Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Jack Elmer, famed baker and chef, dies at 75

Delicious treats, warm personality will be missed


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jack Elmer, owner of JaCiva Chocolates, in 2002. Lots of people are going to miss Jack Elmer and his delicious, beautifully-crafted wedding cakes.

Elmer, a famed baker, chef, chocolatier and half of the husband-and-wife-inspired JaCiva’s Bakery in Portland, died April 30, two days after his 75th birthday.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ELMER FAMILY - Jack Elmer graduated from Portlands Benson High School, circa 1957. Elmer’s health was in decline; he had battled prostate cancer in recent years, family members said.

While he left behind a wife, eight children and 19 grandchildren and many friends and fans in Portland, Elmer also left a lasting impression and sweet taste in the mouths of many in East County.

“As a chocolatier, he was just unbelievable,” said Sharon Nesbit, local historian and Outlook columnist. “He made big chocolate medallions for my birthday and they said ‘50th’ on them,” she said. “They were so damn good.”

While you can’t say JaCiva in these parts without perking up a few ears, Elmer to most was more than just a creator of delightful chocolates and pastries that he often hand-delivered to small businesses and people around town.

“He was like a dad you didn’t get to see very often,” said Terry Smoke, owner of Troutdale General Store. “The man had a real aura about him. If you had a question or needed something done with your baked goods, he listened to you and tried to accommodate you. He was just a sweet guy and he’d do anything for ya.”

From those who knew him well to strangers he just met, Elmer was known for making others feel like family.

Baking since boyhood

Jacob “Jack” Elmer was born in Portland to Swiss parents on April 28, 1939. When Jack was 2, the family moved to the country in Troutdale, where the Elmers had a milk and egg farm on Southeast Stark Street. His childhood home is now at the site of Faith United Methodist Church, 27400 S.E. Stark St.

Jack attended Troutdale Elementary School and later Benson High School in Portland. He was just 6 years old when his mother introduced him to his first love: baking.

“His mother would keep him in the kitchen,” said Jack’s wife of 34 years, Ivasue “Iva” Elmer.

She recalls one story a customer told her about how her father used to visit the Elmer farm to buy eggs.

The man was surprised to see little Jack standing on a chair, whipping up batter at the kitchen counter. He asked if the boy could bake him a chocolate cake, and returned one week later.

“That was the first cake he ever sold,” Iva said. Even today, Iva said the customer’s father “won’t eat any cake except Jackie Elmer’s.”

Jack’s grandmother also encouraged him to bake, she said. His grandparents owned Luschers Holstein Dairy Farms in Fairview. Jack was also nephew to Walt Elmer of the Elmer’s Restaurants chain in Oregon.

By the time he was 10, Jack was making and decorating wedding cakes for everyone he knew.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ELMER FAMILY - Elmer decorating a cake in the mid-1980s at Heidis, on Highway 26 midway between Gresham and Sandy.“He liked to bake,” Iva said, “Because he didn’t like to chase those big cows around the yard. It was a good life, you know. The farm life is a good life.”

In an October 1997 article kept by the Troutdale Historical Society, Jack wrote that he had “a perfect childhood!” He also credited much of success in life on his and his family’s involvement with 4-H in Troutdale.

‘Nothing but butter and cream

After high school, Jack graduated from an elite graduate school in Minnesota for bread and pastry makers. In 1961 he opened his first bake shop in Gresham, Elmer’s Old Fashioned Bakery.

Jack also became a family man. He and his wife, Lana Sala, had two sons.

Jack returned to his Swiss roots to train as a “konditor” — a high-end pastry chef in Switzerland. He also earned other titles including executive chef, master baker and master chocolatier. In 1972, Jack introduced himself to Don Eklund, who with his wife Marie owned Heidi’s Swiss Village in Boring at the junction of U.S. 26 and Highway 212.

“He wanted to be a baker,” Eklund said. Jack brought out a tray of Swiss pastries for his new to-be business partner to taste.

That was all the full-blood Swede needed to build Jack his own two-story bakery — Heidi’s Swiss Pastries — a fitting addition to the Swiss-inspired village complete with a restaurant, gift shop, boutique and deli.

From 1972 until 1986, Jack would establish himself as the leading pastry chef in Oregon and Heidi’s as one of the top retail bakeries on the west coast.

He began his lifelong involvement with the Chef de Cuisine Society of Oregon and earned many achievements, including Chef of the Year.

“He had some of the best pastries I think I’ve ever eaten,” Eklund said.

“In Switzerland, they make them with nothing but butter and cream.”

In 1980, Eklund sold the village, a popular destination for families coming on and off the Mount Hood ski slopes, and moved Heidi’s restaurant and gift shop to Cleveland Avenue and Burnside Road in Gresham.

Elmer continued to sell his pastries at Heidi’s until 1984. Some of his recipes are still used today.

Eklund, 88, said he didn’t have too many partners in life. Aside from his wife, Jack was one of them.

“You really have to marry them. You have to know them and they have to know you. Jack and I had that relationship. I hate to see him pass away.”

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Jack owned and operated Heidis Swiss Pastries at Heidis Swiss Village in Boring from 1972 to 1986.  There he established himself as one of the finest pastry chefs in Oregon.A shared love over chocolate

Divorced with two sons, Jack met Ivasue when she began working at the pastry counter at the original Heidi’s (now Ashley’s). Iva had four kids of her own. The two hit it off and married.

“He’s the kind of man you’d want as a friend, father, husband or boss,” Iva said. “He was a man of ethics. He was honest and not judgmental. In 34 years, I never remember him getting mad, never did he yell at anyone. That is what made him such a great man.”

Jack and Iva moved the family into a big old house in Portland, where they started baking chocolate together.

“We were like little mad scientists in the basement, we’d come up with all these formulas, and different centers and things like that,” Iva said. The couple put their names together to form JaCiva’s chocolates.

They sold sweet treats out of their Portland basement with drivers delivering the chocolates around town.

Pretty soon their in-house chocolate factory was bursting at its seams, and in 1986, Jack and Iva opened JaCiva’s Bakery and Chocolatier at 4733 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. in Southeast Portland.

Specializing in European-styled chocolates, fine decorated cakes and Swiss pastries, the couple worked hard to make their new bakery endeavor a success.

“We worked many hours,” said Iva, who in addition to providing Jack support in business and in health, also helps with products, birthday and wedding cakes.

“Sometimes on holidays, we worked 36 hours without ever stopping,” she said. Iva said she didn’t mind. “I liked helping, and I loved being with him.”

“I’m going to miss him so much,” she said. “In my heart, he will always be with me.”

Over the years, JaCiva’s has become one of Portland’s favorite cake and chocolate shops, and its delicacies have surely graced the tables for birthdays, weddings and family occasions all over the state.

Keeping his passion alive

In 1990, Jack suffered a major AVM brain stem stroke and nearly lost his life. After his recovery, Chef Elmer returned to work, doing what he did best.

“He was very personal, and he touched people’s lives,” said Laura Boscole, Iva’s youngest daughter, who took over the family business a year and a half ago. “When someone would come in, they weren’t just a customer, they were instantly a friend or family.”

Jack, who was “very much a Christian man,” Boscole said, was known to hug everybody who came through the door, and many people called him Grandpa.

“He was just a really loving, giving man,” she said.

Jack also had a passion for perfection and teaching others, she said.

From her stepfather, Boscole learned to love and appreciate chocolate. “It was an art form,” she said. “He taught me the chemistry and art of chocolate and how beautiful it can be.”

At JaCiva’s, white and milk chocolate truffles come in the form of boxes, chess and domino sets, and mini hedgehogs with sprinkles.

Boscole said of running the company for her father, “It’s my way of keeping him alive.”




Local Weather

Fair

74°F

Gresham

Fair

Humidity: 59%

Wind: 3 mph

  • 28 Jul 2014

    Sunny 92°F 61°F

  • 29 Jul 2014

    Sunny 89°F 60°F