Editorial: The legacy of Yankee Candle’s Michael Kittredge II

  • Mike Kittredge is shown at his home in Leverett.

Published: 8/5/2019 2:44:59 PM

Michael Kittredge II’s legacy is evident long before the county line. On blustery days, the aroma of candles wafting from Yankee Candle Co.’s manufacturing plant in Whately can be smelled from Route 91 in Hatfield and beyond.

A Leverett resident, Kittredge, who passed away July 21 at 67 years old, is known for having started Yankee Candle as a teenager in his family’s South Hadley home in 1969 and fostering it into a global phenomenon. In 1998, Kittredge sold 90 percent of the scented candle business’s shares to a private New York equity company for $500 million.

These days, Yankee Candle’s flagship store in South Deerfield is one of the largest tourist attractions in Massachusetts, and the company sells tens of thousands of candles each year from storefronts around the globe. Kittredge’s son, Michael J. “Mick” Kittredge III, said he hopes his father will be remembered as the “epitome of the American Dream and rags to riches.”

We will remember him as such.

In business, Kittredge treated people with respect. He was known among his employees for his tendency to leave crumpled-up notes that looked like litter on the floor. The person who picked one up received a prize. For many years next door to South Deerfield’s village store, there was a health center, free to those who worked there. He turned retail into an event. There were trains everywhere. Snow fell even in the summer. It was always Christmas in Deerfield.

“(He) wanted to give everybody else everything he didn’t have as a kid growing up. He didn’t get anything but socks for Christmas. He had a tough childhood and really made something out of it,” said Mick Kittredge, who opened Kringle Candle with his father in 2010. “He was great. He was the best father a kid could ask for. It’s hard to capture the essence of him in a few comments.”

Locally, he invested himself in philanthropic endeavors, giving generously to South Deerfield’s tight-knit community. One year, for example, he donated an ambulance — arriving at the celebratory event with his employees in tow dressed as elves. After selling his candle business, the elder Kittredge, a two-time cancer survivor, became a staunch supporter of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, serving on its board of directors for years. Among other projects, he helped create Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s Kittredge Surgery Center, Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Center, and the Kittredge Building at The Bement School in Deerfield.

While Kittredge has passed on, his legacy continues.

Travel anywhere — from Florida to Texas to California — and chances are you’ll meet someone who has visited South Deerfield’s Yankee Candle village store. Kittredge helped put the Pioneer Valley on the map. In doing so, he molded the tourism fabric of our region, adding vibrancy and highlighting the beauty of the Valley’s landscape.

For that, we’re grateful.




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