Nearly 50 years ago, teenager Michael Kittredge II melted crayons in the garage of his family’s South Hadley home to make his mother a candle for Christmas — he didn’t have the money to buy her a present.
A neighbor noticed what Kittredge was doing, and bought the homemade gift from him. That first sale forged an idea that blossomed into the Yankee Candle company.
It’s a robust legacy. Yankee candles have made their way into millions of homes — the company now has nearly 500 stores, and over 19,000 retailers sell their candles, according to its website.
Kittredge died Wednesday, according to a statement from his family obtained by The Boston Globe. He was 67.
“Mike loved nothing more than seeing other people experience happiness, and he delighted in sharing generously with others,” the statement said. “He was a consummate entertainer, and enjoyed hosting parties and gatherings large and small, all done with his distinctive zeal for quality and getting the tiniest details exactly right.”
Kittredge manned the helm of his candle company until 1998, MassLive reports. He then sold 90 percent of the company off. The estimated value? Roughly $500 million.
“We are selling a handmade product that’s unique,” Kittredge told the Globe during a 1984 interview. “Our candles are hand dipped, scented and the packaging is certainly unique.”
The company’s flagship store remains in South Deerfield, along with offices. About 1,400 people in the region work for the business. It also has a building in East Longmeadow and a factory in Whately, according to MassLive.
Outside of his work, Kittredge enjoyed traveling – from the Caribbean to Antarctica. He also played in a band, MassLive reports.
He reentered the candle business in 2010, helping his son start Kringle Candle, according to the news website.
“Above all, Mike’s greatest passion was spending time with his children, playing games, watching their home videos, reviewing his son’s latest candle products and enjoying meals together,” the family’s statement said.