Rice Hershey

Mar 3, 2009

On a phone call with my friend, Richard Gildenmeister, I learn the sad news of the passing of Rice Hershey, a man I admired and liked immensely — I worked with Rice during my time as editor of Northern Ohio Live, and Rice and Bill hosted me and Erin for a dinner at their art- and photo-filled home to talk about our Peace Corps service and their world travels.

His obituary

RICE A. HERSHEY, 75, passed away on Feb. 17, 2009. Survived by Wilbur J. “Bill” Markstrom, his loving partner of more than 40 years;, brother Philip C. (Catherine) of Copley, and four nieces. Predeceased by his parents, Rice A. and Katherine Elizabeth Steinbacher Hershey, sister Elizabeth Hershey Kennedy and brother Paul T.

Born in Akron on June 26, 1933, and reared in Bath, Ohio, Rice early on revealed the artistic bent that propelled his multifaceted career as a theater publicist, magazine writer, virtuosic home chef, cultural omnivore, salonista and world traveler. As a teenager he won Scholastic magazine awards for both his writing and his painting. A member of the last class to graduate from Bath High School (in 1951), he attended Kent State University, where he acted in Medea and The Madwoman of Chaillot and co-wrote a musical mounted as a welcome replacement to the college’s outmoded Stunt Night. Infected with the theater bug, Rice left KSU to enter the famed apprentice program at the Cleveland Play House.

He again tried his hand at acting before embracing scene painting and set design as his métier. During the summers he worked as a scenic artist for stock companies on the East Coast. The U.S. Army called, and Rice spent more than two years in the service of his country. His assignment to a communications detachment stationed in Asmara, Ethiopia (now Eritrea), awakened a lifelong relish of world culture and cuisine.

Upon his return to the States, Rice worked as a reporter for Akron’s WADC-AM radio and as a copy chief for the Cleveland advertising agency, Gerst, Sylvester and Walsh, before landing his dream job as the Cleveland Play House’s director of publicity and promotion. At an opening-night party (one of Rice’s innovations), he was introduced to his companion to be, a young attorney named Wilbur Markstrom, who shared his love of the fine arts and his wanderlust (together they eventually visited more than 50 countries on five continents).

Rice left the Play House in the mid-1960s to become marketing director of America’s then third largest enclosed shopping mall: Severance Center in Cleveland Hts. To enhance the center’s carriage trade image, he turned its fountain rotunda into a venue for not-for-profit benefits. During this period he also reviewed films for Cleveland’s classical music station, WCLV-FM.

Disproving the adage that there are no second acts in American lives, Rice became a contributing editor of Northern Ohio LIVE magazine in 1980. A natural-born cook who delighted in bringing an interesting mix of people together for celebratory meals and lively conversation, he gained renown in local “foodie” circles for his pioneering “Gourmet Kitchen” column, devoted to the then-novel concept of pursuing culinary adventure at home. He continued to write for LIVE until the mid-2000s, sharing his passion for travel, fine dining, entertaining (invitations to the Hershey-Markstrom’s annual Christmas bash were highly prized), the visual arts, opera (setting what must be a record, he and Bill attended more than 120 operatic performances in cities around the globe), books and movies.

From 1997 until his death, Rice served on the Short Selections Committee of the Cleveland International Film Festival. Recently Bill donated an edgy Yayoi Kasuma sculpture that had for years bemused visitors to their Cleveland Heights home to the Akron Art Museum in Rice’s honor.

Friends and colleagues are invited to celebrate the remarkable life of Rice A. Hershey at a memorial gathering at Mayfield Country Club, 1545 Sheridan Rd., South Euclid, Ohio on Friday, March 6, starting promptly at 4:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, those who wish may make contributions, in Rice’s memory, to The Cleveland Orchestra, 11001 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 44106, or the charity of choice. Private entombment services will be held in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

Anton Zuiker

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