Herbert Hoover celebrated his 80th birthday in his hometown, West Branch, Iowa. It was a celebration of small-town America, a time capsule of the ‘good old days’ when friends and neighbors got together to share life’s big events. Hoover’s birthday party drew on the volunteer efforts of local citizens to cook, organize the parade, and attend to the logistical details of hosting a picnic lunch for 10,000 guests. This was no small task for the 750 citizens of West Branch, but a corps of volunteers were up to the job.
Among the volunteers was Rosemyrta Heick, a Tipton housewife and mother of three
children under age six. Rosemyrta was renowned locally for her cake baking prowess; naturally she was tapped to bake the cake for Hoover’s 80th birthday. She embraced this task with gusto—laying in supplies, planning the baking, and building of the six-tiered cake to serve the 250 special guests.
Heick first gathered the necessary ingredients: seven dozen eggs, forty-six cups of flour, 30 cups of sugar, 12 cups of shortening, 20 cups of milk, salt, baking powder and vanilla. With her sister watching her young children, Rosemyrta began the two-day [and two-oven] task of baking the many cakes to be held together by icing for the presentation. She donated all the ingredients and her time, a fact which must have resonated with Hoover’s deep commitment to voluntarism.
Things went well in terms of cake preparation with one small exception. The New York City bakery commissioned to create the ‘80’ gold ornament to top the cake failed to meet Heick’s standards. After a series of increasingly heated letters, the New York confectioner created an ornament that met with Heick’s approval. President Hoover would have his cake and eat it too.
Rosemyrta Heick had her moment in the sun in August 1954, but her story faded into the mists of history until 2008 when her children returned to Iowa to sell the family home. In cleaning the house, they came upon an envelope which contained newspaper clippings, photos, and letters telling this story about their mother that was unknown to them. They donated these materials to the Hoover Library, where they now comprise the Rosemyrta Heick Papers, a small collection providing a window into hometown pride and accomplishment.