J. Dan Fortner, creator of Pineapple Whip and longtime manager and advocate of the Ozark Empire Fair, died Thursday in Willard, his daughter-in-law confirmed.
He was 86.
In a social media tribute posted Thursday, a friend and former colleague wrote that Fortner “had a great and wonderful life; impacting the thousands of young people he hired at A&W and in his Five Ways Concessions.”
“He wouldn’t let our Ozark Empire Fair die,” the friend added. “He worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known to breathe new life into our fair and was an unparalleled innovator. He was an inventor and had more stories to share than seemed humanly possible. … Dan Fortner was a man for the ages. I know he’s rejoicing at the reunion in Heaven with his beloved son.”
Fortner’s son Mike died in 2014 at age 61 after a long battle with cancer, according to previous News-Leader reporting.
With Fortner’s son Chris, Mike organized the Pineapple Whip business in the 1980s, but it was Dan Fortner who developed the recipe for the signature Springfield summertime treat about a decade earlier.
According to News-Leader archives, beginning in the early 1960s, Dan Fortner operated A&W restaurants in Springfield and served root beer at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds.
His sons grew up working in the A&Ws for their dad and his business partner, Ken Farrell.
In the mid-1970s, Fortner began to manage the fairgrounds and serve concessions. He soon created the formula for Pineapple Whip and sold it at the fairgrounds.
When Fortner became fair manager, his sons became full-time concessionaires.
At that time, they took their father’s Pineapple Whip recipe to the parking-lot trailer concept that includes at least three Springfield locations today.
The frozen treat has become famous outside Springfield and was the subject of a news report by NPR in July 2015.
“It’s called Pineapple Whip,” NPR reported, “both the beloved frozen dessert and the series of roadside stands that sling them to long lines of eager eaters. And the treat is simple, too: a nondairy, juice-based soft serve. Something so simple, and so distinctive, it’s tough to label it with any readily recognizable category, any name but its own.”
Fortner is survived by his wife of almost 66 years, Lovena, son Chris Fortner, daughter Danna Fortner Great and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren and extended family.
According to the website of Greenlawn Funeral Home North, a visitation is to be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday. The funeral home is located at 3506 N. National Ave.
Funeral services are to be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Berean Baptist Church, 507 E. Norton Road.
The Revs. Jim White and Fred Reamsnider will officiate. Burial follows the service and is to take place at Greenlawn Memorial Gardens, 3506 N. National Ave.
Complete information on Fortner’s surviving family members was not yet available Friday night but is expected to be added to this report in an update.
(Read the original story on the Springfield News-Leader’s website.)