Article #11- Bill & Pearl Steiner
Article #12- Growing up on Elm Street
Article #13- The "Obrechts"
Article #14- Bill & Mable's Cafe
Article #15- Bill & Mable's Cafe (cont)
Published June 4, 2003
Published June 18, 2003
Published July 2, 2003
Published July 30,2003
Published Aug. 13,2003
Article #11- Bill & Pearl Steiner
We have a favorite place we go to every year for our Anniversary; just a quiet, peaceful place where we can get away from everything and have some time alone. Except for this year. Oh, we went to our favorite place all right, but we took a break from our peace and quiet to visit with two people I've known all my life, people who were part of virtually everything that went on in O'Fallon from 1940 to the time they retired. Bill and Pearl Steiner moved to the Lake of the Ozarks (Roach, Missouri, to be exact) in 1989 but it's very clear that they carried O'Fallon along with them in their hearts.
We heard story after story, most of which can't be published, about Bill's days as a constable; about outhouses being moved in front of dress shop windows; about the guy who threw a bottle through the bank's front door glass so Bill would arrest him giving him shelter for the entire winter; about street lights being shot out on Main Street and shooting contests in the taverns. The whole time the stories were flying, Bill was pouring homemade wine for us and toasting my father, frying up a batch of crappie he'd caught the day before and accurately predicting that Pearl would scold him for putting the beans on the table in the same pot he'd cooked them in. It was an afternoon we wouldn't have traded for anything.
Bill's parents, William and Olive Steiner, moved their family to O'Fallon in December of 1931 from Wellston. William was from a whole family of carpenters who found themselves out of work when the Depression hit. He bought the old filling station, the Missouri Cabin Camp that sat on the old highway where Fort Zumwalt Square now sits on Veteran's Memorial Parkway. Later, it became Steiner's Service Station, a Texaco station that, when it closed in 1958, was the oldest continuously operated service station between St. Charles and Kansas City. They sold coffee to truckers for 5 cents a cup and a plate lunch for 25 cents. Ice cream cones were 8 cents.
Steiner's Service station on Old Hwy. 40, c1946
After working a number of odd jobs, Bill bought the ice business in O'Fallon from Wade Admire in 1935. His brother, Bud, worked with him and eventually they added coal and hauling to the business. They hauled ice from Fischback Brewer in St. Charles, delivering it to all the businesses along Hwy. 40 and O'Fallon to St.Paul,. and hauled coal from Troy, Illinois for $5.00/ton. Bill also had the Greenmarker Coal dealership. In 1940 when Westhoff Light and Power changed to AC power with new engines and generators, Bill went to work as plant operator with A. W. Westhoff though he continued to deliver ice and coal until 1942.
Steiner's Coal Company truck, Bud & Bill Steiner. c1935
In 1940, Bill married Pearl Phillips whose parents, Arthur and Laura Phillips, owned a farm over in the Cave Springs area. Pearl's maternal grandfather, Henry Ermeling, lived on Elm St. in the house that later became Callahan's Funeral Home and in 1927, spent over $700 of his own money to buy O'Fallon's first fire truck. I don't know if that's where Bill's passion for the fire department started but I do know that hearing his life story is a lot like hearing a history of O'Fallon firefighting. Bill joined the fire department the same year he and Pearl were married (Pearl will probably say she married the whole department) and became O'Fallon's fifth chief in 1951. I'll leave the rest of those stories for the firemen to tell.
If you can get Bill to quit talking about the fire department, (which is no easy task) the subject he seems most eager to talk about is the eight years he served as Constable of Dardenne Township. From the stories he told us, law enforcement was a whole different ballgame back then and I daresay the stories would turn our chief of police's hair gray(er). Next on his list would probably be the eight years he spent on the O'Fallon School Board starting in 1942, four of which he served as President. He's proud to take credit for hiring Twila Harshbarger and chuckled when I told him that I'd always felt cheated having been the only kid in my family that didn't have the privilege of having Twila as a teacher. He also takes credit for closing the Negro school that was at the corner of Elm and Sonderen, citing low attendance and poor teaching as his reasons. When the children and their families protested, he agreed to provide them with transportation to the St. Charles district schools where they felt they'd be part of a more racially-mixed district, provided they kept up their attendance.
Bill was a member of the Lion's Club, Rotary, and Civic Club, a group of men who pretty much pitched in and did whatever needed to be done, everything from building Civic Hall, to putting up lights in the ball fields. In fact, doing "whatever needed to be done" could very well have been Bill and Pearl Steiner's motto. Bill recalled that all the fire calls came through the main telephone office and when the exchange closed, the firemen were left with no means for getting calls 24 hours a day. For the next two years, emergency calls went directly into the Steiner household and from there, a phone chain got word out to all the other firemen. Then when Laura Roeper opened a nursing home on Woodlawn Avenue, Bill talked her into having the emergency fire calls come into the nursing home since they had 24-hour staff. I think that was pretty civic minded of her when you consider that it was her dress shop on Main St. that Bill and a couple of cronies had put the outhouse in front of years before!
Bill and Pearl raised three children on School Street in O'Fallon-Art (please don't call him Artie), Ed and Betty, all three of whom inherited Bill's spirit and Pearl's warm-hearted smile. In 1973, The O'Fallon Chamber of Commerce named Bill their Man of the Years and the "s" at the end was no mistake!
Bill & Pearl in their home at the Lake.
Article #12- Growing up on Elm Street
When I started this story-telling process, I had hopes that people would contact me with stories of their own. A couple of weeks ago, Judy Sigmund and her mother, Edith Obrecht, came to our office and shared some pictures and stories with me. Here's what Judy told me about the house her family lived in on Elm Street.
"In 1944 my parents, Glennon and Edith Obrecht, bought the gingerbread house at 101 East Elm Street where the O'Fallon Fire Department parking lot is now situated. The story was told that a Mr. Arens built the house before the turn of the century as a wedding gift to his daughter and son-in-law, Fred Westhoff, at the cost of $1,000. By 1944, Fred's daughter, Miss Hilda Westhoff, lived there alone and felt the large house was better suited to a family, having four bedrooms, two formal sitting rooms, dining room, kitchen and pantry, and an 8 x 18 screened-in porch..
Obrecht's home on Elm Street, c1946
Elm Street was lined with huge shade trees; a few were elms but there were also several catalpas and numerous maples. Leo Fierling's Butcher Shop was on the southeast corner of Main and Elm, the Bank of O'Fallon was on the northeast corner and shared the back of the building with Doc Hibbeler. A wooden case with a glass front listing the names of the men who served in World War II was suspended between two square brick columns on the vacant lot next door to us. The back portion of this large lot became the first city park with a softball field. A tall wire backstop was erected and four grandstands were built. Electric lights for night games lit up the bedrooms of neighboring houses.
In 1944 Miss Westhoff moved to a second-story apartment in the Krekel house, which is now the Happy Time School by the railroad tracks. At the time, Mrs. Mary Westhoff, daughter of Nicholas Krekel, owned the house.
My parents moved into the house on Elm St. with four children in the fall of 1944 and three more children followed. Within two years, my dad transformed the pantry into a bathroom (good-bye outhouse) and dug a basement under two of the rooms with a hand shovel. A coal-burning furnace with a self-feeding stoker was then put in place. Outside Dad added a chicken pen and a strawberry field. The spacious rolling lawn was mowed weekly in the summer with a hand pushed reel type mower and I remember how pushing that mower over hill and dale pained the torso muscles! Mom later changed one of the sitting rooms into her sewing shop where she made clothing, draperies and slipcovers for ladies in the area. Her specialty was making a dress from three flowered feed sacks with ten hand-made buttonholes down the front for which she charged $3.00.
Our most interesting neighbor was Miss Emma Griesenauer who lived across the street in a lovely white clapboard home screened by bridal wreath bushes. The Colonial Plaza now stands in the area that used to be her garden. Miss Emma often invited my siblings and me into her sitting room where she would talk to us in what we considered an adult manner and then give us cookies. Mom always warned us to "only stay a few minutes" so we wouldn't annoy the dear lady but Miss Emma and her house, filled with curious items, were fascinating to us.
As a young woman in the early 1900's, Miss Emma left O'Fallon with her sister, Mary, and two brothers to homestead a section of land in the area of Coffee Creek, Montana. They each took a quarter of the section, built a cabin, fenced a number of acres upon which they planted clover and wheat, and lived there for a number of years. After she found a trustworthy farmer to manage the land she returned to O'Fallon, having experienced this adventure when most women her age were sewing lace on their petticoats.
Miss Emma was a great cook, seamstress and horticulturist. Her southeast dining room was filled with blooming African violets and trays of sand she used as a starting mixture for ever more of them.
On one of our visits to Miss Emma, my nosy brother spotted a pack of cigarettes lying among numerous and sundry items on a claw-foot table in the center of her living room. She told us a gentleman caller had left them there and when we asked if we could try one of them, our asking soon turned to begging. She never could refuse us so she took the cigarettes and us into her kitchen where she located a long match. She said, "I can't tell you how to smoke it because I don't know how." We each took a puff and had a few coughs. Miss Emma then told us to go outside and run around her house with our mouths open so our mother wouldn't smell tobacco on our breath. Both ladies were concerned that our childhood mischief might weaken their friendship, but it never did.
My family lived in the lovely old house for fifteen years. It was destroyed by a bulldozer in 1959 to make room for a parking lot. I do hope the beautiful colored-glass front door, the walnut newel post, the decorative wood and bay window were saved for another home owner to use and enjoy."
Thank you, Judy, for sharing your memories of your family's home with us. We must preserve what heritage we still have left and, when we can't, we must preserve the memories. These are the things real communities are made of.
Judy on her Confirmation Day
Article#13- The "Obrecht"
Despite the Irish heritage of O'Fallon's founder, Mr. John O'Fallon, the town's earliest rosters are clear evidence that O'Fallon was, for many years, a town that found its ancestry in Germany. The names are all familiar; Westhoff, Gentemann, Griesenauer, Pieper, Schwendemann and Obrecht to name a few.
Last week you read Judy Obrecht Sigmund's story of the home she grew up in at 111 East Elm where the fire station's parking lot now sits. This week, we'll go back a bit farther and learn how the Obrecht family's O'Fallon roots were planted all along Elm St. Here's how Judy told it to me:
"Henry Obrecht of Portage de Sioux and Anna Schwendemann of St. Peters were married on October 16, 1894. Anna joined Henry on his farm in Portage where they planted thousands of onion sets in the sandy, loamy soil of northern St. Charles County. After 16 years in the Portage community, they decided to move to O'Fallon where they'd heard good things were happening. Anna was thrilled to be living near her sister, Mary Huber. By then they had five living children and one adopted daughter. Three of their children had died in infancy and were buried at St. Francis Cemetery in Portage.
The family disposed of many of their possessions and kept just enough household goods to fill two wagons, each pulled by a team of horses. The trail they followed is now Highway B and at the end of the first day of their journey, they arrived at Dardenne Creek and camped there for the night. The second day they arrived in O'Fallon.
Henry and Anna had bought a building site at the corner of what is now Elm and Sonderen with the intention of building a home there. In the meantime, Henry rented a large two-story house at 201 East Elm. Four more sons were born to the Obrechts while they lived there. Bud and Jen Schwane built a new home on that lot in the 1950's and today it's a law office. The Obrecht's new home was completed about 1910 and still stands today at the corner of Elm and Sonderen."
Another Obrecht home on Elm Street, c1908
The Obrecht's children continued to put their mark on O'Fallon's landscape.
In 1947, Clem Obrecht built the concrete block building to open a frozen food locker at the corner of West Elm and Main Street, the one we now know as The Cooler. He'd owned various businesses around Wentzville and O'Fallon and moved his family to Dr. Lusby's former home on South Main Street. It was a large single story home and every Tuesday evening, Clem's brother, Glennon, and his family came to watch Milton Berle and the Texaco Star theatre on Clem's TV set. Later, that home became the medical office of Dr. Sasaki and his nurse, Irene Hanley.
Freezing food was a new idea in 1947 and one day when Clem's younger brother, Paul, took a package of frozen fish home to his mother, her reply was "Do you think I'm going to eat that?" They rented out large drawers to farmers who stored their freshly slaughtered meat, along with packaged fruits and vegetables. When the farmers came to town to shop, they made a stop at the locker to pick up their frozen food. Clem operated the frozen food locker until the late 1950's when home deep freezers came on the market.
As you read earlier, Glennon married Edith Bethmann and raised seven children, living in the Westhoff house at 111 East Elm from 1944 to 1959. Edith became a well-known seamstress working from one of the house's large first-floor rooms. She started sewing in the 40's making dresses from flowered feed sacks, three to a dress. She made over a hundred bridal gowns and more than 400 bridesmaid dresses plus everything from school uniforms to nun's habits to slipcovers. Glennon served as an alderman for two years and after being approached with an idea by the Schlueter brothers in bib overalls, proposed the city's first trash service. Glennon also served O'Fallon as a volunteer fireman and both he and his brother, Paul, were city marshals though Judy tells me that the marshal's biggest job at that time was quieting the noise from fireworks in the summertime and halting drag racing on Main Street the rest of the year. The youngest of the Obrecht's sons, Cyril, joined the Navy in 1941 and was sent to the South Pacific on the USS Cincinnati. He later married Ruth Sigmund and became the father of seven children. A member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he flew the flag on his front lawn every day until his death.
All in all, the young couple from Portage de Sioux, Henry and Anna Obrecht, gave O'Fallon a whole string of good folks to carry on their values and a wonderful house to remember them by..
Anna and Henry with sons..
Article#14-Bill & Mable's Cafe
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning with Larry and Bonnie Lindemann, Larry's sisters Donna and Lil, his brother, Bob and family friends Emily Schamma and Inez Orf. The topic was Bill and Mabel's Café and the hardest job I've ever had, outside of raising twin boys, was keeping the stories straight as I listened to two or three conversations all taking place at the same time.
In case you don't remember (or weren't here for it), Bill and Mabel's Café was in the same building that earlier housed Lee's Confectionary. Bill and Mabel rented the place from Clem and Mary Obrecht. Later it became the Town and Country Café and then Chuck & Dale's, both of which you've already heard about, though it seems there are always more stories out there.
Bill and Mabel Lindemann moved here from Nebraska during the Depression. Donna Lindemann Long told me the story of their arrival in O'Fallon. "We had two travel trucks that moved us down here; that's horses, farm machinery, furniture, husband and wife, four kids and two drivers. We got down here and Milford Lambert told the drivers they better get out of town because the trucks weren't licensed to travel in this state. So we talked to Mr. Menne and he told us that we could unload the stuff there on his property so those trucks could get back out of state before morning. The Bill Menne's-they had 13 children-and they took us, six people, in for the night." At the time, the Menne's owned the property where the Schnucks is now, the property the Patton's bought from them in 1938.
Bill Lindemann in front of cafe...
The Lindemann's lived for about a year down in the river bottom's area and then moved to Peruque Island where Bill Lindemann supported his family ("we were never hungry") on $25.00 a month working as a tenant farmer. In time they moved in town to Church Street, to the house most of us now know as Rosie Moorhead's house though it was owned by one of the Keithley's at the time, and Bill worked at the TNT plant. The end of the war meant the end of that job and when they opened Bill and Mabel's Café, they moved to the apartment over the store.
Bob Lindemann, who was only seven years old at the time, recalled the inside of Bill and Mabel's with the attention to detail that only a young boy would have. "On the first floor, the café part, as you entered, the counter was about 25 feet long on the left. Behind the counter were the refrigerator, grill, pop and beer coolers, ice cream freezer, soda fountain, and the cash register. There were about ten café tables on the right. The place was heated with freestanding oil stove right in the middle of all the tables. Beyond the tables on the left were two pinball machines. The jukebox was on the right."
Bill and Mabel's Café had a rhythm of customers throughout the day and there was something for everyone. The breakfast crowd was followed by the coffee-klatching businessmen; the lunch crowd filed in for their Blue-Plate Specials trailed by the after-school demand for sodas, candy and ice cream. When suppertime's Blue-Plate Specials were cleared away, they made room for mostly "beer-drinking, a few card games and a lot of pool playing."
Bill & Mable's 25th wedding anniversary, 1948, in the cafe..
Like other cafes and taverns in town, a lot of business, including unofficial city business, was conducted at Bill and Mabel's. Larry remembered the Three Bills (Bill Lindemann, Bill Scott and Bill Steiner) discussing everything from the Board of Education business to the building at the Civic Club Park. And he remembered overhearing Mr. Keithley and Tom Ginnever sharing a joke while sitting at the bar drinking coffee one morning. One of them told the other, "This guy went to the doctor because he kept getting sharp pains in his eye when he drank coffee. The doctor told him, 'Take the spoon out of the cup before you take a drink!" Okay, so jokes have changed since then. Still, the young Lindemann's learned some important business lessons. For instance, Larry's job was to keep the floors swept and clean and he soon learned that the dirtier the floor, the higher the receipts were at the end of the day!
But the memories they shared with me that day weren't all about work! Donna remembered the dances held in Lee Ethier's hall. "Lil and I were in our teens then and we loved to dance. When the dance was going on, business would be slow at Bill and Mabel's so we'd slip out the back door, over the fence and just dance, dance, dance. A few minutes before it was time for a break we'd run back over to the café and start frying hamburgers because everyone would come over after the dance." Emily Schamma worked at Bill and Mabel's and she and her young husband, Whit, lived upstairs with the rest of the family. She remembered the kind of prank I'd only heard about as a kid. "Every Halloween that outside toilet of ours ended up in the lake in front of the convent. There was a lawyer in town (I don't remember his name); they'd take his sign and put it on that toilet and set it in the middle of the lake. He used to get so danged mad!" I guess "lawyer jokes" aren't so new, after all!
I heard lots of stories that day and most of them will have to be shared with you another time; how Inez Orf's parents got the doctor out to their house on the hurdy-gurdy when she was born, how they covered up the other beer signs when Auggie Busch was in, and how they listened in on a phone call and found out about Pearl Harbor. One thing was clear: that morning I got to be part of a family reunion that spread way beyond blood relation.
Article #15-Bill & Mabel's Cafe (cont)
Not too long after I started writing these stories, the thought occurred to me that they might one day find themselves compiled in a book which I would appropriately title, "Crestwood 2." I mentioned this to my sons one day and their reaction was mixed. At the same time their mouths were muttering encouraging words, their foreheads were crinkled into question marks. So I tried to explain that Crestwood 2 was our telephone exchange in O'Fallon and then I realized they'd never even heard of having an "exchange." To them a telephone number is merely an arrangement of seven or ten numbers. They'd grown up in the Taylor 2 exchange and never even knew it!
So I explained that years ago we didn't dial all seven numbers; just the four digits that would get you to the person you wanted to talk to. Eventually, we had to put the "2" in front of the four numbers and when we had to dial the entire 272-whatever, we acted like dialing a phone number had turned into hard labor! Add to that the fact that we still had rotary dialers at the time (what are those?) and you're really talking hard work! Any lady who had long fingernails at all was lucky to be given one of those plastic sticks with the ball on the end as a promotional item from some business or other. You stuck the ball in the holes on the rotary dialer to keep from breaking a fingernail.
At any rate, during my time spent with the crew from Bill and Mabel's, two themes seemed to crop up over and over-telephones and transportation. Back then you called someone by picking up the phone and asking the operator to dial the person. Each household had its own ring, a combination of short and long rings. Everyone was on the same line so every call rang in everyone else's home and if you knew what their "ring" was, you knew who was getting a call. So the young ladies of Bill and Mabel's café always knew when the Busch's were getting a call and would sometimes pick up the phone and listen in. I told you last week that's how Donna Lindemann Long found out about Pearl Harbor. She said, "I picked up the phone and one of the Senators was visitng out at the Busch Farm and they were calling him back to Washington because Pearl Harbor had just been invaded!" On the lighter side, Inez Orf's father was a guide on the river and frequently got calls from men reserving duck blinds. She told us, "One night Dad was talking to this guy in St. Louis who was reserving a duck blind and Dad could hear this woman on the other end. She had pet birds and you could hear the birds singing in the background. So Dad told her, 'Tilly, if you'll be kind enough to hang up, as soon as I get done talking to this guy I'll call you up and tell you what he said."
The other recurring theme-transportation-took a lot of different forms. For instance, Larry Lindemann said that the railroad was a financial bonanza for Bill and Mabel's Café. The crew chief would come in and let them know how many men would be coming in for the "meal of the day." Emily Schamma remembered a hobo that used to show up every year around the 4th of July. He'd wash windows on Main Street to earn money, find a place to stay and then leave after the 4th.
We talked a little bit about the cars from those days; how big and bulky they used to be. We also got to talking about the doctors in town and Emily remembered the man who delivered me when I was born, Dr. Sasaki. She said, "If you saw a car driving through O'Fallon looking like nobody was driving it, it was Dr. Sasaki! He was too short to see over the steering wheel. Then there was Miss Marsha (Williams). She had four hats-one for each season. You knew the season had changed because Miss Marsha would come down in her car with the feather on her Fall hat. She always drove a Model T Ford and she'd come from church; chug, chug, chug, and everyone would get out of the way 'cause here'd come Miss Marsha right down the middle of the street!"
Main Street O'Fallon, circa 1945
But the award for the best story on transportation went to Inez Orf who told about the day she was born though not from memory, of course. "When it was time for me to come, Dad called Dr. Glossmeyer and told him I was on the way. He said, 'Well, I can't get down to where you live with my car. I won't drive my car on your roads down there, John.' So Dad said, 'I'll come and get you.' Well, he wouldn't ride in Dad's Ford either. So Dad says, 'Well, what am I gonna' do? Here I got a baby coming, you don't drive your car down here and you won't ride in my Ford.' He said, Well, I don't know what to tell you but I can't make it down there. This new doctor, Dr. Neunlist (which everyone pronounced Nine-us) just arrived in Old Monroe--you might call him.' So Dad called him and he said, 'John, I tell you what. You got a problem. I don't know you and I haven't seen your wife but I will come to deliver that baby. I'll get the hurdy-gurdy, put it on the railroad tracks and I'll meet you at your crossing. I don't know where it is, so you gotta' be there waiting in your Ford.' So, Doc Neunlist got on the hurdy-gurdy, road it all the way from Old Monroe down to where we lived and Dad was there waiting for him. He got off the hurdy-gurdy, Dad set it off to the side of the railroad tracks, he got in Dad's old Ford, drove down to the house, Doc delivered me, Dad drove him back to the railroad tracks, set the hurdy-gurdy back on the tracks and off he rode."
Now that's a house call!!