Visit to Mark Twain House Spotlights Family Ties

Naboicheck and Wholley families authored success stories in Hartford

I visited the famous house twice on my business trip to Hartford, Connecticut, first in the strong morning light with one mattress producer, and later that afternoon, when a fine fall day had unfolded, with two mattress retailers. The house was calling me back to my past, and it had a lesson for the present, too.

Bob Naboicheck built his business not far from the Mark Twain House & Museum

Almost 150 years ago Mark Twain (real name: Samuel Clemens) and his family lived in the sprawling house, which one biographer described as “part steamboat, part medieval fortress, and part cuckoo clock.” It was there that Twain wrote his most celebrated works, and it was there for 17 years that he lived the private life of a husband and father, sharing the house with his wife and three daughters.

The family left the house in 1891. Twain made one return visit four years later, after which he wrote: “It is the loveliest home that ever was.” 

I thought about Twain as I walked around his house, studying now-empty windows framed by tall trees. I imagined him standing in the conservatory on the first floor, looking down the hill, working out the details of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” or, my personal favorite, “Life on the Mississippi,” all of which he wrote while living there.

This house also was a part of my parents’ life when they lived in this neighborhood shortly before I was born in Hartford, a true Connecticut Yankee. They saw the Twain house every day.

It wasn’t just my family history that I explored on my trip to Hartford. I also delved into the histories of two bedding families, the Naboichecks and the Wholleys, both of whom found success in Hartford. Perhaps given my own ties to Hartford, I’ve always felt a special connection with both families.

I’ve known Bob Naboicheck, the third-generation president of Gold Bond, for decades, and I’ve always appreciated his candor. “Honesty: The best of all the lost arts,” Twain once wrote. Naboicheck would agree with that.

Honesty also is a hallmark of the Wholley family. I first met brothers Tom and John Wholley Jr. when they ran Better Bedding, a retail chain based in Hartford started by their father and known for offering “honest advice” to its customers. After Better Bedding went into Chapter 11 protection and later closed, and after John Wholley Jr. succumbed to brain cancer, I watched as Tom flirted with a new career before going back to his roots and opening a new retail mattress chain, Connecticut Mattress by Tom Wholley.

Kathy and Tom Wholley try to embody the writer’s edict to “Always do right.”

Bob Naboicheck and his son, Skip, the last of the Naboichecks still involved at Gold Bond, continue to impress me with their passion for the bedding business. So do Tom Wholley and his wife, Kathy, who now joins Tom in many of the retailer’s TV ads.

They remind us that family ties remain vital in many bedding companies. And they demonstrate the enduring power of honesty and integrity.

“Always do right,” Twain once wrote. “This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” That’s a way of life that characterizes the Naboicheck and Wholley families.

I hope you enjoy my profile of Gold Bond in this issue and my Retail Road Trip to Connecticut Mattress in Sleep Savvy, our sister publication,

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