Jean M. Sapp of ice-cream mecca Original Rainbow Cone, dead at 88

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Jean Sapp.

Jean Sapp was a kindly cashier at a happy place in Beverly that layers chocolate, strawberry, pistachio and Palmer House ice cream — that’s New York vanilla with cherries and walnuts — topped with orange sherbet to make the Original Rainbow Cone.

She married into the family that created the trademarked treat, sold for nearly 90 years at Chicago’s oldest ice cream parlor at 9233 S. Western. She did the payroll, worked the register and fed home-cooked meals to the entire Sapp clan as they worked the counter.

Mrs. Sapp would march from her house behind Rainbow Cone and carry over dinner so everyone could keep working, including founder Joseph Sapp and his wife Katherine and their son Robert, who was Jean Sapp’s husband.

They couldn’t afford to pause for a break because Rainbow Cone operates only in warmer months.

“In the summer, you’ve got to make your money when you can make it,” said Mrs. Sapp’s son Thomas.

The staff wolfed down her food so they could return to dishing out cones to long lines of customers.

Mrs. Sapp died Sept. 8 in hospice care in Crown Point, Indiana. She was 88.


Jean Sapp of Rainbow Cone with her husband Robert on left, and her son Robert Jr. on right Family photo.

She made delicious roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy and also savory spaghetti and lasagna from recipes shared by an Italian neighbor. Often, she made enough to feed all the Sapps and their workers — about a dozen people.

“She would have big trays,” said daughter Lynn Sapp, third-generation Rainbow Cone owner. “You had to have good arms.

“She would make sure everybody had a good meal.”

“Nobody’s ever been able to replicate her fried chicken,” piquant with cracked pepper and spices, her son said.

Mrs. Sapp volunteered for years at Christ the King parish, where her husband coached football. She washed the team uniforms and chauffeured players, cheerleaders and nuns. And she led an after-school Great Books program.

Born Jean Mullarkey, she grew up in Little Flower parish near 79th and Halsted, the daughter of a homemaker mom and a Chicago police officer dad who moonlighted as an electrician. The Mullarkeys lost their house in the Depression.

“We just figured everybody was poor,” she told her kids.

After Mercy High School, she joined the other young women who took the streetcar downtown to work at Illinois Bell.

She and Robert Sapp met at a dance, but World War II separated them. In the war’s final days, he was stationed on a boat off Japan, awaiting orders for battle.

“He was given his last rites. They expected 80 percent casualties,” Thomas Sapp said. “And they were sitting there, and someone said, ‘Hey, guys, they dropped some bomb on Japan.’ ”

When he returned to Chicago, he saw Jean. They had a romantic exchange, city-kid style:

“I thought your hand was broken. You didn’t write,” he told her.

“I didn’t know if you were coming back,” she zinged back.

They married in 1949. He worked as an engineer for the Chicago Board of Education. When school closed for the summer, he worked at Rainbow Cone.


Chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House, pistachio and orange sherbet. The Rainbow Cone.

When her kids went away to college (Thomas at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Lynn at Illinois State University and son Robert Sapp Jr. and daughter Kathi at Florida’s St. Leo University), Mrs. Sapp took advantage of those pre-Homeland Security days to press packages on friends who were going to visit them–ice-cream containers filled with her frozen spaghetti sauce, so they could have a taste of home.

“If there was somebody in the neighborhood who had a death in the family, Dad or Mom would be over there, bringing ice cream,” Thomas Sapp said.

Though “a little bitty Irish gal,” she could be a tough cookie when the need arose, said Robert Sapp Jr. “When I was with the Chicago Police Department, my mom grabbed me by the ear and told me, ‘You might think you’re a big, tough guy, but you can never, ever, handle your mother.’ ”

Her purse matched her shoes, and she believed in putting away white clothes after Labor Day. “When she was in hospice, she had lipstick on,” said her daughter Kathi. She enjoyed golfing and “knew more about football when the Bears were on than most guys,” Lynn Sapp said.

Her husband died in 2009. She is also survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.

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