Olive man Jim Haakenson was more than 'Stump'

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Neil Johnson
September 8, 2015

AFTON—Afton-area residents who knew Jim “Stump” Haakinson, said the regionally renowned company he founded and owned, Stump's Hot Olives, did not define who he was.

And the nickname “Stump” didn't define him either, even though a caricature of Haakinson's baseball-capped, bearded and bespectacled face rides just beneath the Stumps moniker on the label of every jar of his signature, spicy olives and other products.

It's a face martini and Bloody Mary fanatics Wisconsin-wide may recognize as it peers out from grocery store shelves on Mason jars tucked between containers of cocktail olives and mini-pickles.

Locals who won't drink a gin or vodka cocktail unless it's dirtied up with Stump's brand olives can raise a toast to the Afton man who continues to spice up their happy hour.

But as they toast, friends say people should remember Haakinson as a gravel-voiced man whose spicy personality opened doors of commerce statewide and whose more private, caring nature was too big to fit in a 16-ounce glass jar.

Haakinson, 71, died Aug. 31 at home after complications of a respiratory illness, friends said.

According to a Stump's Hot Olives corporate biography, Haakinson started Stump's company in 1997 out of Afton after he'd been introduced to spicy habanero peppers during a trip to Belize.

Haakinson, a former dispatcher for Wisconsin Power & Light, was an adventurous, talented and tirelessly creative cook, friends said. He began to grow his own peppers and experiment with them. He thought olives spiced up with spicy peppers could be a hit.

Haakinson kept cranking out spicy olives, initially out of a church kitchen. He eventually got licensing to commercially produce his olives, along with a Bloody Mary mix and other items he'd created, and pushed the products into the retail grocery market through a shoe-leather sales effort.

Afton tavern owner Skip Hoffman said Haakinson was adept at promoting his products even before they were known statewide.

“Everybody liked Stump, and it wasn't because of the olives. It was because he was just a common guy who wouldn't quit door knocking to get the word out on what he did,” Hoffman said. “His personality had zip. People liked that as much as the olives. That was what made him a natural entrepreneur.”

Hoffman, who owns Skip's Friendly Village Tavern in Afton, has known Haakinson for decades. The two had a business partnership that could be described as an ultra-local, small-town licensing deal.

Hoffman's tavern is known as “Home of The Stump Burger,” and that's because it's where Stump's Olives took off. Hoffman, who has owned the Afton tavern for 24 years, has been serving Stump's Olive burgers since Haakinson created them 18 years ago.

Hoffman said Haakinson and he created the Stump Burger together, and they sell themselves, often to the tune of 60 or 70 burgers a night when they're on special.

In 2007, Haakinson sold out Stumps company to Todd, Tyler and Chad Glaser, three brothers who had been family friends of Haakinson and his wife, Berta, for years.

Haakinson at the time wanted to spend time with family. In later years he developed some breathing troubles, although he continued to work at a local body shop until his health started to fail, friends said.

The Glaser brothers have moved forward with Stump's production facility in Wausau, and have expanded the business as “Stump's Spicy Hot Foods” The brand continues to develop new products that stay true to Haakinson's spicy recipe. The products are sold throughout Wisconsin and Illinois.

Evans and Wendy Karr, who owns Bass Creek Café, a coffee shop in Afton, both said they think the nickname “Stump” came from days when Haakinson played cards with coworkers at Wisconsin Power & Light.

His talent at poker wasn't as well-developed as his entrepreneurial skill would later prove to be.

“One time, his card buddies told him he should go sit on a stump,” Evans said.

Evans said Haakinson was giving and kind, especially to children, and he had a voice that was “rough-smooth,” like sandpaper that could bring out the shine in anyone he talked to.

“Jim wasn't warm and embracing in everything, but he couldn't stand to see kids suffering.” Evans said. “He was private about it, but if he learned of something, a kid without a coat, he'd just go handle it.”

People who visit Haakinson's services today are asked not to give flowers, but instead to donate hats, mittens and gloves for children who'd need them.

Hoffman said he plans to fill a custom, giant martini glass with Stump's Olives to serve at a meal that will follow services for Haakinson. 

To Evans, that sounded like a nice touch to remember somebody who gave Cheers to many whether they knew him or not.

“He was Stump to a lot of people. Some people were lucky enough to know him as more than the guy on the jar of olives,” Evans said. “He was a brother, a dad and a friend who gave a lot to a lot of people.”

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