Turning Blue Bell into a Texas Treasure: Five Minutes With Former Blue Bell Creameries CEO Ricky Dickson

by Martin Ramirez on July 4, 2024 in Food+Drink,

There’s something special about gazing into a half-gallon of creamy Blue Bell ice cream, watching the soft edges melt and swirl as you scoop out a serving of pure delight. This timeless tradition has transformed Blue Bell into a beloved Texas treasure and a cherished memory for many.

For 43 years, Ricky Dickson led the famed Texas brand through peaks and valleys, from serving Blue Bell ice cream to presidents to enduring hurricanes and recalls. Recently, the former CEO sat down with TLM to talk about faith, peace, preparedness and how to grow a heartfelt culture within one of the state’s most beloved brands.

What is it about ice cream that pulls on our heartstrings?

A carton of Blue Bell next to a bowl of Ice Cream.
Blue Bell Southern Blackberry Cobbler Ice Cream. Photo courtesy Blue Bell Creameries.

There truly is something magical about ice cream. For kids of all ages, ice cream has the power to transport us to somewhere in our past or create new memories in the future. It’s a great way to celebrate a joyous occasion or help erase a bad day when things seem to go wrong. The secret to the magic is to consistently meet the expectation that drives the passion. That was my mission every day for over four decades at Blue Bell Creameries! There’s nothing more rewarding than hearing the sound of a kitchen spoon rattling around the bottom of one’s favorite bowl in search of just one more bite of magic.    

Like barbeque and Dr. Pepper, Blue Bell has become uniquely Texan. How has Blue Bell been able to continuously stay on brand as a Texas tradition?

Large group of people sitting on porch steps.
Ricky Dickson and his family. Photo Ricky Dickson.

During my 43 years at Blue Bell, it was, without a doubt, the unwavering foundational culture embraced by a family of employees who refused to compromise. (And it’s still true today!) Blue Bell works extremely hard to remain within its core principles without trying to grow too fast or at a pace that would tempt them to cut corners. The ice cream is still in a full half-gallon or pint carton, they still deliver product directly to each account instead of into a warehouse, and each flavor is made as if it were being taken home for one’s own family to enjoy. 

The bottom line? Blue Bell makes ice cream. Period. So, they have to do it right. And even though it’s wonderful to aspire to be the nation’s number-one ice cream brand, it’s more important to them to be the best they can possibly be within the territory they service. The people who work there truly believe—as I always did—that it’s the best ice cream in the country, and in the city, too. The company started in 1907, and today Blue Bell’s products are found in twenty-three states. Plenty of room to grow, but the important thing is to continue to grow a culture without compromise.  

What is your favorite Blue Bell flavor? Are there any flavors you’d like to come back?

Carton of Blue Bell and bowl of ice cream in a field of bluebonnet flowers.
Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream is a timeless classic . . . and Ricky Dickson’s favorite. Photo courtesy Blue Bell Creameries.

My favorite flavor hands down is Homemade Vanilla. I have never tried another vanilla anywhere that comes close. It’s that good! Outside of my loyalty to this iconic flavor, I would choose Salted Caramel Brownie. Unfortunately, it’s only available at certain times of the year. Even so, it always has a permanent spot reserved in my deep freeze, no matter its availability. 

There’s mention of bringing Blue Bell ice cream to former President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush. Are there any other notable figures who have been known to indulge in a little bit of Blue Bell?

President George H W Bush with Ricky Dickson.
Ricky Dickson with former President George H.W. Bush. Courtesy photo.

There have been many notable figures who have visited the creamery over the years, including actors, politicians and sports figures. From Roger Staubach, Jimmy Butler and Earl Campbell to Chip and Joanna Gaines, Glen Powell and Governor Rick Perry. All shared the same common passion … Blue Bell ice cream.  

Blue Bell ice cream is often requested in memorial services or during hospice. Can you tell us about what this means to you?

Man sitting in front of several ice cream cartons.
Ricky Dickson and some Blue Bell favorites – Homemade Vanilla, Mint Chocolate Chip, Strawberry and others. Courtesy photo.

Blue Bell ice cream can make any occasion special, but there is nothing more moving than to have it included in a celebration of the life of a loved one. Whether it’s a particular flavor or simply the passion for the ice cream itself, I am continually amazed at how Blue Bell’s ice cream has become such a major part of peoples’ lives. There were so many touching stories I heard over the years, and I included some of my favorites in my book, One Scoop at a Time. Each story is extremely heartfelt and reminds me even now that, even though it’s “just” ice cream, it truly means so much more to many people.   

Photo of book "One Scoop at a Time"
One Scoop at a Time, available July 21. Photo Ricky Dickson.


Through your 43 years at Blue Bell Creameries, you’ve seen your fair share of ups and downs. From leading through Hurricane Katrina to a mass recall, how did you remain steadfast throughout it all?

As unpredictable as each season of life is, if you live long enough, difficult times will eventually come your way. To weather any storm, it’s critical to be prepared long before the clouds begin to develop. For me, I rest in my faith in God by spending time with Him daily. It’s extremely hard to anchor a ship when the waves are tossing you about, but He is the rock that is forever faithful. Then when the storms come crashing down, He is there to guide you through. Finding peace in the middle of the storm also requires trust. Once you have assessed the situation, then prayerfully develop a game plan—and faithfully trust God with each step you take.  

One example of this for me was in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina annihilated New Orleans, the city that housed one of our major Blue Bell branches. This devastating hurricane not only required me to trust during a literal storm, but it also helped prepare me for future storms that came my way as the CEO of Blue Bell. From preparing the branch location in danger to be closed for an extended period of time, to making sure all the employees were able to get out of harm’s way (which they did), we developed a thorough standard operating procedure for hurricane preparedness that is still in use today.  

There have been many times in my life that seemed hard to face the next day, but I’ve found that the more I have learned to trust God, the peace that passes all understanding was waiting with open arms.   

Bowl of ice cream next to carton of Blue Bell.
Blue Bell Cookie Two Step Ice Cream. Photo courtesy Blue Bell Creameries.

What are the top traits a leader should have?

First, have a true vision of where it is you are leading. Knowing, and then communicating, a clear vision is critical. If you don’t know where you’re leading, you will end up back where you started, leaving those who follow you frustrated.  

Second, a great leader gets to know the people they are leading. I personally believe in servant-leadership, which demands learning how to empathize with those you lead, not just sympathize. No matter one’s position in a company, every role is critical when trying to achieve overall success. Getting directly involved with the people you’re leading provides the opportunity to listen to their suggestions, learn from their input, and/or use it as a teachable moment. And all of this should remain centered around the strategic plan to achieve the vision.  

Finally, a good leader understands the important principle of “Do as I do,” not just “Do as I say.”  Whether you realize it or not, those you lead are watching, and your actions as a leader speak so much louder than words. 


As a graduate of Baylor University (sic ‘em!), you’ve often been invited back to speak. What has been some of your guidance to the students? Are there any future events you’ll be speaking at?

Man sitting in chair on stage.
Ricky Dickson speaks to students at Baylor University. Photo courtesy Ricky Dickson.

I have been honored to speak at Baylor University over the past few years to both undergraduate and master’s students. My message centers on three key points in preparation for life after graduation: Purpose, Passion and Patience. I truly believe each student was created with a God-given purpose. For some of them, college becomes the connecting process in identifying that purpose, which then prepares them to take the next step in achieving that purpose.  

Understanding one’s purpose is usually accompanied by a powerful, soul-driven passion that pushes a person to reach for the stars in pursuit of their dreams. Almost every time I speak to students, I include a quote from Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. Batterson writes, “The day you start dying is the day you stop dreaming, and ironically, the day you start living is the day you find a dream worth dying for.” My advice is to identify God’s purpose for your life; let your passions fly high; and most importantly, be patient in God’s timing as He takes you on your journey—a journey that reflects His love and gives Him the glory.   

My next speaking engagement will be in Brenham, Texas, on Nov. 7 at the Candlelight Dinner hosted by Faith Mission, which is open to the public.  


What is one of your favorite Blue Bell ice cream memories? 

Little girl sitting on blanket with a cow laying down next to her.
Ricky Dickson’s granddaughter making Blue Bell memories. Photo Ricky Dickson.

Even though I included many special memories in One Scoop at a Time, one of my favorites takes me back to my college days, long before my career even started. It was in the fall of 1979 at Baylor University when I was given a marketing assignment to follow a company for the entire semester, studying how they relate to their consumer base. With no clue about which company to choose, I called my dad for quick advice. At the time of the call, he was reading an article on a “little ice cream company” in Brenham, Texas, called Blue Bell. Who doesn’t like ice cream? I thought.

The only problem was that I had never tasted this iconic brand, and unfortunately, it was not available in Waco. The only way to effectively research this company meant a road trip was in order. With half a tank of gas and a good friend to share in the experience, we took off for Temple, Texas, 30 miles away. Once in town, we identified a grocery store and made our way to the freezer section, and there it was … Blue Bell Ice Cream! 

Our next dilemma was which flavor to choose out of the countless options. After much deliberation and mild debate, we selected Strawberries ’n Cream. My friend and I rushed through the store, stopping only to pick up a package of spoons and pay for our prized possession. Then we returned to the car for the road trip back to Waco. 

Without hesitation, I flipped the lid off the carton and dove into what I would soon describe as paradise. They say that first impressions are important when meeting your true love, and believe me, after just one bite, my passion for Blue Bell flew right past the infatuation stage! I knew this relationship was going to last for a really long time! More than 45 years later, the passion is stronger than ever, and I am still reminded of this first bite and the impression it made on my life … “one scoop at a time.”

One Scoop at a Time: Stories and Lessons from Fear to Faith is available for pre-order on Amazon and arrives just in time for National Ice Cream Day on July 21. Learn more at onescoopatatime.com. Follow Blue Bell Creameries on social media at Instagram @BluebellIceCream and Facebook @Bluebellcreamery.


Cover photo courtesy Ricky Dickson.

Martin Ramirez is a brisket-eating, Shiner-loving, road-tripping enthusiast of all things Texas. This Dallas-born writer / adventurer is ready to take his ‘78 El Camino to find the best in food, fun, and fitness throughout the Lone Star State.