ll donate our time and ice cream and you can give away your five-cent ice cream cones.”

In August of 2016 Carl, Patty, and Patty’s brother, Richard, took the ice cream cart, freshly emblazoned with a large, snow-covered “5¢” sign, to their first fundraiser. They handed out ice cream cones and accepted whatever donations customers made to the Kansas Honor Flight organization.

“He’s now funded over seven vets. He’s raised over $5,300 and handed out over 1,000 ice cream cones.” — Patty Brandt-Crowell

Over the next few years the family team made the rounds of county fairs, car shows, OzFest in Wamego, Kansas, and their largest event, the Great Bend Airfest. “Richard has worked so hard along with my Dad at every fundraiser,” explains Patty. She says none of this would have happened without heavy lifting by Richard, who handles the transportation and set up. Their other brother, Larry, lives in Texas and offers moral support.

Carl, his Cushman cart and the five-cent ice cream cones have been a hit, and he accomplished his mission to send more veterans on Kansas Honor Flights.

“He’s now funded over seven vets,” says Patty. “He’s raised over $5,300 and handed out over 1,000 ice cream cones. After the first donation I think that’s when Kansas Honor Flight dubbed him ‘The Ice Cream Man.’ ”

Corporal Brandt

During the Korean War, Carl was stationed in Austria working as a clerk. “The most I’ve ever gotten out of him,” says Patty, “was that they did a lot with spies in his office. One time a pilot who was a Russian spy was shot down, and they had to guard him in the office.”

Carl was originally scheduled to go to the Korean front, when an official came in the room where he was waiting and asked, “Does anybody know how to type?” and Carl raised his hand. They pulled him out and sent him to Austria to be a clerk.

Later, he told this story to his young daughter, adding, “Never underestimate what learning a skill will do.”

“He was a corporal,” Patty says. “I joke with him that he was a kind of Radar O'Reilly from MASH. That was pretty much his role.”

Raising a family

Soon after Carl came back from the service, he married Mary Ann Brandt and became an electrician. The couple moved around, living in Coffeyville and Wichita, before finally settling down in La Crosse in western Kansas. There Carl opened his own business, Brandt Electric, which he ran for 50 years.

“My dad was very much a tradesman,” says Patty, “such a hard worker. He worked two jobs, often, when I was little.” That was in addition to being a volunteer fireman for the county, working on the police force, plus serving as mayor and city commissioner at various points.

“Pretty much anything our county needed he was there doing,” Patty says. She remembers tagging along to Boy Scout meetings with her brothers when their dad was the scout leader. Carl also “ran the chain” for the high school football team for 25 years.

“Honestly, I don’t think he ever missed a game.”

The Veterans of Foreign Wars organization was a central part of family life according to Patty. “There wasn’t a single week of my life that we weren’t at the VFW. You were either there having a beer after work, or you were doing some kind of activity for the community.”

Year-round patriotism

Through his example, Carl Brandt showed his children that patriotism isn’t something to be practiced only once or twice a year.

“Growing up, every memory I have is around doing things that are patriotic,” says Patty. “That can be something simple like putting your hand over your heart and taking off your hat when the anthem plays. Every year we would go put flags out on all the graves of the vets, and in the square downtown. You learned how to properly care for a flag in my household. You learned the history and you learned the reason.”

After his journey on the Kansas Honor Flight, Carl saw an opportunity to make a difference — and he connected with a community that shared his spirit of patriotism and giving back.

“He was so impressed with the organization,” says Patty. “They did such an amazing job taking care of the vets, honoring them, all the camaraderie among everyone on the flight. They work year round. We’re doing this little bit to raise money a few times a year, but these guys are working every week.”

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