Industry / Retail

Ruthie Tivol, Force Behind Famous Jeweler, Dies


Ruth “Ruthie” Tivol (pictured), co-owner of the highly regarded Kansas City, Mo., jeweler Tivol, died March 10. She was 91.

While Ruthie had no official title at the store, she helped her late husband Harold build the store into the nationally recognized name it became.

On Instagram, the store remembered her as its “matriarch” and a “force of nature.

“She inspired us both professionally and personally, and changed the industry for the better in many ways,” read the post. “She and Harold were the titans of the industry for years. It is truly the end of an era.”

Born in 1929 in Dubienka, Poland, Ruthie and her family escaped Europe before World War II, thanks to relatives in America determined to bring them over.

Years later, she chaired an Anne Frank exhibit in Kansas City and was stunned, she wrote, “at the parallel of the Frank family and my own family. The parents were the same, the two Frank sisters were, for a moment, my sister Marsha and myself. For the first time since our arrival in Kansas City on December 19, 1937, I realized how fragile the thread of fate can be. There but for the grace of God go I.”

After attending the University of Missouri for one year, she worked for investment bank George K. Baum. In 1950, she married lawyer Herbert Mayer Krigel, with whom she had three children. Krigel died in 1974.

A widow at age 45, Ruthie went to work at local developer J.C. Nichols, where she set sales records. In 1978, she married Harold Tivol, a second-generation jeweler trying to establish his business.

She went to work at the store with her husband, who credited her with recognizing the importance of promoting designer names.

“At the time, we carried the finest line of 18-karat gold jewelry made in America, Henry Dunay,” he recalled in a 2010 interview with the Kansas City Star. “She comes in and says, ‘I notice when you are advertising the Henry Dunay, you don’t use his name.’ I said, ‘Of course not.’ She said, ‘Why not?’ I said…‘A jeweler doesn’t sell something under someone else’s name. I’m selling Tivol.… Every fine jeweler does the same thing—Tiffany, everybody.’ So she says, ‘Well, you’re making a mistake.’

“Her argument that convinced me was, ‘Honey, when I buy a Chanel suit, I don’t buy a Woolf Brothers or a Harzfeld’s. I buy the name Chanel.’ It sounded reasonable, so I started advertising that way. She single-handedly changed the entire industry by being first to sell jewelry by brand name.… Now, all fine jewelers do [it], including Tiffany. And I had nothing to do with it. It was all Ruthie.”

He also credited her with convincing him to travel abroad to scout product, and to appear in the now-legendary TV ads that built the store name.

Harold Tivol died in 2016. Today, the store is run by a third generation of the family, CEO Cathy Tivol. Cathy’s son, Hunter Tivol McGrath, is its vice president.

Ruthie also served as president of the Border Star School PTA, president of the Women’s Auxiliary at Menorah Medical Center, and as a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

She chaired numerous fundraisers for local and national organizations, including the Barstow School, the Anne Frank Exhibit at Union Station, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. She also enjoyed playing golf, tennis, and bridge.

She was predeceased by her two husbands and a granddaughter, Brooke Tivol McGrath. She is survived by 3 daughters, Merilyn, Kathy, and Cathy; 2 sons, James and Tom; 13 grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; and a brother, Mel Abend.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Ruth Krigel Tivol Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City or the charity of your choice. An online guestbook can be seen here.

(Photo courtesy of Tivol)

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By: Rob Bates

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