IGA Grocery Store
Article#7- Fierling's Meat Market
Article#8- Chuck and Dales
Article#9- More on the Taverns
Article #10- Library
|Published March 27, 2003
Published April 10, 2003
Published April 28, 2003
Published May 7, 2003
Published May 21, 2003
Article#6- IGA Grocery Store
Since my husband and I have become part of the Downtown Partnership, the question we most often get from people is, "When are we going to get a grocery store on the north end of town?" It's a legitimate question and I always try to give them encouraging news but the truth is, even when we do get one, (and there's no tactful way to say this) chances are good that it won't have quite the same feeling as the IGA that served us all for so many years.
Mention the IGA and most people remember the store at the corner of Main St. and Pitman. After all, it was our first big grocery store and it served our town from 1959 to 1990 when competition from the super-sized grocery stores took its toll. The friendly atmosphere, and the rope-style sausage Bill Orf was famous for, has been sorely missed ever since.
My own memories go back to the first IGA, the one at the corner of Main St. and Elm, and it wasn't until Jerry Hamley mentioned his dad buying ground beef from Lee Fierling's Meat Market that I even questioned the existence of any store before the IGA!
The more I dug, the more I learned and the farther back in time I went. But I've decided to tell it to you the same way I learned it so you'll have to look for the next issue to read about Lee Fierling's market.
In 1946, Bill Orf was working for Curtis-Wright as a machinist and his brother, Bob, worked for Lee Fierling at the O'Fallon Meat Market. Lee decided to sell and Bill and his brother, Bob, talked about buying it. As Bill said, "Something didn't work out and when my brother-in-law, Ivan (Phillips), came home from the Army he said, "Let's go!" That was the beginning of a partnership that lasted almost 40 years. When they first bought the store, they got in a side of beef and Bill admitted that he looked at it and thought, "Now, what do I do with this?" He called on his brother, Bob, and Lee Fierling to show him how to break down a side of beef. Before long, people were bringing him an occasional deer or hog for him to butcher and package.
The store wasn't very big and besides the meat counter, they mostly just stocked bread, coffee, a few canned vegetables, pastries and a little fresh produce. Bill made horseradish sauce, taking the root he got from the produce supplier, chopping it up while he "cried like a baby" and then added vinegar, salt and other good stuff to it. But what he was best known for was his sausage, a rope-style sausage that people came from miles around to stock up on. I asked him what his secret was and he wouldn't tell me, but his wife, Lynn, let me in on her secret--the closest thing to Bill's sausage is the sausage they still sell at the Lake St. Louis IGA.
It was in these early days when Lynn Harshbarger Orf was only 15 years old that she fell in love with Bill. Bill told me he watched Lynn walk out of the store one day and said to himself, "I believe I'm going to marry her" and the day before I sat down to talk with them they'd celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary.
In 1950, Bill and Ivan tore down the O'Fallon Meat Market because, as Bill said, "It was about ready to fall down" and they reopened as an IGA in 1951. The Dec. 14th, 1951 ad offers a 5 lb. bag of flour for 45 cents, spareribs for 49 cents/lb. and a pack of 12 jellies in a gift box for $2.99. Lynn remembers them having to dig out the concrete bins that were still in the ground from the ice house that was behind the original Meat Market. This is the IGA of my early childhood the one I assumed had always been there-- and I remember my mother saying she could send my older sister to the grocery store with a list and Ivan or Bill would charge it to her account.
The new store at Pitman and Main St. opened its doors on June 4, 1958 and while I always remember Bill as the friendly, soft-spoken man behind the meat counter, Ivan was the one who was always up-front, making sure the customer's groceries were being bagged, that ladies had help carrying their groceries out and making sure the shelves were stocked. But people in O'Fallon didn't know them just from the IGA. Bill Orf and Ivan Phillips served their community in lots of different ways; both were members of the Knights of Columbus and volunteers on the O'Fallon Fire Department back when all we had were volunteer firefighters. Among other organizations, Ivan also served on the Board of Aldermen and was Mayor of O'Fallon from 1953 to 1955. He was named O'Fallon's Man of the Year in 1976.
Bill and Lynn Orf had five children and when Ivan Phillips passed away in 1999 he left behind his wife, Margaret, and seven children. Together they gave a great deal to our little town. They gave us the kind of service and commitment to their community that's worth remembering, and most of us do.
Article#7-Fierlings Meat Market
Before there was an IGA at Main St. and Pitman, there was an IGA at the corner of Main St. and Elm. Before that, it was the O'Fallon Meat Market which stood at the same place and was owned by Bill Orf and Ivan Phillips. Before they owned it, it was owned and operated by Leo Fierling, but before he owned the Meat Market, he owned Lee's Confectionary across the street. Confused? I was, too, at first. So I'll tell it to you the same way I learned it.
When I talked to Bill and Lynn Orf, they suggested I talk to Charlie Fierling, Lee's son, to learn more about his father's store and when I did, I unearthed a flurry of entrepreneurial activity on Main St. Charlie's father, Lee Fierling, was born and raised down on Belleau Creek Rd. He served in the Army during WWI and married Millie Stuckey from St. Peters in 1919. In 1928, Leo Fierling (who everyone called "Lee") and Lee Ethier together opened Lee's Confectionary in the building that later housed Chuck and Dale's Tavern on the first block of South Main. Next to it, where The Cooler now stands, was a two-story blacksmith shop. If you go into the vestibule of O'Charley's Restaurant on Highway K, you'll see a poster, courtesy of the O'Fallon Historical Society, advertising "Short Orders and Lunches, Ice Cream & Confections, and Bakery Goods of All Kinds." What Charlie remembered most vividly was the penny candy case that stood across from the lunch counter.
During the same time that Lee Fierling and Lee Ethier had Lee's Confectionary, Frank Goldkamp owned the O'Fallon Meat and Vegetable Market at the corner of Main St. and Elm. It was a little frame building with a big overhang; the kind you'd expect to see a horse rail in front of. At the back of the store was an ice plant. When Lee Fierling bought the meat market from Mr. Goldkamp in 1928, he tore down the ice plant but there were still some coolers for storing ice, the same in-ground coolers that Bill Orf remembers digging out when he and Ivan Phillips built the new IGA store in 1951. In 1930, Lee bought one of the first refrigerated meat counters. It was made by Hussman and cost him $285.00-a lot of money in 1930!
Though the ice plant had been torn down, they still stored ice and Charlie Fierling recalled that Bud Meyers had the ice route. "He would load a flat bed truck up with ice and put a big tarpaulin over it. People had signs that said 25, 50, 75 or 100 and they'd put those signs in their window to let Bud know how much ice they wanted. Bud would drive around and deliver the ice though, in the middle of summer, the 100 lb. blocks were probably 25's by the end of the route."
Charlie also recalled his father going out to Charlie Gentemann's farm and butchering hogs and selling the meat in the meat market. Jerry Hamley talked about his father, Bernard, buying meat for his quarter-pounders at the Crossroads Cafe from Lee's market. Larry Lindemann, whose parents owned Bill and Mabel's cafe (located in the same place Lee's Confectionary had been) remembers making numerous trips to the O'Fallon Meat Market to haul 25-lb. hunks of ground beef for the many hamburgers they sold for 10 cents a piece, "with all the trimmings." I'll tell you more about Bill and Mabel's cafe in another issue.
Lee Fierling made all kinds of sausages; blood sausage, liver sausage, and even head cheese. Charlie told me about the times when the Busch's (presumably Adolph) who, even then, owned a lot of land north of O'Fallon, rode into town in a wagon pulled by Clydesdales to buy his dad's sausages and meat. Imagine--Clydesdales on Main Street O'Fallon! I'd give anything for a picture of that and if any of you readers out there have one, I hope you'll give me a call!
Mr. Fierling sold the O'Fallon Meat Market in 1947 to Bill Orf and Ivan Phillips and bought the building across the street, the one that now houses SportSprint at 211 South Main. Originally a house, (Charlie tells me that Cletus Brunnert had a shoe repair shop in it) when Lee bought it, he turned it into a drugstore. O'Fallon Drug (which later became Clyde and Alice's) sold a mish-mash of goods; over-the-counter medicines, liquor, toiletries and, of course, it had a soda fountain. There were no real pharmacists in town at the time; physicians simply dispensed medications to their patients themselves.
The more I learn the more I realize that in so many cases, the businesses often stayed the same-they just changed owners. Putting together the story of "who owned what and when" starts to feel like writing the play-by-play for a game of checkers. It doesn't surprise me, really, when I think about it. If you understand the entrepreneurial spirit at all, you know that entrepreneurs are, by nature, rather restless people, always looking for the next challenge. There's an old business adage that says, "In business, there's no such thing as standing still. If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward." For all these good people who served their community, I'm glad that even when they moved forward, they stayed in O'Fallon.
Article#8-Chuck and Dale's
So far we've talked about a lot of the restaurants in O'Fallon and we've pretty well covered the meat markets and grocery stores. But if you really want to talk about the lifeblood of early O'Fallon, you can't forget the taverns! That's where the town business was conducted, sometimes officially, sometimes off the record. Deals were struck in the taverns, business was done with a handshake and you can bet that those handshakes meant more than any contract ever meant.
Now, I don't want you to get the impression that these were sleazy bars like the kind named On The Way Home so that when a man's wife calls and says, "Where are you?" he can say "On The Way Home" and she thinks she's getting exactly the answer she wanted. The taverns in O'Fallon were the town's gathering places; places you could take the family to and while Mom and Dad visited with friends the kids played with the bowling machines or begged for a dime for the jukebox.
One of the best remembered of all the taverns that dotted Main Street was Chuck and Dale's. Chuck and Patti (Becker) Griesenauer bought the place in November of 1956 from Lee and Irene Ward who'd named it Town and Country Cafe' . Chuck and Patti were married in June of 1950, about the same time that Bill Orf and Ivan Phillips bought the O'Fallon Meat Market. Bill and Ivan gave them a broom for their wedding, as Patti said, "The good kind you can't find anymore" with a tag made out of butcher paper that said "Best Wishes" tied to the handle with twine. The broom has long gone by the wayside but Patti still has the tag.
Chuck was thinking of buying the place and when Dale Soutee came home from the service he talked Chuck into letting him go into it with him. Patti described it as "a business marriage made in Heaven." It was a family business that catered to the working man's lunch and Chamber of Commerce dinner meetings, held in the back room. Every day they had a different special, sometimes ham and beans; another day they'd serve pork steaks or maybe beef stew or chili but Thursdays were always fried chicken days. Chuck and Patti's daughter, Nancy Fischer, remembers her Dad feeling safe enough to send her up the street to the bank as a child with a zippered bank bag in her hand to make the deposit. Years later, when her first "real" job was at the same bank, she "loved to take a fellow worker to the tavern with me for Dad's famous plate lunches. Thursday was always the best because he had fried chicken, and he always picked up the tab!!"
The business of running a restaurant was more casual back then. Dishes were washed in two old washtubs and Patti recalled Chuck cooking mashed potatoes with a cigar in his mouth. Someone once asked him what he'd do if he dropped some of those ashes in the mashed potatoes and Chuck's reply was, "They'll just think it's pepper" and for the life of me, I can see his smile just hearing her tell the story.
Chuck Griesenauer was the kind of man who never met a stranger. Some of the St. Louis Cardinals used to hunt in St. Peters and then come into the tavern for lunch. One day Stan Musial came in while the Cardinals had been in a slump and Chuck said, "Stan, the way you guys are playing, you ought to be playing with one of these" and handed him a corkball. Stan autographed it and I understand Nancy still has that autographed corkball that someone had Gil Shepherd mount on a stand for Chuck.
John Griesenauer has another Cardinal memory from his Dad's tavern. On Sundays he'd go to early Mass with his Dad, and then head to the tavern to help clean it for the coming week. "Back then the taverns were closed on Sunday. I'd help Dad and Dale do the cleaning-they usually let me sweep the floors-but there were always a dozen or so guys in there having a beer. If the football Cardinals were playing at home, the games were broadcast from a station in Quincy. One of the guys would get up on the roof and try to adjust the antenna to see if we could pick up the game. There'd be one guy on the roof and someone inside yelling 'a little to the left—no back some more' until they got it right."
If there wasn't a Cardinal game on, John's Sunday afternoons were spent at the fire station with his Dad who was a volunteer fireman. Whenever the fire siren blew, Chuck would get whoever was in the tavern to watch the counter and he'd run out, apron and all, to drive the fire truck.
No, the taverns in O'Fallon were family places back then. Nancy and her sister, JoAnne, sneaked the bows off the VO gift boxes to use for their own Christmas wrapping. Cokes were served in glass bottles with straws, jars full of pickled pig's feet sat on the counter,"Shirley Temples" were served to the kids on special days and candy bars were dispensed with a wink from behind the bar. Nancy summed it up best-"The best memory I have of our tavern is my Dad standing behind the bar with a white apron tied around his ample waist, a foot propped up on the cooler in front of him, and smiling when we walked in to say hi. Oh, to go back in time, if only for a second."
Article#9-More on the taverns
Just as it was with the grocery stores in O'Fallon, so it was with the taverns. The buildings stood still, decade after decade, with owners coming and going. In fact, some of them have a history farther back than I've learned about so far, but if there's more history out there to learn, I'm sure it will find its way to me.
When I was a kid in the '50's, Chuck and Dale's was on the west side of Main St. and Cotton's and Bert and Jim's was on the east side. But Bert and Kak Eisenbath started on the west side when they opened Town and Country in 1949 with Bert's mother and stepfather, Irene and Lee Ward. Then in 1955, Bert and Kak opened The Grill across the street. In 1959, Bert opened Bert & Jim's with Kak's brother, Jim Schaeffer, adjacent to the place where they had The Grill. Bert & Jim's stayed in business until the building was torn down in the early 80's. That's when Bert opened Bertie's Cooler in the old meat locker building and he stayed there until 1989. Bert Eisenbath passed away in 1991 but the family's tradition goes on-Bert's sons, Kent and Kevin, are keeping it alive and thriving at Ethyl's Wildwood Saloon and Smokehouse.
Bert and Jim's, like the other taverns, was a family place. When kids were there they drank soda and ate candy. As Kak said, "Bert always had Hershey bars stashed behind the bar to give to the kids." At one point they had a liquor store and sporting goods store in the place that had formerly been The Grill and I remember going in there with my dad to get his hunting and fishing licenses and I can still see the big cooler full of dirt that had earthworms in it that Bert sold for bait.
Midtown Tavern, as far as I know, was originally owned by John Gentemann. His great-nephew, Wayne Menne, told me that he remembers hearing his dad say that John owned Midtown during Prohibition and rumor has it he made a lot of money during that time! Then Mary and George Forbeck owned it from 1943 to 1948. I talked to their daughter, Margie Burkemper, who remembers the taverns back then as "town gathering places." She recalls tables full of men playing euchre and even as a young girl she'd sit down and join their games. Margie also recalled the day World War II ended in 1945: "People were dancing in the streets—it was wonderful. We were so happy." Her family used the small kitchen downstairs and had room for a table and chairs for family meals. Sleeping rooms were above the tavern.
Cotton Schneider bought Midtown Tavern in 1948 and from then on it I don't remember anyone calling by anything other than "Cotton's". I still don't know how Cotton came to have that nickname (if you know, please call me and tell me) but I did learn that his real name was Alvin. Cheryl Hibbeler remembers her grandfather, Elroy Haislip, taking her to Cotton's to buy her first baseball glove, something that became a rite of passage in her family. Cheryl recalled her visits to Cotton's with her Grandpa: "It was a well-seasoned building with many strange aromas. Sometimes it would smell like cigar smoke, beer, or leather from the back, but on Saturday mornings there was a heavy, strong odor of very black coffee. As we came in the door, everyone would say, 'Hello, Slips' and I was delighted when they started calling me 'Little Slips.' I'd walk up to the bar first to get my orange soda that one of Grandpa's buddies would buy for me and then go over to the old wooden bowling machine. It had plastic pins that hung down at one end and I could stand at the other and slide the silver disc, which was the bowling ball. I never put any money into the machine 'cause it was fun enough just sliding that silver thing over the wooden alley that was sprinkled with sawdust. Of course, I was too small to reach it from the floor, but one of the men would slide a chair over for me to stand on." Hearing her describe the bowling machine, my husband, Lewis, remembered making a game out of sliding the disc and then seeing how far it came back as a way to play without putting any money in it and he, too, can still smell the sawdust.
Times have changed and I don't think anyone would argue that there are undoubtedly better places for kids to hang out than in taverns. But in the absence of all the recreational outlets kids have nowadays, playing with a bowling machine and drinking an orange soda while parents and grandparents caught up with the goings-on around town wasn't such a bad deal. And it made for a lot of good memories.
Article #10- Library
I've been writing these articles for about six months now and it seems to me that the stories are equally about the people of O'Fallon and the buildings that made up our town. One, in particular, has special significance to me and you've heard me mention it before. I still don't know how it got its start, though I did learn that Lee Fierling turned it into a drug store. As a child, it was the store we went to, nickels clutched tightly in our fists, to buy a candy bar which was cut into tiny pieces for our tea parties. It was Clyde and Alice's then in the 50's but years later, it came to mean even more to my family when it became the first location of the O'Fallon Branch of the St. Charles City-Country Library.
Lynn Orf, who had worked so hard on the committee to get a library district established, approached my mother, Madelyn Bussinger, one day while she was working at P.N. Hirsch. Lynn asked Mom if she knew anyone who might be interested in working in the library and when she got home that evening, Lynn's question was still on her mind. "I got to thinking, as much as I've loved books all my life, I might enjoy that." The next day she called Lynn and told her she'd be interested. A couple of months later, on August 4, 1964, the library opened. "To begin with, we had no furniture except for one table and one chair, upon which I sat. The first day we were open, when someone wanted to borrow a book, we put a slip of paper inside the pocket with a stamped date on it. We checked out so many books that day that we ran out of scrap paper. We had NOTHING on which to stamp a due date. So I started stamping on the inside of the book itself and for twenty years, every once in a while, one of those books would come across the desk and I'd think, 'this was checked out the first day we opened' because those books had Sept. 4th stamped on them since we checked books out for thirty days. For weeks, when I would go to work, there'd be so many children and so many bicycles out front that I couldn't get in-I'd have to go around to the back door."
Bonnie Shipley came to work after the library's first weeks. Mr. Gholz, the Library's Director, came in one day and said to Mom, "I think you need some help." Mom said, "Bonnie just happened to be in the Library at the time and he just walked over to her and asked her if she'd like a job." A couple years later, Jane Householder joined the staff. "Jane got her job as strangely as Bonnie and I did. Among the group that was taking library science classes the same time I took mine, everyone was working in a library somewhere except Jane. When an opening came up, I thought, ‘If she's interested enough to be willing to pay her own tuition, she must be serious. So I called her and asked her if she would like to work at the library and she just said, 'yes' and that was it." Mom's aware that that kind of hiring procedure would shock people nowadays, but it worked pretty good. Mom stepped down as Branch Librarian in 1985 and formally retired on April 27th, 2000. Jane Householder worked for the library system until she passed away in 2000. As Mom said, "You couldn't have asked for a more loyal employee than Jane."
When the Library opened in 1964 it was initially under state supervision. Then in 1965, it became a County Library and moved into the building in O'Fallon Plaza that most people remember as its first location. Besides being thrilled with all the room they now had, Mom recalled that "it was very nice to have running water and restrooms; plus they hired someone to sweep the floors!" Prior to that, her job as Librarian meant doing everything from ordering books to hauling out the trash and sweeping the dusty wooden floors of the old location. In 1973, St. Charles city library, known then as the Katherine Linnemann Library, joined the district and it became the St. Charles City-County Library District.
Looking through the scrapbook she was given when she stepped down as branch librarian in 1985, I read letters from the many people that worked with Mom--shared memories of sliding down an icy parking lot on a piece of cardboard to open the library--decorating Christmas trees with book jackets when the budget didn't allow for ornaments. More than one recalled Mom's admonishments to remember that "those people who walk in this library are paying your salary." And a lot of people referred to the "diaper scandal" and, of course, I had to ask what that was about. "We had 8mm files that we loaned out to organizations and we had to clean them between each use. We found that the best way to clean them was using Bird's Eye cloth diapers. Someone on the library board saw Bird's Eye diapers on the expense sheet and took the story to the newspapers without checking to find out what we were using them for." I asked Mom what she liked most about her work and she said, "I loved getting the reference questions--digging around to find an answer someone was looking for", and I could tell by the glint in her eye she'd relish digging into one even now. And I also know how much she enjoyed the children referring to her as the Libarry Lady whenever they saw her in a store or a restaurant.
Madelyn Bussinger was O'Fallon's first official librarian but I'm told there was an unofficial library long ago and I'm looking forward to learning more about that from Raleigh Jessup. When I do, I'll pass the story on to you. I know I'll never be able to thank Lynn Orf enough for the opportunity she gave my Mom, but I also know that Mom worked every day to pay that debt of gratitude and inspired the people who worked with her to give their all.