Truly David Nolen put mouse ears and tails on yellow VW Bugs and created one of the most iconic images in American marketing. He made pest control seem cute. Who hasn’t smiled while stuck in traffic on the Palmetto idling next to one of the mouse cars of the Truly Nolen of America fleet?
Not surprisingly, Nolen had a sense of humor. In 1986, he told the Miami Herald how the skipper on The Jungle Queen would sail his boat along the Intracoastal Waterway by one of his homes, a waterfront estate in Fort Lauderdale, and announce to his passengers: “That’s the house that termites built; the home of a professional killer.”
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Nolen loved the reference; after all, for the story he gave his title as “Head Mouse” of Truly Nolen of America, the firm he grew into the nation’s largest family-run pest control company. “Then I decided I needed something with more class, so I became chief entomologist,” he said at the time. At Nolen’s business office in Naples he parked antique cars out front bearing his name.
To this day, there are seven residential and two commercial Truly Nolen pest control service offices in Miami-Dade/Broward/Monroe counties.
Nolen, best known for his companies — Truly Nolen of America based in Tucson, and Truly Nolen International based in Orlando and the firms’ fleet of yellow mouse cars — died Tuesday at his Naples home. He was 89.
His mouse cars, which he first created in 1961, will continue to bring smiles forever.
Toby Srebnik, PR manager of the Truly Nolen pest control company on Truly David Nolen.
“Truly’s ‘rules to live by’ were, ‘Find humor in everything, even adversity. Stay positive and persistent to the extreme. Work hard, play hard. Do what you want to, not just to make money. Don’t be afraid to be different – take a chance!’ his daughter Michelle Nolen Senner said in a statement. “Truly had a famous sense of humor, often quoting films by Mel Brooks or his personal favorite, ‘Airplane!’”
Nolen, born in Indianapolis on Feb. 24, 1928, grew up in South Florida and attended Miami Beach Senior High School in the early 1940s. The region provided Nolen with a lifelong love of the water and air. He once told the Herald that his favorite toys included his scuba gear, a 44-foot sailboat, a 23-foot diving boat and a 421 Cessna aircraft.
“I wore out my twin-engine ultralight aircraft,” he said.
His father, Truly Wheatfield Nolen, founded the extermination company in Miami in 1938 in the waning days of the Great Depression. At 27, the younger Nolen moved to Tucson in 1955 to start his own pest control company with a $5,000 loan and, when his father died in 1966, he merged the two companies.
Busting bugs wasn’t an immediate hit. “I was in this business for three years before business got good enough so that I could stop kiting checks. Since then, it has been all uphill,” he told the Herald in 1986, when the business grossed $23 million.
Today, his company has 320 offices in 63 countries from Dubai to Chile to Paris, with company revenue of $120 million in 2016, Nolen Senner told The Naples Daily News. “Very few people want to call pest control, but when they do, they smile when they call us because of the mouse cars, which are hugely popular, especially with children. There was real genius in that,” she told the paper.
Added Truly Nolen spokesman Toby Srebnik, “There is no doubt in my mind he is one of the great marketing geniuses of our time. Long after we are all gone, his mouse cars, which he first created in 1961, will continue to bring smiles forever.”
Nolen, a philanthropist who supported the March of Dimes, Temple Shalom in Naples and other organizations, made his home in Naples since the early 1990s.
In 2005, he published his autobiography, Truly Original. His friend and colleague, Norm Ehmann, once wrote of him, “Truly Nolen is a giant among men. Polio confined him to an iron lung from which there was no escape. He escaped. They told him he would never walk again. He not only walks, but he takes great pleasure in flying his own airplane. His ideas of growing a business didn’t match his father’s style so he traveled 3,000 miles west and started his own business, which is now one of the largest privately owned pest control companies in the United States with franchises around the world.”
Nolen is survived by his wife of 32 years, Vickie Taylor Nolen; his children Truly William Nolen, Steven Scott Nolen, Bonnie Sue Nolen Jauregui, Really Philip Nolen, Michelle Nolen Senner, Sincere Leigh Nolen, Scarlett Sahara Nolen Jallad and True Spyder Luke Nolen; 12 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. A private service will be held 10 a.m. Friday at Temple Shalom in Naples.