Donald E. Goerke dies at 83; ‘the Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs’


Donald E. Goerke, the Campbell Soup Co. executive who hit the bull’s-eye of prepared foods by overseeing the creation of the kid-friendly circular pasta called SpaghettiOs, has died. He was 83.

Gorke died Sunday of heart failure at his home in Delran, N.J., a Campbell spokeswoman confirmed.

In the mid-1960s, Goerke -- pronounced GUHR-kee -- was dubbed “the Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs” for leading the team charged with creating an easy-to-eat canned pasta.

Hundreds of shapes were proposed during the yearlong debate, but Goerke ended the chatter by saying, “Enough already! We’re gonna do something that’s simple,” he told the Seattle Times in 1990.

When the canned spaghetti with tomato and cheese was introduced in 1965, pop singer Jimmie Rodgers sang the jingle that ended with the seemingly unforgettable tag line, “Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs.”

The pasta was a hit because it was “spoonable,” Goerke later said -- kids liked the O shapes and mothers the convenience.

Timing also probably factored into its success. The baby boom had peaked, and there were nearly 20 million U.S. children under age 5 when the product hit store shelves, the Charlotte Observer reported in 1995.

In his 35 years with Campbell, Goerke helped introduce more than 100 products. They included Chunky Soup, a heartier ready-to-eat concoction brought out in 1970 that differed from the condensed soups the company had been known for.

In all, Goerke was credited with working on products that earned more than $500 million in sales for the company.

Born Aug. 8, 1926, in Waukesha, Wis., Goerke served in the Army Air Forces in Arizona during World War II.

Afterward, he earned a bachelor’s degree from what is now Carroll University in Wisconsin and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin.

In 1955, Goerke joined the New Jersey-based Campbell as a market analyst. A decade later, he was marketing research director of its Franco-American line when he helped devise the spaghetti that begat the hummable “Uh-oh” catchphrase.

In the constant throes of product development, Goerke didn’t pause to savor his successes, he later said.

“They’re hot at the time, then you’re off on something else,” he said in the Seattle Times interview. “Then, all the sudden, hey, by God I’m the father of SpaghettiOs. When you become the father of something, it’s time to get out.”

June, his wife of 58 years, died in 2008.

Goerke’s survivors include two sons, Brian and David; a daughter, Ann Nassoura; and seven grandchildren.