Janesville54.3°

Pedal-powered popsicle purveyor revisits tasty past

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 19, 2010
— Once upon time, when kids played outside and air conditioning was for a select few, the arrival of an ice cream truck was a moment of summer grace.

Kids would run shrieking down the street, clutching their pocket change in sweaty palms. Then, the agonizing decision: Orange sherbet push up? Red, white and blue rocket Popsicle? Drumstick?


It seems like a long time ago, but if you listen closely, you will find the musical alchemy of the ice cream truck has returned—with variations—in the person of Jill Henderson, the Ice Queen.


Instead of a truck, Henderson rides a sturdy, single-speed tricycle with a large cooler affixed between the front wheels. It’s decorated with leis and a straw umbrella that keeps her and the customers closest to her cart out of the sun.


Instead of ice cream, Henderson sells Minute Maid all-juice frozen ices; Icees in cherry, blue raspberry and sour apple; and something called a “Philly Swirl” that comes, excitingly, with a candy spoon.


And instead of calliope music piped through a loud speaker, Henderson’s cart sports a set of cheerful bells.


“I don’t know if I could handle all that repetitive music,” Henderson said with a laugh.


On Saturday, with temperatures in the 90s and humidity making everything uncomfortable, most kids were staying inside.


But Megan Laube, 5, came out picked a Philly Swirl. She had no comment for the media, but she seemed delighted with the candy spoon.


Farther down the block, Michael Feirn, 10, left the shelter of his garage for an Icee.


About five minutes later, Feirn followed Henderson down the street on his bike. His sister wanted something. In another three or four minutes, he was back again for something for his mom.


The cart-bicycle combination is easy to pedal but requires a large-turning radius. Of course, when she crosses busy, four-lane-roads without the help of a traffic light, it helps that she is a triathlete.


Saturday’s outing took Henderson around her own neighborhood on Janesville’s east side. She doesn’t have a regular route.


“Often it’s just spur of the moment,” Henderson said. “Sometimes I get reprimanded by kids for not coming enough. I try to follow the promises I’ve made to kids without bothering the parents too much.”


Henderson works as a nurse manager at Fairhaven Retirement Community in Whitewater. She has three kids of her own: Kelsey, 17, John, 13, and Parker, 8.


She bought the cart because she thought it would be a good summer job for Kelsey, but the teen isn’t ready to be a public figure.


At first, her boys were anxious about their parent becoming an embarrassing spectacle, but they soon found they possessed a rare commodity: a cool mom.


Along with trips through Janesville neighborhoods, Henderson can sometimes be found at sporting events, parades and all-day celebrations such as Freedom Fest.


She pays $50 for the city’s “nonmotorized vendor” permit and is required to carry a certain amount of insurance. She also needs to get permission from the city’s parks department if she wants to work in the parks.


“I’m probably driving them nuts at the city with all my questions about compliance,” Henderson said.


Because she doesn’t carry dairy products that will spoil, she doesn’t need a license from the health department.


“I wanted to keep it simple,” she said.


How appropriate.


Her cart full of treats creates a simple magic of its own: Grownups remember the bells and music of their childhood summer, while a new generation of kids discover the simple pleasures of a cool treat on a steamy summer day.



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