Article #1- My Memories of Main Street
Article #2- Dining Out
Article #3- Blechle's Inn
Article #4- The Crossroads Cafe
Article #5- Tom Ginnever
Published November 20, 2002
Published January 15, 2002
Published January 29, 2003
Published February 26, 2003
Published March 12, 2003
My family lived in a house on Elm Street when I was born. The first home I remember was the one we lived in on Church Street, where ProFormance Sign & Graphics is now. The white frame church that was first the Methodist Church and then the Lutheran Church, was next door on the corner.
Tom Ginnever owned the appliance store where Barstow Maytag is now. Dad liked to brag that, right behind the Ginnever's, we were one of the first in town to own a television set. Makes me feel ancient just to say it. Across the alley driveway from Ginnever's (where Sportsprint is now) was a place called Clyde and Alice's. The best I can remember, it was kind of a combination drugstore/dime store, where you could buy anything from Hershey bars to hair cream. Clyde was a tall, dignified-looking man with a baldhead and Alice was the friendly, out-going one. I remember them doing a song and dance for the Vaudeville show in town held for the Centennial. They actually sounded pretty good, though I remember thinking the whole thing seemed a little outrageous for our quiet little town.
When O'Fallon finally got its own Library, it started out in Clyde and Alice's old place on Main Street. Lynn Orf talked my mother, Madelyn Bussinger, into taking the job as librarian. I remember the day we opened it like it was yesterday. Mom spent the day helping people fill out applications for library cards. I worked at keeping the shelves neat from all the browsing going on. We checked out over 600 books that day and went home happy, dusty, and exhausted.
The real drug store was Art's Drug which ws in one of the small white buildings across the street. If I remember correctly, Art's Drug was in the space that is now a vacant lot. Art Montgomery and his wife, Bessie, always had some little freebie toy for me whenever Mom and I went in. Maybe it was my consolation prize to make up for whatever cough syrup Dr. Mangold had ordered for me.
I remember the Keithly-Davis Funeral Home being where Roger's Heating and Cooling is now. And of course, we had more than our share of taverns on Main Street. In fact, if you go into the new Bank of Old Monroe, you'll find a picture of myself and Nancy Fisher,(nee Griesenauer), no more than four or five years old, sitting with her mother at the bar of Chuck and Dale's.
My truest memories were of the two stores across the street from the funeral home, Westhoff's and Gentemann's. Westhoff's was the hardware store, a crowded, stacked-to-the ceiling kind of place. I remember the hardwood floors that had a pink sweeping compound between the boards and the smell of dust, straw, and grease, all mixed together. A sure sign that spring was coming was when my mother gave my sister and I a quarter; we were to take our wagon down to Westhoff's to get it loaded up with sand for the sandbox. The sandbox was a favorite summer pastime for me and my friends. Playing in the sandbox meant sitting on the ground, and the scare of contracting polio led my Dad to build us a sandbox that was perched on top of a picnic table. It kept us safe and off the ground, but we had to be careful to play in two's so we didn't tip it over.
Gentemann's was the dry good store with groceries, some clothing basics, a few toys and bolts of fabric. It too, had wonderful hardwood floors and glass cases with pretty sweaters folded neatly and a tin roof overhead. I loved walking by Gentemann's to see what was being displayed in the window. One year at Christmas time they had two dolls in the window; one was a bride and the other a cowgirl. Oh, how I wanted that cowgirl doll!! As luck would have it, that was the year that Gentemann's burned down. I later found out that my sister (who was working at Keithly's Funeral Home at the time) had put the cowgirl doll on layaway for me for Christmas.
That was horrible, the night Gentemann's burned down. By then we lived at the corner of Pitman and Sonderen Streets. I remember standing at the window watching the flames light up the sky. A big part of our world went up in those flames that night.
Besides the businesses in downtown, the block that went from Church Street to Pitman Street was lined with beautiful, big old houses. They all had long front yards and wide front porches. I remember the sidewalk sitting up a few feet from the street. When the sidewalk met one of the big trees that lined the street, it simply went around the big tree's trunk and straightened back out on the other side. Mr. and Mrs. Keithly lived in one of those big old houses and whenever Mom and I had occasion to walk to their house, (usually on church business) Mrs. Keithly always had a toy from a cereal box for me.
Like the rest of the world, it was a slower, gentler world on Main Street back then. I think that when those of us who remember O'Fallon in the fifties envision the revitalization process, that's "the picture" we bring with us to the meetings. We remember a place where people had time to stop and talk to each other. We truly believe that if people had a place to go, they'd take the time to stop and talk again. However wonderful it is to have the super stores around us, there's no substitution for the kind of places where the shopkeepers know their customers by name. Our children and grandchildren deserve to have memories of store windows, pretty glass cases and sidewalks that wind around trees.
Article#2- Dining Out..
Yesterday my husband and I were sitting in a restaurant having lunch and noticed, once again, that there wasn't a soul in the restaurant we knew. Granted, it wasn't a restaurant we frequently go to, but still, we remember a time in O'Fallon when seeing someone you didn't know was the oddity. Part of the dining-out experience was not just conversation across the table, but also between tables, often more than two at a time! However, since both my husband and I lived away from O'Fallon for a number of our adult years, we've often wondered how many times we've encountered someone we knew thirty years ago and we just didn't recognize each other!
Dining out in O'Fallon was almost an oxymoron when I was growing up. Oh, I'm sure my parents knew of places to eat in O'Fallon but then, eating out wasn't the ordinary event that it is now. The equivalent of going out to McDonald's for a happy meal when I was a kid was a sit-around-the-TV meal for us. It usually happened on Sunday evenings and I would squirm in my little rocker anxiously waiting to see what wonders Uncle Walt and Disney World would be showing us that week. If I remember, it came on at 6:00, the undisputed dinner hour in our home. On those nights, Mom would fix us glorious dinners like hamburgers with home-made French fries and sometimes we'd even have soda with our dinner! To a six-year-old, Heaven was a dinner in front of the TV with no vegetables!
I do remember when the Dog 'n Suds opened up on Sonderen and that created a whole new dining experience-eating in your car! I was usually in the back seat, older siblings claiming the front (what my own sons referred to as "riding shotgun") and I watched in awe at the teenagers in crisp white shirts, tight black Capri pants and bright red cumberbunds, carrying trays full of burgers and sodas back and forth. They were known, of course, for their root beer, served in frosted glass mugs and if you had a really young child with you, you could order a "baby" mug that was free. We used to buy a gallon jug of root beer and take it home once in a while and though nothing could taste better on a hot summer night than a cold root beer, drinking it out of a regular glass instead of one of those mugs just wasn't quite the same.
I also remember a place that Lou Blechle opened up at the corner of Main and Old 40 as we called it then, right where the Citgo station is now. I don't remember what it was called (I think we just referred to it as Lou Blechle's place) but I remember a white, concrete block building and a gravel parking lot. Lou also had really good root beer and served up the same yummy hamburgers he later served up when he took over the food counter at the bowling alley.
Sometime later, say mid-sixties, Mike Rimmer's mother, Charlotte, opened a restaurant on Main Street in a narrow little building that used to stand just south of Westhoff's. Mike was a classmate of mine and, as far as I know, is still coaching football for Fort Zumwalt though I may be out of touch on that one. Anyway, it was a cozy little place, called simply Charlotte's, and when Dad declared Thursday as his night-out-with-the-guys, Mom and I treated ourselves to dinner out at Charlotte's. It was good, home-cooked food; chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, or steak and noodles with over-cooked green beans on the side. The best part was that it was always served up with Charlotte's trademark smile and her mother's silver-haired giggle. God, it makes me feel good just to think about it.
Then came the teenage years and Continental Pizza opened on Main Street where Milo Terry had had his barbershop for so many years. That was in the same building as Ginnever's appliance store where Barstow Maytag is now. I've never tasted another pizza in all my life quite like the one Continental Pizza served, though you can find something fairly close to it at Noll's. It didn't have much on it but the sauce was just a little sweet, the crust was super-thin and the cheese was thick but never stringy. They had just a few tables in the front and for the life of me, I have no memory of anything on their menu but pizza but that's probably because I never even considered ordering anything else! They had a back room with a few more tables and a juke box and after Tuesday and Friday night basketball games, it was filled with kids that usually didn't have enough money to feed anything other than the jukebox.
There wasn't much for teenagers to do in O'Fallon back then and most of our time (outside of basketball and football games) was spent traveling between two very fine eating establishments: Dairy Shed on the north end of Main Street where Dee's Produce is now, and Frost Top, a new-fangled hamburger place that sat somewhere in the vicinity of Art's Produce. We'd spend our evenings traveling from one to the other and back again to see who was hanging out where and with whom. Main Street was only two lanes then, of course, so part of the fun was seeing who you passed in between. Hamburgers were 25 cents then but we weren't often there for the hamburgers anyway. We were there mostly to see who else was hanging out there, to feel the freedom of being out of the watchful eyes of parents, teachers or coaches, and to just be kids. Maybe that's why, when my husband and I are out to lunch, we look around, still looking for those familiar faces.
Article#3- Blechle's Inn..
So many of you have called or sent e-mails to tell us how much you've enjoyed these articles on Hometown O'Fallon and it's nice to know how many people are interested in keeping these stories alive. However, my own memories barely scratch the surface of all there is to tell so this week we're going to experiment with an interview.
Last week, I mentioned Lou Blechle's Drive-In at the corner of K and Old Highway 40, now known as Veteran's Memorial Parkway. I couldn't remember the name of it and a good friend called me to tell me it was B & L Drive-In. Lou's son, Jim Blechle, owns O'Fallon Plaza and knows about as much of what's going on in O'Fallon as anybody. So I went straight to Jim to get the full scoop on B & L Drive-In.
Pat: Jim, I know your Dad had a couple of restaurants through the years. When did the drive-in come to be?
Jim: In 1949, my dad bought the corner of what is now 103 Veteran's Memorial Parkway. He opened a restaurant called Blechle's Inn and had that from 1949 to 1953. In 1953 he ran a place on Main St. in St. Charles called Lou's Buffet. Then in 1957 he opened B & L Drive-In, named for Beatrice and Lou Blechle, on the corner of K and Old 40. What amazes me is that I can still tell you the menu! Hamburgers were 25 cents; cheeseburgers were 30 cents. A bowl of soup was 15 cents, salad was 20 cents, French fries were 15 cents and sodas were 5, 10 and 15 cents. Chocolate shakes, malts and root beer floats were 25 cents. Chicken-in-a-basket (3 pieces of chicken, French fries, salad and drink) was 85 cents; fish baskets were the same, and a 16 oz. T-bone steak was $1.25 and that was with French fries, salad and coffee.
Pat: I seem to remember carhops and a sign on the building about flashing your lights.
Jim: Yes, we had carhops and Dad had a policy-you drove in, backed up and flashed your lights for service. Dad put an entrance on Old Highway 40 but not on K because he didn't want people driving in and racing through. This way, they had to drive in and turn around in order to drive out.
Pat: Since it was a drive-in, did you have tables inside?
Jim: There was a u-shaped counter with bar stools or soda stools-the kind you spin around on and were fastened to the floor. What impresses me, now that I think about it, was that even as a kid, we had a form of call-forwarding. When the doctor came in for lunch, he'd go over to the pay phone, crank it and say, "Justine, I'm at Blechle's eating lunch." So if someone called the doctor, he'd get the call there while he was eating lunch. Or if you wanted to speak to someone, Justine (Justine Sonderen) might say, "Oh, they're not home; they're over at so-and-so's house" and then she'd just ring you to wherever they were. The operators kind of had the pulse of the town.
One time, Mr. Patton (who owned the farm across the street from Blechle's Inn) had to call California. His daughter's husband was stationed in California and it took three hours to get the call through. All the little phone companies from O'Fallon to California had to connect with each other. Three hours! And there was no such thing as privacy. Because of the noise in the restaurant you had to talk into the phone so loud everyone could hear what you said. That call was the talk of the restaurant for quite a while.
Pat: What brought your folks to O'Fallon in the first place?
Jim: My dad was born in Perryville and my mother in St. Louis. My grandmother was a Molitor and in 1833 the Molitors had bought a thousand acres during the Spanish land grant for $1 an acre. My mom and dad came out here as a young couple and swam in Peruque Creek which they said was really clear. My ancestors always said that Peruque Creek never flooded, that you could build a bridge across it and after ten years or so you'd have to build a new one because the old one had rotted. Anyway, my dad liked it out here. In those days, O'Fallon was about 98% Catholic and since my dad wanted to raise his kids Catholic, he thought it would be a good community to raise his kids in. And it was a great place to grow up in.
Pat: What else was on that corner at the time?
Jim: The Patton's farm was across Old 40 where Schnucks is now. To the west was B.J. Hamley's Insurance Company and to the east, Ed Pfaff had O'Fallon Highway Garage where Stefanina's is now. The Hamley's were extremely good neighbors; I never heard a cross word from Mr. and Mrs. Hamley or their son and daughter-in-law, Jerry and Mary Sue. The Pattons were wonderful neighbors and Ed Pfaff was a wonderful neighbor. It was a nice time to grow up in O'Fallon.
I do remember a fascinating house at Woodlawn and Old 40. As kids, a friend and I would pick blackberries and we'd fill the beer buckets from dad's old tavern with berries and sell them for a quarter a bucket. One day we took berries to Miss Marsha's house and she was talking about her dad and his cavalry uniform and I must have made a snicker or something, and, boy, by the arm she had me and up the stairs we went! Above her mantel was a huge sword, antiques all over the place, pictures of her dad with his horse in his cavalry uniform and I was so impressed. We walked into another room and there were books from the floor to the ceiling on three walls and I asked, "What are you doing with all those books?" She said, "Young man, this was the first woman's college west of the Mississippi River!" She was an interesting lady to me. I have no idea if she'd been a teacher or inherited the house or what. As a kid, I knew her as "Miss Marsha". I know now, of course, that her name was Marsha Williams and we were just addressing her properly by calling her Miss Marsha but, as a kid, I thought Marsha was her last name.
Article#4- The Crossroads Cafe..
In the last article, I talked to Jim Blechle, owner of O'Fallon Plaza, about the restaurants his parents owned on the corner of Old 40 and K; first Blechle's Inn and later, B & L Drive-In on the corner. He mentioned their neighbors, the Hamley's, and the restaurant they ran on the opposite corner of Old 40 and K, the side where Kmart now sits. As usual, one story led to another.
I remembered the Hamley's living in that house but the restaurant was before my time. I had a definite interest in learning more, though, because I knew that, at one time, my parents lived in that house and I remembered seeing the pictures among the hundreds that were strewn in a huge box in Mom's closet. My parents, Madelyn and Louie Bussinger, moved to O'Fallon from Minnesota in March of 1942. Dad went to work at the TNT plant building roads and they lived with Miss Susie Keithley in two rooms in the house that still stands across from Baue Funeral Home on Wood St. When the road work was completed, Dad found a job working for Tom Ginnever and my folks moved into this house with Tom and Bernice.
Downstairs, Tom ran the Radio Hospital where people could test their radio tubes, a bottled propane gas business, a refrigeration service, a sort-of candy counter, and a bus stop. The upstairs housed the two young families. Tom Ginnever, Jr., Connie Ginnever, and my sister, Judy, were all born in that house and Bernice and my mother helped deliver each other's babies.
I don't know the origins of the house and if anyone reading this does, I hope they'll call me to fill me in. What I did learn, though, was that Bernard (known as B.J.) and Ann Hamley bought it sometime during the mid-1940's while they were renting the place that later became Blechle's Inn. Their son, Jerry, was in the Merchant Marines at the time and he remembers getting a call from his father. Jerry had been sending his pay home and when B.J. had a chance to buy the place, he asked his son if it was okay to use some of his money and Jerry was more than happy to contribute to the family business.
It was called the Crossroads Café but, in fact, Jerry describes it as primarily a gas station, bus stop, and sort of a lunch counter. Jerry refers to his dad, B.J., as "the original quarter-pounder Man." As he told me, "Dad bought his ground chuck from Lee Fierling's meat market on Main Street. He called his burgers 'quarter pounders' and you got a full quarter pound burger madeout of the best ground beef you could buy."
When Jerry got out of the service, he "paid out" in San Francisco and came straight home, taking the train that came right through O'Fallon. He lamented to the conductor having to blow right past O'Fallon to which the conductor replied, "If I could slow it down or stop it, I would, to let you off." "But," as Jerry said, "I had to go all the way into St. Charles and take a bus back to O'Fallon. It drove right up to my house 'cause we had the bus stop!"
According to Jerry, busses started stopping at this little corner place because there just wasn't another stop anywhere around. They made friends with the bus drivers and when they asked B.J. about having a bus stop, his reply was, "Well, that's no problem", and the bus company provided them with tickets to sell. Jerry also remembered the state patrol cars stopping to buy their gas at the Crossroads Café, paying with something that resembled a modern-day credit card. Unfortunately, when I-70 was built, traffic was re-routed away from this little corner.
Like a lot of people in O'Fallon then, both generations of the Hamley's centered their lives around their church and for them it was Williams Memorial Methodist Church. Whenever Mr. and Mrs. Keithley were out of town, Jerry and Mary Sue took over for them. Mary Sue played the piano and Jerry taught Sunday School. He recalled, "Some of my buddies started calling me Preacher Hamley." In those days, entertainment was simpler. "Rosie Moorhead's husband, Calvin, ran a projector. There was a little place right behind Griesenauer's garage that had seats in it and we'd go there and for ten cents you could watch a good movie. The pond was right behind that and we'd go back there and scoot around on the ice."
My favorite memory of the Hamley's was the most wonderful giggle that was Ann's trademark. I don't remember a single church event that Ann wasn't in the kitchen with the rest of the women who made up my collective group of thirty-or-so surrogate mothers. It didn't matter how chaotic things were, or how hot the kitchen got, if you caught her eye while she was stirring a big pot of something, you'd be sure to be greeted with a smile and a giggle, a magical sound that still rings in my ear. Jim Blechle was right when he referred to B.J. and Ann and Jerry and Mary Sue as good neighbors, but as part of my church family, they were even more. They were the kind of people who always made you feel loved; made you feel treasured.
Article#5- Tom Ginnever
Question: Do you know how to tell a native of O'Fallon from someone who recently moved here?
Answer: At some point in the conversation, the "newby" will undoubtedly ask, "Who was Tom Ginnever?" Furthermore, they'll pronounce it GIN-ever with a hard G and the accent on the first syllable instead of jin-Ever with a soft G, accent on the second syllable.
It's a perfectly legitimate question, though, since anyone who has a street named after them must have done something right. If you ask Tom, Jr. to describe his dad he'll say, "The best dad ever." Bernice, Tom's wife of forty years, describes him as "a leader." When you put those two things together, you get the one thing that hundreds of men in the O'Fallon area know him as: a scoutmaster. Of all the things Tom Ginnever did in our town, both Bernice and Tom, Jr. felt that was the thing he'd most want to be remembered for.
Mention Tom's name around Dave Molitor and he'll tell you a story. "Tom's favorite dish (when camping) was something he called Bean Hole Beans. They were baked in the ground in an iron pot-he used beans and bacon and brown sugar and all that other good stuff and he just loved them!" I asked him how the scouts liked the famous Bean Hole Beans and he said, "We were 12 or 13 years old so what did we know? They were okay, though some of the guys would scrape them off their plate into the woods. We also made biscuits over an open fire and I remember Tom always said I had to bring my mother's strawberry jam."
I asked Bernice what she thought fueled Tom's passion for the Boy Scouts. She told me, "Tom's father died when he was eleven. They lived in Ithica, New York at the time and Tom's father was killed working in a gypsum mine. Tom's mother moved the children (Tom was the eldest of five) to St. Louis where her family lived, and Tom helped his mother support the family. He knew what it was like to grow up without a father and I think it helped to be a father-figure to all those boys." Tom was awarded the Silver Beaver award, on of the highest awards in scouting.
Tom was a charter member of Kiwanis, a member of The Council of Catholic Men, the Chamber of Commerce, which named him Man of the Year in 1970, the Civic Club, and the Planning and Zoning Commission. Bernice reflected modestly, "Men just pitched in with free labor to get things done back then," and I remember well the summer that Tom and my dad and a lot of other men spent every night putting up the building in Civic Park. Before then, there was nothing but a concrete slab with a fence around it that served as a dance floor. According to Tom, Jr., it was probably Tom's work on P & Z that led to the street being named for him, something that he would consider an honor. "Dad always thought there should be a major east/west road on the North end of town." He remembers telling his dad that he wished O'Fallon would stay the way it was to which Tom, Sr. replied, "It can't. It has to grow. If it doesn't, it will just be a little spot in the road with a bunch of big towns around it." That's the kind of vision and energy Tom Ginnever is remembered for.
He's also remembered for his love of electronics and it was that love that brought Tom and Bernice together. Bernice Griesenauer was working at the Heady Hotel in Wentzville and Tom was traveling selling wind chargers. In those days there was no electricity in the rural areas and people used the wind chargers to generate power for the batteries that provided light for their homes. "Tom showed up at the hotel late one night and said he needed a room. He always kidded me that I sent him to a room that was already occupied and I never knew if he was telling the truth or not. He was good at kidding me like that."
Tom and Bernice were married in 1939 and moved into the house that Bernice's parents, Joe and Agnes Griesenauer, owned at the corner of Old 40 and K where Tom ran the Radio Hospital. Tom served in the Signal Corps during WWII and when the war was over, they moved the business to the heart of downtown (where Barstow Maytag is now) to a building that had been a service station. They sold radios and small appliances and the repair workshop was in the area that had been the garage bays on the north end of the building. It was here that Tom used to put a TV in the window and chairs on the sidewalk so people could watch the fights on Friday nights.
I asked Tom, Jr. if he remembered when television came to O'Fallon and he told me about a time in the Spring of 1948 when Channel 5 had just gone on the air though they only broadcast about six hours per week. "Dad used a formula to determine the wavelength for the frequency and strung wire on Mom's clothesline poles. He then tied the 'clothesline antenna' to our chimney. It was like a miracle for a four-year-old to see what Dad did to turn our 7-inch TV into a real live test pattern!"
Tom Ginnever, born July 29, 1913 to Percy and Jeannette Ginnever, died on Sept. 10, 1979. I asked Bernice what she thought Tom would be doing now if he were still alive and she answered without hesitation, "He'd love computers. He'd absolutely love them." So the next time you hear someone ask who Tom Ginnever was, you can tell them he was a man who loved his family, the Boy Scouts and anything electronic. He was a man who liked to think in terms of the possibilities and who gave everything he did 110%. And by the way, his name is pronounced jin-EVer.