A long-time resident of Mackinac Island with homes in Grosse Pointe Shores and Stuart, Florida, Victor was born on Detroit’s east side in 1936 to Victor Andre and Eugenia Callewaert. Victor’s entrepreneurial spirit and love of hard work were evident at a young age. When Victor was in his early teens, Harry Ryba watched him hustle newspapers outside his donut shop near the intersection of Mack and Chalmers on Detroit’s east side. Harry hired the enterprising teen, and it wasn’t long before he proved to be the dedicated worker that would distinguish him for years to come.
A successful self-made businessman who enjoyed work over school, Victor attended Catholic grade school at St. John Berchman Parish and Servite and Salesian Catholic high schools in Detroit before graduating from Southeastern High School. After high school, Victor served two years in the U.S. Army, stationed in California. During this time, he married his high school sweetheart, Rena, Harry’s daughter. Victor and Rena were together for nearly 60 years before her passing in 2009.
After his honorable discharge from the Army, Victor and Rena returned to Michigan, where he resumed working for Harry, who had expanded to include handcrafted fudge. Ryba’s took off in the early ’50s when the ambitious pair began peddling their confection at events, festivals, and fairs.
In 1960, Harry & Victor brought opened the first Ryba’s Fudge Shops on Mackinac Island. This proved to be a starting point from which the family business has grown. The pair opened the Pancake House in 1963 and later purchased and renovated the Lakeview Hotel. In 1969, Victor played a pivotal role in rescuing the Island House Hotel from imminent demolition, thereby preserving Mackinac Island’s oldest hotel for future generations. In 2020, the Callewaert family was honored as Legendary Family of the Year for their commitment to the preservation of the Island House Hotel by the Historic Hotels of America.
In 1988 Victor Callewaert & Rena Ryba ventured on their own, amassing a business portfolio on Mackinac Island that now includes the historic Island House Hotel, 1852 Grill Room, Ice House BBQ, Ryba’s Fudge Shops, Mary’s Bistro Draught House, Pancake House, Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast, Seabiscuit Café, and Starbucks, all of which continue to be owned and operated by the Callewaert family.
Victor will forever be known for Ryba’s Fudge, a brand that was synonymous with him due to his leadership and hard work. Millions of Mackinac Island visitors have experienced a slice of Mackinac Island culture thanks to Victor and his knowledge of what made for an enjoyable visit. In his younger days, he could be seen making fudge in the fudge shop window and, in later years, sneaking a bite of ice cream dressed in his signature pink shirt and brown slacks.
He was a mentor and employer to thousands of young people who made their way to Mackinac Island for summer employment and often boasted that many have remained personal friends, some ultimately owning their own businesses.
Over and above managing his business portfolio, Victor gave his time and talent to help make Mackinac Island the special place it is today. He was known for his relentless sales of fundraiser raffle tickets for the Medical Center Auction and the Lilac Festival. Residents would sometimes turn the other way when they saw him coming, knowing Victor would not take ‘no’ for an answer when supporting worthy causes. His legacy includes financial support for the rebuilding of the Arch Rock Steps in memory of Rena, the reconstruction of Ft. Holmes, and the Botanical Garden Walk to Arch Rock.
Rena Ryba & Victor Callewaert raised five children. Victor taught his children his fudge-making craft, who in turn are teaching their children, ensuring the family legacy lives on.