Beancounter owner: Let’s get regular updates on Historic Tama Complex

Beancounter Coffeehouse Burlington Iowa
Suann Wells, center, is the owner of the Beancounter Coffeehouse and Drinkery at 212 Jefferson St. in downtown Burlington, Iowa.

Good news for downtown Burlington.  Iowa. Some state agencies have given approval for the demolition of the fire-ravaged Historic Tama Complex, but how to bring down the building safely remains a concern. This article in The Hawk Eye gives the details so I won’t repeat those here.

The bad news for downtown merchants, however, is that the fencing around the area has to expand, limiting parking on Jefferson and Third again. (Third Street had re-opened in mid-December but part of Jefferson was still blocked.) I guess the best way to view it is that there has to be pain in order to get some gain. Let’s just hope the building can be brought down safely.

In the meantime, after publishing a blog in which Chris Murphy, owner of Burlington By The Book, had expressed his frustration with the effect the fire aftermath had on his business and others, I reached out to Suann Wells, owner of The Beancounter Coffeehouse and Drinkery at 212 Jefferson St.  for her perspective.

Beancounter Coffeehouse Burlington Iowa
Although the 200 block of  Jefferson Street has not been blocked off, the Beancounter has felt the effects of fewer people coming downtown due to parking issues.

Here’s what Suann wrote to me:

“Similar to Burlington By The Book, we had experienced a great summer of business prior to the Tama fire. We felt like we were starting to gain some great traction, and we were finding ourselves more and more excited and blessed to be a part of downtown Burlington.

“My husband, Gary, and I love the history Burlington has to offer (we live in a home built in 1868 and moved here to purchase a business which had been in business since 1866). Burlington, especially downtown Burlington, is full of magnificent architecture and history.

“When the fire happened, it changed things for us instantly. We obviously weren’t as effected as those businesses on the 300 block of Jefferson but basically we were cut off and still continue to be cut off from the rest of Jefferson Street. We have rallied with those businesses and other businesses downtown and have felt a great support. Downtown is full of small business owners, building owners, long-time residents, etc., who want to see the entire downtown succeed and we’ve felt this support daily. For this we are very appreciative.

“This fire has pushed me to get active in our city council meetings. I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t previously been involved in anyway and really didn’t know how things worked. It’s been an educational experience for me to say the least and has taught me the importance of local government and having a connection to the people involved. I’ve met the members of the current city council and the mayor of Burlington and have appreciated their time spent hearing my voice.

“If I had to express my disappointment in one aspect, it would be in what I consider a lack of proactive communication with the effected parties and the public in general. When I reach out to the city council, I always receive a response. Always. And usually by more than one member. However, I feel if this communication came in a more regular update, be it from the city or from Mr. Doug Wells, people (myself included) would be much more positive about how things are progressing.

Tama Complex Burlington Iowa
This December 2018 photo shows the pallets of bricks in front of the Tama Complex.

“For example, recently, several pallets of bricks being preserved were removed from the Tama property. It appears it took an entire week to move a few pallets. That appears disappointing and ridiculous to have taken that long for that task.

“But, I also know sometimes more is going on behind the scenes which isn’t always known to the people watching. If the city or Mr. Wells would put out regular or weekly updates as to the progress and what is happening, I feel like more positive and supportive responses would take place.

“When we don’t know what is happening, when it appears things are at a standstill, people many times assume the worst. Whereas, if we knew what obstacles are happening or what direction progress is heading, I believe human nature would allow for more support.

“We all know this is a HUGE undertaking and trying to preserve part of the rubble cannot be easy, but talk to us about that, keep us interested in what is happening, and we will all cheer the progress on to its fruition.

“I mourn the loss of a beautiful piece of the Burlington skyline and the exciting changes it would have brought but my hope is for something great to be placed in this spot for future generations to live, shop, work, and love. I have hope!”

I agree with Suann; weekly updates from the city (council or manager) and/or architect/owner Doug Wells would be a terrific way to keep merchants and citizens informed, and give hope that things are progressing.

In the meantime, if you’re in Burlington or when you are, be sure to head downtown for your shopping and dining! The Beancounter is a wonderful spot in downtown, with plenty of drink options and good food, too.  Say hello to Suann as I know she’d love to meet you!


Tama Complex fire aftermath harming Burlington downtown businesses


Decorations outside burned Tama Complex
Burlington By the Book owner Chris Murphy keeps a sense of humor about the Jefferson Street blockage by decorating the chain-link fence opposite his storefront.

Who could have foreseen that major casualties of the massive Tama fire would be other businesses in downtown Burlington, Iowa?

I didn’t. Yes, when I woke up on Sunday morning, Aug. 5, 2018 and saw the text messages and photos of the fire, I felt shock and sadness. Because my family owned Sutter Drug, which had occupied various storefronts in that building from 1903 to 1981, I feel a special bond with the Tama Building.

But five months later, it’s clear that the fire has not only set back the future of that corner of Jefferson and Third, but also it’s been a huge setback for some of the nearby businesses.

Take one of my favorites, Burlington By The Book. For months now, the street in front of Chris Murphy’s store at 301 Jefferson, next to the Art Center of Burlington, has been blocked off. A large portion of Third Street also was blocked off until about two weeks before Christmas, Chris told me.

“The year was going fairly well up until the fire,” Chris told me via Facebook Messenger. “Everyone was looking forward to the additional businesses in the downtown area. Sales were very optimistic leading into summer and then it happened. Not only the loss of a historical building, but the entire corner was blocked off to traffic and our visibility just tanked.

“Business dropped drastically due to the slow pace of the official investigations and the time for decision-making was taking. It is almost soul-crushing.”

Those words, “soul-crushing,” just broke my heart. I met Chris when I was writing Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy. He agreed to sell my book in his store, and I was excited when he invited me to have a book signing there. He did a great job promoting the book and the signing, resulting in a sell-out that day. Since then, he’s continued to sell the book and many other books by authors with ties to Burlington or the region.

Chris Murphy, Burlington By The Book, Tama Complex Fire
Chris Murphy, owner of Burlington By The Book, and me after my book signing. Chris’s business is very important to authors and readers.

So you see, Chris’s store is important to authors and readers, especially in an age when too many readers are buying their books online. Opening up Third Street did help a little with business, Chris told me, but he still looks out on a closed Jefferson Street.  As of last week, Chris said he’d seen a truck cart off a lot of the piles of bricks that were on Jefferson and also fixtures, apparently in the hopes they can be salvaged.

Tama Complex Burlington Iowa
This December 2018 photo shows the pallets of bricks in front of the Tama Complex.

Post-Christmas is typically a slow time for retail businesses, of course.

“I think I can survive the next year, as long as I don’t over extend,” Chris told me, “but I am worried about a couple of the other businesses. If they close, that means even less draws for folks to come downtown.”

In the meantime, Chris tells me that he and his staff try to stay in good spirits. “Have to keep a sense of humor about it.” And if you know Chris and you follow him and the store on Facebook, you know he has a great sense of humor. He even decorated the chain link fence for Christmas (that’s the view he has from his store’s window), and for the Living Windows, Cody Flietner dressed up as the notorious Cousin Eddie from the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Christmas decorated fence around Tama Complex
Cody Flietner recreates a scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation next to the fence blocking off the Tama Complex. This was part of the Living Windows display for Burlington By the Book.

I know Chris’s store is not the only business hurting, and if I hear from others, I will blog about those, too.  I know that civic dollars are tight, but I can’t help but wonder why the City of Burlington isn’t trying to help these businesses monetarily.

In November, the Tama Complex’s owner and architect Doug Wells announced that he had decided to tear down the entire structure, which was supposed to house apartments on upper floors with retail and a restaurant on the first floor.

Some other updates, from a year-in-review Hawk Eye article:

  • There’s been no announcement of what caused the fire, even with a $10,000 reward offered for information. The fire began on the third floor of the Chittenden and Eastman building, part of the Tama Complex.
  • Wells told the Burlington City Council that in order for him to preserve a $3.2 million historic preservation grant that he received, he has to delay demolition. I’m really glad that Wells does want to incorporate some remnants of the complex  into the new construction but let’s get going at a faster pace!

The Tama Building has been unoccupied since a 2010 fire.  Let’s hope it won’t be another nine years before we see a grand opening for something, anything, on that site!


Tama Building architect reveals post-fire plans

Tama Building fire 2018
Prior to moving to the corner of Jefferson and Third, Sutter Drug was located at 307 N. Third, then 309-311. That portion of the Tama Building has collapsed now after a devastating fire in August 2018.  This photo shows the Third Street view. 


Doug Wells, the Des Moines architect who owns the Tama Building in Burlington, Iowa, estimates the rebuild from the fire in the Historic Tama Complex will be completed in spring 2020.

I won’t hold my breath that it can be done that quickly, as the project, up until the horrible fire in August, had been undergoing renovation for several years. Still, I’m excited that Wells says he is going to rebuild as this building has so much of my family and Sutter Drug Company history tied up in it.

In this recent story in The Hawk Eye, Wells said he was still waiting for the insurance investigators to release the building to him. Grinnell Mutual Insurance Co. and at least one other insurer are involved, and Grinnell has offered a $10,000 reward for information to assist in identifying the cause.

Other highlights from that story:

  • Wells doesn’t plan to tear down what remains standing and will rebuild according to his original plans.
  • Many people wondered why the sprinkler system hadn’t been activated, but Wells said that they typically aren’t until work is mostly complete. He may do that it differently the next time around, he said. Seems to me that would make a lot of sense!
  • The support he’s getting from the community, Burlington city government and Burlington Downtown Partners is spurring Wells on. “They’re all maintaining contact with me on the project, and they’re wanting to offer me any support or help any way they can, and that’s a lot of what makes us want to rebuild,” he told The Hawk Eye.

In the meantime, life goes on, and the downtown merchants of Burlington need support. If you live in Burlington or are back visiting (as I will be doing in November), please take time to go downtown. Shop, eat, drink and check out things to do by clicking here. The merchants will be happy to see you and you’ll have a great time.

Related posts: Architect plan to rebuild on Tama Building fire site

Tama Building fire update with photos 

Tama Building owner Doug Wells thanks Burlington fire fighters, police

Inside Tama Building renovation before big fire


I’m committed to sharing the latest news about the Tama Building to keep readers up to date. If you don’t want to miss a post, you can receive posts quickly via email. Please scroll to the bottom of this web page and fill in your email address and submit it. I will not share your email address with others.


Architect plans to rebuild on Tama Building fire site in Burlington, Iowa

Tama Building
The front of the Tama Building on Jefferson Street after the 2018 fire.

There’s good news for those of us wanting to see the Tama Building rise from the ashes after the devastating fire that occurred on Aug. 4, 2018.

The Hawk Eye reported that Eric Tysland, community development and parks director for the city of Burlington, said that Tama Building owner, architect Doug Wells of Des Moines, wants to rebuild on the site.

This wonderful nugget of news is the last sentence in this story from The Hawk Eye.

While the fire is still under investigation, the property was schedule to be released back to Wells by the end of the day of Sept. 14. The Hawk Eye reported that structural engineers will now be able to evaluate the building, and that in turn will impact the decision to move back fences to open up parts of Jefferson and Third streets.

Tama building fire 2018
The front view of the Chittenden and Eastman Building, part of the Historic Tama Complex, remains blocked off on Jefferson Street.

Having those streets blocked has had a negative impact on downtown business owners, taking up vital parking spots, and I imagine just scaring people from coming downtown. Of course, we don’t want there to be any danger to citizens in case part of the damaged structure would fall into the street.

The Historic Tama complex (consisting of the Tama Building and the Chittenden and Eastman Building) was on the verge of opening both for retail and apartments this fall, and it was going to be such a huge boon to the downtown. Now it’s been a terrible setback to downtown development. According to The Hawk Eye, insurance company Grinnell Mutual is offering a $10,000 reward for information that could help solve the mystery of what started the fire.

I hope and pray that the front structure of the Tama Building, with all its architectural significance, can be saved. If not, I hope Wells will design another building that is reminiscent of the current structure.

Related posts: Tama Building fire update with photos 

Tama Building owner Doug Wells thanks Burlington fire fighters, police

Inside Tama Building renovation before big fire


I’m committed to sharing the latest news about the Tama Building to keep readers up to date. If you don’t want to miss a post, you can receive posts quickly via email. Please scroll to the bottom of this web page and fill in your email address and submit it. I will not share your email address with others.


Tama Building fire investigation update with photos

As my husband, Gary, and I were driving across the Great River Bridge into Burlington, Iowa in the early evening on Aug. 14, we could see the damaged roof from the massive fire at the Tama Building (Historic Tama Complex).

You could see a crumpled roof and black outline.  We crossed the bridge and turned down Main, then took a right onto Jefferson and drove up to the corner at Third Street. We saw windows blown out of the building, debris in the street, and fencing that prevented accessing the street at the corner.

Tama Building
The front of the Tama Building on Jefferson Street after the 2018 fire.

We quickly parked on Third Street in front of the Capitol Theatre, got out and walked to the corner, just taking the scene in.

Tama Building fire 2018

Sutter Drug was located in the Tama Building at the corner of Third and Jefferson from 1930-81. At left was the entrance.

Tama Building fire 2018
Prior to moving to the corner, Sutter Drug was located at 307 N. Third, then 309-311. That portion of the Tama Building has collapsed now.

Snapping photos, we walked north up Third Street until we stood across from a huge pile of rubble, where the back half of the building had collapsed.

Tama building fire
This is the view of what remains of the back side of the Chittenden and Eastman building, part of the Historic Tama Complex. Note the staircase that looked new.

We walked through the drive-through of the Great Western Bank, to see the back of the Tama Building and the Chittenden and Eastman Building, the two that have been called the  Historic Tama Complex as it was being developed into apartments and businesses. More big piles of rubble, windows blown out, looking like a bomb had gone off to my amateur eyes.

View from Washington Street; to the left is what remains of the Chittenden and Eastman Building, part of the Historic Tama Complex renovation.

Although I had seen many photos from the Hawk Eye and Facebook, I had to see it in person just to grasp the enormity of the damage.

Two days later, my sister, Tracey,  and I drove downtown to pay a visit to Burlington By the Book, which sits directly across from the Tama Building on Jefferson. As we stood on Third Street, outside the old Palace Theatre (which is now a church), a man in a hard hat walked by. My sister said, “Our drug store used to be in that building.”

“Oh, yeah?” the man answered. He stopped to chat. Turns out he is the lead fire investigator for the insurer of the building. He’s from near Cincinnati, Ohio. He said he’d probably be in Burlington a few weeks. He told us that he was planning to meet the Historic Tama Complex’s owner, architect Doug Wells, that evening; he said this would be Wells first time to go into the building.

The investigator wouldn’t commit to how long it would take to determine how the fire started.  Said he didn’t want to set any expectations. Smart guy.

Tama building fire 2018
The front view of the Chittenden and Eastman Building; Olive Wine Barr and Big River Popcorn Co. were planning to relocate there from other locations on Jefferson Street.

There hasn’t been a lot of news this week about the fire. The Hawk Eye reported that some businesses had to be evacuated for about 45 minutes on Thursday, Aug. 16, when investigators hit a gas line. You could read about that here.

If, like me, you’ve been wondering why the sprinkler system wasn’t working, The Hawk Eye quoted the fire marshal saying the sprinkler system was installed but not operational — there was no water connected. And the alarm system wasn’t fully installed yet either.

If you live in or near Burlington, please come down to Jefferson Street and shop and eat; show your support by spending a few dollars. (The chain stores won’t miss your money, but the local merchants will give you great products and service. They are your friends and neighbors, too.)

I bought a copy of the new book Fly Girls at Burlington By The Book, and my family and I had dinner at La Tavola!

Note: A previous version of this blog called the Great River Bridge the MacArthur Bridge. It will always be the MacArthur Bridge to me, but when they tore that one down, the new one was named Great River Bridge. Thanks to Dawid Otto for pointing out my error!

I’m committed to sharing the latest news about the Tama Building to keep readers up to date. If you don’t want to miss a post, you can receive posts quickly via email. Please scroll to the bottom of this web page and fill in your email address and submit it. I will not share your email address with others.

Tama Building owner Doug Wells thanks Burlington fire fighters, police

Tama Building
The Tama Building and Sutter Drug Store in the 1940s.

Des Moines architect Doug Wells, owner of Historic Tama LLC, has been pretty quiet about the devastating fire at the Tama Building that began on Aug. 4. The complex was just weeks away of opening in some fashion, with retail on the first floor and apartments above it. Wells was quoted in The Hawk Eye, saying “After working on the project so much and the length of time it has taken, the hundreds of dedicated construction workers who spent thousands of hours here, it’s just shocking to me. I’m devastated.” My heart goes out to him because with my family’s history of Sutter Drug so tied up in the Tama Building, it’s been a tough time for many of us.

Wells issued this press release on Aug. 10:

Our heartfelt thank-you to the City of Burlington Fire Department and
Police Department for their courageous efforts battling and extinguishing
the fire at the Tama Building on August 4-5, 2018. We hope the firemen,
who were injured, are making a full and rapid recovery. Shocked and
devastated to see this happen so close to the finish line, we were ready for
occupancy of this fully-restored historical building in September and
October 2018.

We are most appreciative of the ongoing efforts by numerous entities:
City of Burlington, Downtown Partners Inc, State of Iowa – Iowa Economic
Development Authority, and Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs – State
Historic Preservation Office.

We thank the many Burlington residents who had committed to
downtown residential living in the Tama. We thank Donna & Eric Renteria
and Mark Renteria (Olive Wine and the proposed Snake Alley Market) and
Greg Flietner (Big River Popcorn) for their ongoing loyalty to the project
and plans to move into the commercial spaces with their vibrant
community-based businesses.

With momentum, the design/construction team was anticipating
fulfillment of this project within weeks. Caleb Giesel, our determined
Burlington on-site manager, has been loyal, tenacious, and relentless to
get the job done.

Right now, we are pouring over several viable options with a focus on
rebuilding the Tama and C & E Buildings, which are such important
elements of the Burlington historical fabric and downtown revitalization.

It’s great to see Wells making this statement and thanking and acknowledging all the people involved in the Tama Building project and fire fighting.  Having spent my career in journalism, I know that the more he and other officials involved in the investigation can share information with the public, the better off everyone will be. Now is the time for openness, for giving periodic updates about the investigations into how the fire started, what options are being explored for the future for that complex, etc.

Given that the fire is a major setback for downtown redevelopment and is having a negative impact on existing businesses,  Wells and Burlington city officials need to pledge to keep the public updated as often as possible.

To read more about the fire investigation and its impact on downtown, click here to read the latest story from The Hawk Eye.


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Inside Tama Building renovation before big fire in Burlington, Iowa

I’m committed to sharing the latest news about the Tama Building to keep readers up to date. If you don’t want to miss a post, you can receive posts quickly via email. Please scroll to the bottom of this web page and fill in your email address and submit it. I will not share your email address with others.

The shock of seeing the Tama Building in Burlington, Iowa, being consumed by massive flames has worn off, and now I just feel a sadness that I suspect won’t go away.

From 1903 to 1981, there was a Sutter Drug Store somewhere in that building, first at 311 N. Third, then 307-309 N. Third, then in the prime corner spot at Jefferson and Third from 1930 to 1981.

Tama Building
The Joseph R. Sutter Drug Store opened in 1903 at 311 N. Third St. in the Tama Building. My great-grandfather is at the far right.

I’d been watching with great interest the renovations of the Tama Building the last few years. And I was fortunate enough to get inside to see what was happening, first in April 2017 and then most recently this past May. I’m sure a good amount of progress had been made since May, given that some local businesses were close to relocating into storefronts.

In May, some of the apartments had kitchen cabinets installed, when I did a tour one Sunday afternoon with my childhood friends Bruce and Dave Baker, and Dave’s wife, Maureen. Bruce was able to get us into the building as he knows Doug Wells, the Des Moines architect and developer of the $12.5 million renovation of the Tama Building and the Chittenden and Eastman Commercial Building. Those buildings made up what was being called the Tama Complex.

If you haven’t seen the work, here are some photos that Bruce, Maureen and I took that day.

Tama Building
Facing the corner of Third and Jefferson inside the Tama Building in the former drug store space.

I was most interested in the renovation of the corner at Third and Jefferson, where the Sutter store was located for 51 years.

Tama Building
Looking down into the basement below the drug store space.

Bruce, Dave and I had some animated conversations about the store. Their family owned Witte Drug for years, and my great-grandfather, Joseph R. Sutter, got his start at Witte’s and learned about pharmacy working there.

Tama Building
Bruce (in green) and Dave Baker and I in the drug store space near the Jefferson Street windows. The soda fountain was against the wall on the right.

After the drug store closed in 1981, the space was home to various restaurants and bars. I always felt happy seeing the space occupied, until the fire of 2010 gutted the interior.

Tama Building
Despite all the different occupants over the years, the tin ceiling in the Sutter Drug Store space has remained intact.


We also climbed several flights of stairs to check out other parts of the building.

Tama Building
Looking down between the Tama and Chittenden and Eastman buildings. Tama is the building to the right.
View from Tama Building
Looking out an upper story window at the Tama Building, you can see the Schramm’s building with the awning. The upper stories are now condos.

We talked that day about how the Tama Building got its name and that the new owners wanted to get the Tama Indian sign back from Des Moines County.

Tama Building
The word Tama was on the doorway on the Third Street side of the building.

After we finished walking around and said our goodbyes, I drove by the Des Moines County Courthouse to see if Chief Tama was still on the front lawn. He is.

Chief Tama of Tama Building fame
The image of Chief Tama, which used to grace the Tama Building many years ago, now sits in front of the Des Moines County Courthouse.

To read how Chief Tama came to reside in front of the courthouse, click here.  I’m thankful that it hadn’t been moved back to the Tama Building yet, because it likely would have been destroyed in the fire.

If you want to read about and see photos of the devastating 1915 fire that started in the basement of Sutter-Ludman in the Tama Building, click here.  A 1939 fire wasn’t nearly as bad; click here for my blog on that.

I’m hopeful that someday there will be another iconic and beautiful structure at the corner of Jefferson and Third, to replace the amazing building that had stood there since 1897.

I’m committed to sharing the latest news about the Tama Building to keep readers up to date. If you don’t want to miss a post, you can receive posts quickly via email. Please scroll to the bottom of this web page and fill in your email address and submit it. I will not share your email address with others.

Those were the days: fond memories of a drug store in Fulton, NY

Hargraves Pharmacy
Pharmacist Sal Lanzafame bought Hargraves Pharmacy in Fulton, N.Y., when he was 24 years old.

I just love the serendipity that can happen when you sit down next to a stranger at an event.

That happened recently to me when I attended Writers & Books‘ The Ladder Literary Conference in Rochester.

This stimulating event included a buffet lunch, and it was my good fortune that my friend and fellow writer Robin Flanigan was sitting at a table where there were a few empty seats. I just happened to sit down next to Jim Farfaglia. It turns out that Jim loves the history and people of his hometown of Fulton, N.Y., in Upstate New York as much as I do the history and people of my hometown of Burlington, Iowa.

Jim Farfaglia
Jim Farfaglia

I was fascinated to hear that Jim works with his local library to help elders to write their memoirs, and these have been collected into anthologies. You can read about the project here.  When I told Jim about my book about my family’s pharmacy, he relayed how he had helped a long-time pharmacist to write his memoir for the library project.

The next day, I got an order from Jim to purchase a copy of Sutter’s Sodas Satisfy. I immediately signed one and mailed it to him.

Within a few days, I got this heart-warming email from him:

Hi, Jane. I had a chance to read your wonderful book on Sutter’s Pharmacy. What an enjoyable read! I was impressed with how thoroughly you covered your family’s history with the pharmacy – including everything from newspaper articles to family memories. I feel like I know your family now!

A few things that stood out for me:

1)      The cartoon caricatures show the widespread respect of your family’s business

2)      The same goes for those in attendance at your great-grandfather’s funeral

3)      The poem written in honor of the pharmacy captured the admiration for your family

4)      Your family’s persistence through major changes in how and where people shop

In your book I kept seeing parallels between Burlington, Iowa and Fulton, New York, my hometown. There really has been a common experience in small towns and small town businesses. There’s a comfort in that and a sense of community beyond city borders.

Jim attached to the email the memoir he helped pharmacist Sal Lanzafame write plus a poem Jim wrote about visiting Sal’s pharmacy.  Jim’s parents were customers of Sal’s, and Jim often picked up their prescriptions. For five years, Jim submitted a poem to his local newspaper The Valley News and it published this poem. Jim has given me permission to print it here.

Sal Lanzafame
Sal Lanzafame behind the pharmacy counter at Hargraves in Fulton, N.Y.

Good Medicine      

The wooden display cases look odd 

with all the brightly boxed

over-the-counter meds,

fancy brand names and bold guarantees

calling to us.

But just above them, proudly displayed,

are the shaded glass bottles

that once held our treatments –

none of them need to shout to be noticed.

Comfy chairs have been provided,

a place to rest as we wait. From there

we can browse a display of fine toiletries,

linger over timeless Timex watches

or ponder a choice of boxed chocolates –

perhaps we know someone who needs

some sweetness in their life.

Greeting cards are next.

Who doesn’t enjoy a pleasant regard

now and then?

These are sorted by a few categories:

        Birthday           Wedding

        Anniversary     Get Well

reminding us how choosing used to be


And when we reach the counter

the Pharmacist asks about the ailing

and wants to know how life is

beyond medicines and diagnoses.

We offer our stories as we settle the bill

and when he pushes firmly on the keys,

the register opens with a familiar ring.

Just about everything the poem mentions (except the comfy chairs!) could have been written about Sutter’s.

What makes me happy is that Hargraves is still open for business. That’s unusual in these days of chain drug stores. Check out its website here.

Jim started writing prolifically after retiring in 2011 from work at the Oswego County Youth Bureau and he has a variety of books (including poetry) to his name.  I’m looking forward to reading them!

Finding my Sutter roots: Walenstadt, Switzerland

Lake Walensee, Walendstadt
My husband, Gary Brandt, and I on the shore of Lake Walensee in Walenstadt, Switzerland.

My husband, Gary Brandt, and I recently spent time in Switzerland in what I’m calling our “Finding Our Roots” trip.

Both Gary and I have family roots in Switzerland, and we set out to visit some of our ancestors’ birthplaces. One of them was Walenstadt, from whence came my great-great-great-grandmother Ursula Marie Hugg, who emigrated from there to the United States.

Before I go into the family history, let me describe for you the beauty of the area.

Walenstadt (pronunced vah-len-schtadt) is located in the Canton of St. Gallen. (A canton is what we’d refer to as a state in this country.)

Lake Walensee
A man rows a boat in Lake Walensee.

The town sits on the northeastern edge of beautiful Lake Walensee, (pronounced vah-len-see) surrounded by amazing mountains (Churfirsten on the north and Murtschenstock on the south). The population of Walenstadt is about 5,500 and consists of a few hotels and small businesses and homes.  Summer cottages dot the shores of the lakefront with forests and farms encircling the lake.

Lake Walensee
The beachfront of Lake Walensee with majestic Churfirsten mountains in the background.

We drove down from the city of St. Gallen (stay tuned for a blog on that city), and we parked at a little beachfront park, where kids were playing on the sand and families were picnicking on a sunny, 60-degree day.

The beauty practically took my breath away: the deep blue water, the snow-capped mountains high above everywhere you looked, the trees blossoming with green leaves.


Hotel Seehoff
The Hotel Seehoff with outdoor patio.

We arrived in late morning and walked around the lake side, took photos, and then sat down for lunch in the covered patio area of the Hotel Seehof. I couldn’t resist ordering the Wiener Schnitzel (a traditional dish of breaded veal) with potatoes, carrots and green beans. So delicious. I ordered it with a Coca Cola, because that’s what I’d been seeing everyone in Switzerland drinking. The Coke comes in glass bottles there! Loved it.

Wiener Schnitzel
My amazing lunch of Wiener Schnitzel, vegetables and a bottle of Coca Cola!

Gary ordered the Club Sandwich. It was huge, with layers of pineapple, chicken and thick bacon. He declared it the best Club Sandwich he’d ever had.

The view of the lake and the mountains from our table was picture perfect. Gary told our waitress, a middle-aged woman who spoke decent English, that my family came from Walenstadt. (By the way, German is the spoken language in this part of Switzerland.)

Waitress at Hotel Seehof
The friendly waitress at the Hotel Seehof restaurant who recognized some of my family’s surnames.

Our waitress then brought over another waitress who spoke better English and wore a beaming smile. I showed her a paper I’d brought that had some of my family tree on it, and she told me there are families named Hugg (pronounced Hoog) and Schlegel in the area. I suspect those are common last names in Switzerland, as is Sutter.

Here’s the family history:

Usula Marie Hugg was born in Walenstadt  on June 20, 1830 to Josef Hugg and Maria Anna Schlegel.

Maria Shlegel Hugg
My great-great-great-great-grandmother Maria Schlegel Hugg.

Ursula married her husband, Charles Frederick Sophus Enger,  in St. Louis, Mo., on Oct. 3, 1850.  He was 30 (having been born in Schleswig-Holstein, Prussia in 1820). She was 20. From there, they settled in Burlington, Iowa, my hometown. How they met, why they lived in Burlington, I don’t know and may never know.

Regardless, Ursula and Charles had eight children: Lena, Sophia, Charles, Joseph, John, Mary Ann (Anna), George and Albert.

From left, four generations: Ursula Hugg Enger, Gertrude Sutter, Anna Schlacter Sutter, Sophie Enger Schlacter.

Sophia married a man named Adrian Schlachter and they had a daughter named Anna. Anna married my great-grandfather,  Joseph Robert Sutter, and that’s how the two families became aligned. Anna and Joseph’s children were Clarence Joseph, Ray (my grandfather), Gertrude and Ursula.

Charles Enger (the father) died in 1906 and his wife, Ursula Hugg Enger, died in 1907.

Back to our day in Walenstadt: After our delicious lunch, we walked along the northern edge of the waterfront, watching the kids and adults enjoying their day at the lake. We looked at the signs about the area, written in German (I took photos in hopes of translating them later).

Swiss Reformed Church in the town of Walenstadt, Switzerland.
Swiss Reformed Church in the town of Walenstadt, Switzerland.

As we were driving away through the town, we passed a beautiful old stone Swiss Reformed Church, and I had Gary stop the car so I could take pictures.

Lake Walensee
View of Lake Walensee as we drove west along the southern shore, on our way to Bern.

It was a memorable day, and I tried to just soak it all in. As we drove away on our way to Bern, I thought about about how my great-great-grandmother left this beautiful area either as a child or a young woman, and probably never returned. Did she miss those mountains and that clear blue water and think about them? Undoubtedly!




St. Joseph’s strong connection to the Sutter family

St. Joseph
Christ learning carpentry from St. Joseph Photo credit: Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P.


March 19 is St. Joseph’s Day  and I got to thinking about all the Sutters who have “Joseph” as either their first or middle name.

I’m not sure why that is, and all my ancestors that I could ask are gone.  The family tree I have goes back just to 1816, with the birth of my great-great-great-grandfather, Ambrose Sutter, born about 1816 in the canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

He and his wife, Amelia Gaertner (also listed as Amanza and Amanda) had a son they named Robert Joseph Sutter, born Nov. 1, 1845 also in the canton of St. Gallen.

Why Joseph? Perhaps for religious reasons. St. Joseph of course was the husband of Mary the Blessed Virgin Mother and the foster father of Jesus.  In the Old Testament, Joseph is the 11th son of Jacob, and Joseph has been immortalized for modern-day audiences in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

According to the website Behind the Name,  Josef is the spelling that Germans used, and German is the language spoken in northeastern Switzerland.  Perhaps Robert Joseph anglicized his middle name when he came to the United States.

Joseph Sutter, Robert Sutter
From left at back, Joseph R. Sutter and sister Anna around 1890. In front, Robert Joseph, Ida, Anna holding Robert Boniface.

Robert Joseph and his wife, Christina Dallinger, immigrated to Burlington, Iowa, and named their first-born son, Joseph Robert Sutter, my great-grandfather, who went on to found Sutter Drug Co.

Joe and his wife had two sons: Clarence Joseph (called C.J.) and Raymond Otto, my grandfather.

C.J. Sutter and Raymond Otto Sutter
Clarence Joseph and Raymond Otto Sutter in 1950 at Sutter Drug cigar counter. 

Ray and his wife, Rubye, named their first-born Raymond Joseph, who was my father. Everyone called him “Joe,” no doubt to differentiate him from his father, Ray. My dad always listed his name as R. Joseph or R. Joe on documents.

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

The name Joseph continued into a fourth generation of Sutters, when my parents named my brother, Andrew Joseph aka Drew.

Drew Sutter Jane Sutter
Drew (Andrew Joseph) and me at Mosquito Park in Burlington, Iowa.

To go back to St. Joseph, he was a carpenter and is the patron saint of all workers. I like that connection, as I know my family and ancestors to be hard workers, too. Certainly my great-grandfather was industrious, not just founding Sutter Drugs but growing it into a successful business with various locations, with his legacy carried on by his sons and grandsons as pharmacists.

Click here to learn more about St. Joseph.