Joe Sutter’s B&L science award connects Iowa to Rochester

Bausch+Lomb, University of Rochester
Joe Sutter won this award in the early 1940s while a student at Burlington, Iowa, High School.

A few years ago when my siblings and I were going through some things of my dad (Joe) after he passed away, we found a small brown case. When we opened it up, we found a gold medallion featuring a woman who appeared to be dressed in a traditional Greek robe.

Engraved on the medallion were the words “Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award.” We asked our mother about it. “Oh yes,” she recalled. “Your dad won that when he was in high school.” My mother didn’t know my dad then, but she recalled that his mother, Rubye Ekstrom Sutter, had told her that when Dad won the award, he was so modest that he came home from school, didn’t mention it, and just started mowing the lawn at their home on Summer Street.  Apparently he told his parents about it later!

The award specifically caught my attention because I now live in Rochester, N.Y., where Bausch & Lomb was founded and still has a plant.

Turns out that Bausch + Lomb (as the company is now called) has been giving out this science award to high school juniors since 1933. The history is on the company’s website; the criteria involves academic excellence in rigorous  high school science classes.

This is one of the few photos I have of my dad when he was in high school. He looks snazzy in his band uniform.

I’m sure my dad did well in his science classes; it was in his blood as he was the son and grandson of pharmacists (Ray and Joseph R. respectively) and he was bound for the University of Iowa Pharmacy College. Interestingly, by being awarded the B&L honor, he was eligible to compete for a scholarship at the University of Rochester. I doubt that he had any interest in leaving Iowa for upstate New York, and he didn’t have a clue that his future daughter would end up living here.

When I worked at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, we had a saying that “There’s always a Rochester connection” when it came to big, national news stories. So it’s amusing to me that my dad had a Rochester connection, but unfortunately I never knew about it until after he passed away.  He never mentioned it and I’m sure the award was long forgotten.

Looking at the medallion, I’m wondering who is this woman on it? Anyone got a clue?


My dad’s award came nestled in this nice wood case on a bed of velvet.

3 must-do’s when I visit Burlington, Iowa in the summer

I just love my trips back to Burlington, Iowa, especially in the warm months. The highlight of my trip in June was attending my reunion for the Notre Dame High School class of 1977. It was a blast to see old friends, meet their spouses, and see a few of our teachers, too!

Class reunions don’t happen every summer of course, so I’m sharing with you my top three things to do when my husband, Gary Brandt, and I visit Burlington. (There are lots of other things we love, but these are at the top.)

Look at this huge tenderloin from The Som!
  1. Eat a pork tenderloin sandwich at The Som (formerly known as The Sombrero). I started being a “regular” at The Som in the early 1980s, when I launched my journalism career as a reporter at The Hawk Eye. I think Gin and Tonics cost 90 cents back then. I also honed some pool shooting skills there too, hanging out with my Hawk Eye colleagues Jane Daly, Mike Sweet, and others.  For this last trip, Gary and I took my mother there for lunch and she surely enjoyed her tenderloin and beer!
Enjoying cold beer and the Bees with my Notre Dame High School classmates!

2. Cheer for the Burlington Bees. Fortunately, that was the Friday night activity for the Class of ’77. I have to say that I was so busy talking to my classmates that I barely watched the game, until the final inning when the Bees had a chance to tie the game. Alas, that didn’t happen and they lost to Peoria, 3-2.

All that remains of my favorite chips is this crumpled bag!

3. Buy some Sterzing’s potato chips to take back to Rochester. I found out at my reunion that one of my classmates (Gary Schmeiser) is a co-owner of this iconic company! How cool is that. The bag of Sterzing’s never lasts long but at least I didn’t eat all of them on the 14-hour car ride home.  (Yes, I could take more than one bag home but if I ate them too often, then they wouldn’t taste so special when I do get some!)

What are your must-do’s in Burlington?



Remembering Ray Sutter, my grandfather

Raymond Sutter in the Sutter Drug Store in West Burlington in the 1960s.

I’ve written several columns about my father,  Raymond Joseph (Joe) Sutter, so for Father’s Day, I’ve decided to write about my grandfather, Raymond Otto Sutter.

I remember Grandpa Sutter quite well, as he was a part of my life until I was almost 17 years old. Ray was the second son of Joseph. R. Sutter, my great-grandfather, who founded Sutter Drug Co. Ray was the first of the Sutters to graduate from the University of Iowa; he graduated in June 1921 with what was then called a PHG (Pharmacy Graduate) degree.

Ray Sutter on Jefferson Street in the 1920s.

A newspaper article touted his accomplishments, including being vice president of the senior class, chairman of the Iowa Memorial Union drive conducted in the College of Pharmacy, and a member of Delta Tau Delta and Phi Delta Chi.

“Perhaps the honor that he values highest is the membership that he won in the American Pharmaceutical Association that was given in recognition of a thesis on organic drugs, a prize that was offered by Dean Teeters of the university, ” the article stated. Ray was put in charge of the Sutter Drug store located at Eighth and Jefferson streets, which had been purchased in 1920 when it was Froid’s Drug Store.

When I was a kid, Grandpa lived in the house at 1515 N. Eighth St., not far from where my family lived at 912 N. Seventh St. He inherited the house from his father, who had built it in the 1920s, overlooking the Mississippi River. His father died in 1948, and in 1949, Grandpa oversaw a major remodeling of the flagship store at the corner of Jefferson and Third streets. Plans for that remodeling were at least being discussed in 1948, and it fell to Grandpa to see them through, which by all accounts, was a big deal for downtown Burlington. Hundreds came for a three-day celebration; it didn’t hurt that the store remodeling was revealed in August, and air conditioning had been installed!

Ray Sutter around 1940. I think he looks very handsome with his mustache!

Grandpa’s wife, Rubye (my grandmother), died on her 65th birthday in 1964. Grandpa was very active in the Knights of Columbus (fourth degree) and the Rotary club and Elks and Eagles lodges.

I remember he loved to grow roses and play cards, as noted in a 1972 article written by Lloyd Maffitt for The Hawk Eye newspaper. “I love to play rummy,” (Sutter) declared. “I love gardening, too — I gave up golf for gardening.”

Despite dramatic changes in the pharmaceutical profession, “we still have a few old-time customers who come in for refills on prescriptions that no one else has used for years. They request elixers given them by family doctors who died 30 years ago.”

Rubye and Ray Sutter in 1947 in the yard of their home at 537 Summer St., where they lived before moving to North Eighth.

“The introduction of antibiotics is by far the biggest improvement I’ve seen in my 50 years of pharmacy,” Sutter declared. 

And what will be the next major pharmaceutical breakthrough? “I don’t know,” said Sutter with a smile. “But when it comes, we’ll be ready for it.”

When I was in high school and I worked at the soda fountain, Grandpa Sutter was getting rather frail. But he still came to the drug store every day, although he no longer filled prescriptions. He would walk up the tiny staircase to the office that overlooked the store, and come down at lunch time for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. He always had a great smile and sense of humor.

He passed away at age 75 on Oct. 21, 1975 at Burlington Memorial Hospital.

Want to buy the Sutter’s sign?

This sign hung on the Third Street side of the Tama Building. 

On my recent trips to Burlington,  Iowa, it’s been so great to see the steady progress being made on renovating the Tama Building, where my great-grandfather founded his first store at 311 N. Third St., before moving it in 1929 to the prime spot at the corner of Jefferson and Third.

Now you might be able to own a piece of that history. Steve Frevert, executive director of Downtown Partners, Inc., has obtained the Sutter’s sign that hung on the Jefferson side of the street. The sign was covered by other signs for years after the store closed in 1981, but in recent years it was visible again.

With the new owners of what’s called the Historic Tama Complex making great progress on the building, it was time for the Sutter signs (one on Jefferson, the other facing Third) to come down. In an email, Steve told me, “The sign they removed was on eleven porcelain enamel panels on the Jefferson St. side. Much of it has brown paint on it, but I think we can figure out a way to strip it off. I took the panels to Preservation Station, and hopefully sometime this summer we can get them stripped.”

This photo shows Sutter Drug Store in 1976. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Burlington Partners.)

When I asked what might happen with the sign after the stripping, Steve wrote, “I imagine we will sell it, either in the shop or online.”

So there you have it! I do hope the sign gets a good home in Burlington. As the Tama building renovations began, I did think about the future of the signs, but where the heck would I put them?

I understand the sign on the Third Street side of the building went to someone named Sutter in Wisconsin, who contacted the building’s owners about it after seeing it while visiting Burlington. As far as I know, this person is not related to my family but I would love to find out his/her plans for it.


Soda fountains and Cara Nome cosmetics resonate with reader

I so enjoyed reuniting with Maria Hileman Montgomery, right, and then finding out she has her own family connection to Rexall drug stores and soda fountains.

You never know how something you write will resonate with a reader. Such was the case recently when I gave a copy of my book, Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy: A Memoir of 90 Years of Sutter Drug Co. , to a former colleague.

My husband, Gary, and I, were driving back to our home in Rochester, N.Y., from Florida, where we had a spent a few months. At the last minute, we decided to stop overnight in Winchester, Va., which just happens to be where my good friend, Maria Hileman Montgomery lives. She is a former Democrat and Chronicle colleague of mine, and now is the managing editor of the The Winchester Star newspaper. We were lucky that Maria and her husband, Roger, were available for dinner on such short notice. We had a great time catching up, especially since Maria and I had not seen each other in several years. I gave her a copy of my book, never dreaming that even though she had not visited Burlington, Iowa, let alone Sutter Drug, the story would touch a chord for her. She wrote this touching column, and it was published in The Winchester Star.

Localizing the universal

Before the 1960s and ‘70s, when people started flocking to strip malls and chain restaurants and, more recently, to “virtual” internet communities like Facebook, they often met at lunch counters in drug stores, diners and five-and-dimes.

My own parents met in 1947 in Washington, D.C. when he was a soda jerk and she was a customer at People’s drug store across 10th Street from Ford’s Theater.

One of my earliest and fondest childhood memories is of ordering mouth-watering buttered toast and “sunny side up” eggs on Sunday mornings in the late 1950s with my mother at a lunch counter in downtown Staunton after Mass at St. Francis of Assisi church.

A friend and former newspaper colleague of mine from Rochester, N.Y., Jane Sutter Brandt, has just published a book of memoirs about her family’s 90 years in the pharmacy business in Burlington, Iowa. Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather operated the Sutter Drug Co. in several locations in that city from 1902 to 1993, and the lunch counter was an intrinsic part of the business.

When she and her husband, Gary, stopped in Winchester and had dinner with us a couple weeks ago on their way back to Rochester from Florida, she gave me a signed copy of her self-published book “Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy.”
I started to read it this past weekend more out of devotion to Jane, who was managing editor of the Democrat and Chronicle during my half dozen years as metro editor there, than out of any real interest in the topic.

But after burying myself in the book for an afternoon, I came away impressed with how careful attention to historical detail and strong narrative writing can uncover the universal nature of so much of human experience.
While Sutter’s was a particularly local institution, I found threads of informational nostalgia that resonated in surprising ways with me.  Her explanation of how Sutter’s carried Cara Nome cosmetics, for instance, took me back to conversations between my mother and father in the 1950s and ‘60s, when he would ask her what she wanted for her birthday or anniversary.

“Cara Nome,” she’d reply, rolling the ‘r’ expressively and lifting her eyes heavenward. I haven’t heard the phrase in years.

As Jane explains in her book, Cara Nome was a popular Rexall brand for high-end cosmetics. Her great-grandfather, Joseph R. Sutter, became a “Rexall agent” in 1907, meaning he held an exclusive franchise to sell the products in Burlington and West Burlington.

Rexall distributors displayed a distinctive bright orange and navy blue sign, and it was the name brand for products sold by United Drug Co. of New Jersey. Other Rexall products included Super Plenamin vitamins and Liggett’s $50,000 chocolates.

The word “Rexall” meant “king of all,” and was probably an allusion to the Rx used in prescriptions. Customers will recall the popular semi-annual Rexall One Cent sale when you could get a second item for a penny if you bought one.

Photos in the book show customers lined up the whole way up the city block and cramming the newly air-conditioned store and soda fountain when Sutter’s reopened after remodeling in 1949.

The photos show not only Cara Nome products and Kodak’s new Hawkeye cameras, but the gleaming “full-vision windows” on the display cases and the modern fluorescent lights.

In a chapter headed “Changing Times,” Jane describes the changes that came in the 1960s with the advent of chain pharmacies, costly prescription drugs and third-party prescriptions such as Medicaid. The death knell sounded in the 1980s when insurance companies forced customers to buy prescriptions from certain pharmacies and big-box retailers added pharmacies to their stores.

It is hard, in the end, not to bemoan the passing of the era of the independent drug store when you view it through the prism of such a long-time family business.

Sutter advertised his “up-to-date drug store” when it opened 1903

A page from the scrapbook showing the interior of the first Sutter store.
A page from the scrapbook showing the interior of the first Sutter store.

I found this cardboard in the Sutter Drug Store scrapbook that my great-aunt Ursula Sutter Schuetze compiled. The little newspaper clipping is the only printed reference we have to the first store, which was located at 311 N. Third in the Tama Building. (Although Joseph bought the store in 1902, he did not officially open it as Sutter Drug until 1903.)

The photo is of the interior of the first store. Notice how all the merchandise was behind glass doors or in cases, so the clerks had to get it out for the customer. Shopping wasn’t self-service like it is today!

Aunt Ursie was the youngest of four children that my great-grandfather Joseph Robert Sutter and his wife, Anna Schlacter Sutter, had. Being the youngest and the last to leave home, she was probably considered “the baby of the family.” Neither of her parents ever drove and so she drove them around in the car my great-grandfather owned.  I recall her telling me that when she was about 18 years old, she drove herself and her mother all the way from Burlington, Iowa, to Boise, Idaho, so they could visit Gertrude Sutter Moore, the elder daughter. That would have been around 1923! I remember being amazed by that story. It probably took them at least a week to get there, given the roads and slower speeds of cars. My great-grandfather must have had a lot of confidence in his wife and daughter to let them take such a long trip by themselves.

Cover of the scrapbook kept by my great-aunt.
Cover of the scrapbook kept by my great-aunt.
The Sutters on the 50th anniversary of Joseph R. and Anna. From left, Ursula, Gertrude, Anna, Joseph, Clarence Joseph (C.J.) and Ray (my grandfather).
The Sutters on the 50th anniversary of Joseph R. and Anna. From left, Ursula, Gertrude, Anna, Joseph, Clarence Joseph (C.J.) and Ray (my grandfather).


Sutter’s Swedish S cookies are Christmas tradition

The Swedish S cookies melt in your mouth.
The Swedish S cookies melt in your mouth.

Every family has their favorite holiday recipes, passed down through the generations. In my family, one of them is the Swedish S cookie. When I was a small child, I thought that every family had a cookie made into the letter of their last name, because we Sutters had the Swedish S cookie. S would be for Sutter, right?

You can see this cookie gun is quite old!
You can see this cookie gun is quite old!



“Swedish S’s” as we call them are a melt-in-your-mouth butter cookie. I’ve heard them called Spritz cookies when they’re not shaped as an S. Every Christmas, the Swedish S cookies were a staple. My mother would make a couple batches (each batch makes about 170 cookies!), using the cookie gun that had been used by my paternal grandmother, Rubye Ekstrom Sutter.

The cookie gun has a variety of attachments to make different shapes of cookies.
The cookie gun has a variety of attachments to make different shapes of cookies.

Now I make them every Christmas using the hand-written recipe from my mother and that same cookie gun. My Rochester, N.Y., family and friends love the Swedish S’s, too. My grandmother was Swedish and I assume this is her family’s recipe.

Cookies ready for baking.
Cookies ready for baking.

Here’s the recipe for Swedish S’s:

1 lb. butter (as my mother says, “Be sure to use real butter!”), just soft enough for mixing, not melted.

2 cups powdered sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

4 1/2 to 5 cups flour

1 rounding tsp. baking powder (be sure baking powder is not outdated)

Cream butter and sugar together in bowl of electric mixer. Add eggs and flavoring, and mix. Mix baking powder into flour, and add flour slowly to mix all ingredients thoroughly. Chill dough for about 10 minutes in refrigerator. Put dough through cookie press and form cookies on parchment paper-covered baking sheets.

Bake in oven that’s been pre-heated to 375 degrees. Bake until cookies are lightly brown on top, about 8 minutes.

My grandmother, Rubye, died in 1964 on her 60th birthday. I was only 5 years old. But her legacy lives on in so many ways, especially these cookies. I think she would get a kick out of that!

I’d love to hear about your family’s cookie baking traditions.

My grandparents Rubye Ekstrom Sutter and Ray Sutter in the 1940s.
My grandparents Rubye Ekstrom Sutter and Ray Sutter in the 1940s.

3 life lessons from my father, Joe Sutter

David, Joe, parents Rubye and Ray, Bill Sutter in the 1940s.
David, Joe, parents Rubye and Ray, Bill Sutter in the 1940s.

My dad was born Dec. 8, 1925. He lived to be 87 and I think of him every day. In honor of my dad’s birthday, I’m writing about three life lessons he taught me. Of course, I learned much more than these three, but these are the ones on my mind today.

  1. Don’t be a quitter. During the summer between my sophomore and junior year at Mizzou, I had a hard time finding a summer job in Burlington. I finally was hired to work at the local LaMont Limited plant down on Bluff Road. (Apparently now called LaMont Home.) The year was 1979, and the plant manufactured wicker bathroom accessories (hampers, shelving, armoires, etc.) that were popular then. I had to be at work at 7 a.m. (much too early for me as a college student who wanted to be out and about late). All the people working there were my parents’ age, so I felt out of place. I think my job had something to do with a staple gun. I came home after a couple days and that night, when Dad came home, I announced, “I’m quitting that job.” Of course I had no other work lined up. “No, you’re not,” Dad replied emphatically. I was so surprised I don’t think I even argued. My Dad seldom was so stern.

So I came up with a solution. The next day, I went into the office at LaMont, and asked if I could switch to the second shift. No problem. The following Monday, I reported to work at 3:30 p.m. and I got off at midnight. There were a lot of 20somethings working that shift, so I made some friends. (We occasionally went across the river to Downers nightclub in Gulfport when our shift ended — don’t tell my mother!) And best of all, I could sleep as late as I wanted each morning, and still fit in some sun-bathing time at the club pool. I’m glad I stuck with that job, because there were life lessons I learned there, but that’s a topic for another blog. Another lesson I learned was…

2.   Do business with those who do business with you. As part of the family owning Sutter Drug, my dad made sure that when it came time for us to buy a product or service, we were buying it from merchants who did business at Sutter’s. I remember one day suggesting we buy something from someone (I don’t remember the details), and my dad said, “No, we’re buying it from (fill in the blank), because they do business at Sutter’s.” Oh. Now that I own Sutter Communications, I practice the same philosophy and I try to buy from local merchants and entrepreneurs as much as possible, even when it may cost more. And the third rule I learned…

3.  Follow the Golden Rule. My dad led by example on this one. He was a quiet man, respectful of others and their opinions, and extremely kind. I seldom heard him complain or say anything negative about anyone. On the rare occasions when his temper flared at something we kids had done, we knew we had really screwed up. As an editor for many years, I tried to keep that Golden Rule in mind; some days I succeeded and other days I failed.

So, happy birthday to Joe. Thinking about you today, with a smile and a tear.

Related post: Joe Sutter had patience in abundance. 

Conversation with Chris Murphy, bookseller extraordinaire

Chris Murphy as The Skipper from Gilligan's Island!
Chris Murphy as The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island!
Chris Murphy, owner of Burlington By The Book, is a tremendous booster of self-published authors who write books that Chris thinks will be of interest to his store patrons in Burlington, Iowa. Chris has become a great friend, who advised me on publishing issues and hosted two book signings for me. I asked him to answer a few questions about his work with authors.
You do a great job highlighting local authors and books of local history in your store. Tell me more about why you do that.
I want to feature local and regional authors because as a bookseller, I think it’s important to get customers into the store by providing titles that you won’t necessarily find in other places. By promoting as many local titles as I can, I generate interest in not just the authors, but also my store as a whole.
You’ve worked with many authors over the years. What advice do you have for them with regards to marketing and selling their books?
My advice to share with authors is to remember that you need to promote your book as much as you can. It takes more than just finishing the book to get the public to take notice. Once it is published, you will want to have it available in a book store so you need to convince a store to carry it. To do so, it may mean you will have to sell it on consignment. If your book is meant for a large market and is published through a vanity press, make sure that press can help to have your book made available through book distributors like Ingram so independent booksellers around the country can locate your book. If your book is limited and extremely local, then it may not be necessary to have it at a major distributor, but it sure is nice to know if someone from across the country has by chance heard of you, they can just walk into a store and place an order for it.

Remember to notify places in your life that have news letters like churches and your alumni association, they can help generate interest in your creation.

Be open to being a guest speaker or at least Q&A for groups. Also, build yourself a press kit to send out to newspapers and radio/tv. That is where a lot of our customers discover your accomplishment. If you can afford it, place an advertisement. And never underestimate the power of social media, although I suggest creating a separate page for you as an author or book instead of just using your personal page.
You seem to have a lot of events (and fun) at your store. What’s your philosophy or strategy?
I create many events at my store and take advantage of other events in the area as much as I can. Owning a store should be more than making a sale, it needs to be a positive experience for the customers.
You’re also a big booster of downtown Burlington activities. Do you think downtown is becoming more popular? What would you like to see happen in downtown?
Downtown is getting bigger and better, although I wish it could go a little faster, but in the six years I’ve been downtown, the community has become better than ever. The Capital theater opened, the art gallery has really blossomed and now includes art classes, a gift shop, and even a wine pub. Many more shops have opened all along Jefferson.  With all of the great pubs and gift shops opening along with the music venues and theater, this would be a great chance to entice tourism….to get people from all over the Tri-State area to make Downtown Burlington a destination. This is already somewhat apparent with the cruise ships that dock at the port in the summer time. Business really grows during those days. People are ushered all over to shops and the museum. Too bad they don’t have time to catch a show at the Washington or one of the new pubs before their boat has to leave.

Remember Sutter’s Hand Cream? Mystery solved as to its origins.

Sutter's Hand Cream was popular back in the day.
Sutter’s Hand Cream was popular back in the day.

When I was growing up, Sutter’s Hand Cream was a staple in our house. With the harsh winters in Iowa, this cream got a lot of use to sooth our dry, cracked hands. My mother always had a jar on hand.

I wasn’t sure where the formula came from until I closely looked at the label on the back of a plastic jar I have. There was no name of the manufacturer. The label on the back does list ingredients: Deionized Water, Stearic Acid, Glycerin, Mineral Oil, etc.

But being the intrepid sleuth that I am, I noticed this “SDA-IA-803” on the back left corner of the label. So I Googled that, and it lead me to a Des Moines Company called Weeks & Leo: The Private Label Co. On its “About” page, I learned:

Weeks & Leo Co., Inc. is an Iowa based company delivering a whole range of top quality Private Label OTC, Vitamin, Herbal and Toiletry products to independent Pharmacies, Cooperatives, Small Food and Drug Chains for over 70 years. All of our products have either unique formulations or national brand equivalents.

The company is 100 years old, according to its website. That is so cool!

And even better, they still make the hand cream! Click here to read about it.  I know it’s the same formula because the ingredients are the same as what’s on the back of mine.

When the last Sutter store closed (the one at Kmart Plaza) in 1993, HyVee started carrying the hand cream at the store on 930 Angular St. in Burlington. They had it on a shelf near the pharmacy. Unfortunately, a few years ago, I stopped there and I was told they no longer carried it. I suspect many of the hand cream’s fans have gone on to heaven, and so there was little demand. The HyVee on Agency didn’t carry the hand cream.

I found this Sutter’s Hand Cream container pushed to the back of a bathroom drawer this week; there’s a little hand cream left in it, and it still has the same smell. But it’s a bit dried up, so I’m going to add a little liquid to it to moisten it up. I’m all about nostalgia.

Who remembers Sutter’s Hand Cream?