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.
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 Newsand it published this poem. Jim has given me permission to print it here.
The wooden display cases look odd
with all the brightly boxed
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:
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The name Joseph continued into a fourth generation of Sutters, when my parents named my brother, Andrew Joseph aka Drew.
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.
A favorite pasttime of mine is reading the works of other Iowa authors, and I’m delighted to recommend the novel Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball by Tommy Murray.
The Murray family was well known among us Catholics in Burlington, Iowa, because with 10 kids in their family, you were likely to have a Murray in your class. They were all nice kids. Tom Murray (the oldest) was in my sister Tracey’s class, Mary Murray was in my brother Drew’s class, and Jean Murray was in my class and group of friends. All of us graduated from Notre Dame High School in the ’70s.
Tom’s novel was published in 2017, and it’s a great read. The characters are complex and real, and the plot is full of surprises. I have to admit I also learned quite a bit about baseball strategy from reading it. In some ways it’s a “coming of age” story, and in other ways, it’s a story about “coping with aging.” Tom manages to present both themes with humor and empathy.
Tom is a retired teacher from the Minneapolis Public Schools who lives with his wife, Mary Ann, in Shoreview, MInn. They have four adult children who are baseball and softball legends in the Shoreview area. Because I liked his book so much, and because I admire fiction writers, I invited Tom to answer some questions for this blog.
Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball involves three elderly coaches and some of the key members of the varsity baseball team at Holy Trinity High School. How did you come up with the plot and characters?
In 1973 I was a junior scrub on the junior varsity football team early in the season at Notre Dame High School in Burlington, Iowa sitting on the bench against arch-rival West Burlington when my big football opportunity manifested itself. My coach told me I could report into the game on defense under one condition: After the ball was hiked, I should race in three feet and hold my position. It seemed simple enough. However, he still made me model that attack strategy for himself and the group of my teammates that awaited the spectacle. When the coach was certain that I understood, he anxiously sent me into the game. On my second and last down as a football player at Notre Dame I watched the quarterback run away to the complete opposite side of the field. Instead of holding my ground as I had been instructed, I raced after him at which point West Burlington executed a deft reverse resulting in a speedy runner easily sidestepping me and eventually escaping right through the hole I had been ordered to plug. It’s a continuing nightmare I still have to this day, watching that guy run 89 yards for a West Burlington touchdown.
My football career was over. Banished to a solitary perch on the bench, I had the rest of the season to observe my coaches, all older men (two retirees from Burlington High School and a crazed priest from St. Patrick’s Church in Burlington), and the fathers in the bleachers living vicariously through their sons on the field. Like many of those boys, I played for my hero, my father. And also like many of those boys who battled for victory and glory in athletic contests, I wished that I had known my father better. Sometimes I felt I didn’t know him at all.
Way back then I filled my empty head with dreams of a story where the old men were coaching, and fathers were cheering on their sons, but instead in another sport in which I was also a miserable failure—baseball. It’s true that those who can’t play baseball write about it. I’ve been thinking, writing, editing and eventually publishing and promoting this story since 1973.
In the book, you write in-depth about the game of baseball and strategy. Did you play and/or coach baseball?
I was a terrible football player and even worse at baseball. Though I was always the tallest player on the field I was also always the slowest. I also had one other huge impediment. I was deathly afraid of the ball. Instead of charging in and genuflecting in front of a hard ground ball I would stand to the side, out of harm’s way and wave my glove in the general direction of the ball and hope by some chance it would get tangled in its webbing.
I was even worse at bat. As the pitcher began his windup I was already moving out of the batter’s box and taking a giant step toward third base. By the time the ball reached the plate I was always far away, almost in a different ZIP code. In my junior year of high school, for the sake of the coaches and fans and myself, I quit playing baseball.
That action, raising the white flag, absolutely broke my father’s heart. He was devastated. Like most fathers he didn’t see my inadequacies and obvious failures. He only saw my potential, future glory and most of all the fulfillment of my legacy. My legacy was determined before I was born, when it was decided I would be named for my uncle Tommy Murray.
You dedicate the book to your grandfathers, your uncle Tommy Murray and your father. Tell us about them and their influence on your life and love of baseball.
I begin all my readings by telling the story of my Uncle Tommy, my namesake, and explaining his legacy. Iowa, like Minnesota, originally had two different paths to a high school state championship—one for public, the other, private. In 1943 all schools were combined into one tournament. Uncle Tommy led an undefeated Bancroft St. John team to the Fall Iowa State Baseball Championship game and then pitched and won that game. St. John became the first private school to win a championship of any sport in Iowa. He was a hero in Bancroft, a baseball star who excelled despite suffering from severe juvenile arthritis. He parlayed that success and charm to finagle my grandfather to influence the Army to accept him during World War II despite this obvious deferment. In gratitude he trained for the most dangerous position in the Army, portable flame thrower. He was killed in the Philippines in November 1945.
All of northwest Iowa was devastated by my Uncle Tommy’s death. Fort Dodge Public High School was scheduled to play St. John on the very day of his passing. They called my grandfather to offer their sympathies and cancel the game. My grandfather explained that nothing could ever bring back his beloved son and that the game should go on. In Bancroft, Iowa, baseball is more than a game. It’s a life and death passion. Baseball is a religion.
So that night my Grandfather watched his nephew and son (my dad) compete and win the baseball game against Fort Dodge Public. Life goes on, especially and no matter what, the life of baseball.
Nearly all of the characters in my story are composites of loved ones that have passed on, some that I’ve never met like my Grandfather Art Murray, others that I did meet and treasure—wistful old men like my Grandfather Joe McTigue and even former students that were brutal and charismatic gang leaders on the streets of North Minneapolis. Somehow I seem to continue to see and hear them, mostly in the persistent whisperings of those who want to be remembered — want their story to be told because they continue to live as long as I and others tell their story. I believe these holy ghosts have given me permission to embellish their stories as long as those stories illuminate their truths.
Your book is set in fictional town of Cottage Park, Iowa. What’s your connection to Cottage Park?In writing about Cottage Park in the book, did you reference real places?
I was the bat boy for my father, the baseball coach at St. Mary’s in Storm Lake, Iowa. Cottage Park is a combination of all those little towns just big enough to support two bars, a Catholic church, and perhaps most importantly a baseball field. However, Cottage Park is mostly modeled after Bancroft, Iowa a town of 727 residents also in northwest Iowa. The church and the baseball field there are open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. I wrote Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball to provide readers in that community a mirror to see themselves, and for everyone else a window to experience the joy and exasperation of small town Iowa life.
Toward the end of my father’s life he couldn’t tell you the name of the wife who mothered his 10 children, or even the names of his children, but he never forgot one detail of life in Bancroft, particularly as it related to baseball.
It wasn’t until nearly the very end of my 40-year journey of writing my novel that I learned that Cottage Park was also a metaphor for the relationship with my father.
Many people say “I want to write a book,” but few have the self-discipline and creativity that it takes to do so. How long did it take you to write your novel, and what was your process?
I am hopeful that everyone who reads this blog will carefully read my strategies for writing a novel and then, no matter what, do the exact opposite of what I’ve done.
For starters, I would rather stick darning needles directly into my eyeballs than ever write one single word. Writing is painful for me. It was something I never enjoyed doing, but I felt compelled to do at the persistent nagging of old men, now passed, who relentlessly insisted that I tell their story. I did everything I could think of to avoid sitting down and writing, which included elaborate nightly nesting rituals, mostly cleaning, picking up, and putting things in order after my four children went to bed each night.
My goal at first was to write one single word each night. I was not going to be the most prolific author, but I was going to be the most consistent. After days of writing only one word, I enlarged my goal to write at least one sentence, and then a paragraph, and finally a page. Humans are the most adaptive animals on earth.
In just a few decades I had written a novel. By the way, I’ll match the cleanliness underneath and behind my refrigerator against anyone.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
First and foremost find pictures of the author of this blog, Jane Sutter Brandt, at the signing of her memoir, Sutter’s Sodas Satisfyat Burlington By the Book. The line of people purchasing the book was not unlike that of people waiting in line for Taylor Swift Concert tickets. Post those pictures on your refrigerator and it will give you motivation that your story is of great value to some if not all.
Second, talk to Jane Brandt’s sister Tracey who will give you confidence that you can and must market and promote your story, and a good place to start is at Burlington By the Book with its owner Chris Murphy, and his enthusiastic coworkers.
I know how to amass a small fortune writing a novel. My third counsel is to always start out with a large fortune. When my Uncle Pat McTigue passed, he left me enough money to purchase all the services and requirements for the publishing of this novel through an “indie” press called Beaver’s Pond Press in Edina, Minnesota.
Fourth, before you are published, choose who you allow to read your work more carefully than you choose a spouse. I had an opportunity to have the great Catholic novelist J.F. Powersread an early draft of my manuscript. I wasn’t prepared for his critique (which was savage, but entirely on the mark) and hid my story away for several years in a box in my bedroom closet. That’s one of the reasons why it took me 40 years to get this story published.
Last, write for an audience. This book is dedicated to my father. After the debacle with J.F. Powers, my hope was to publish one copy and present it to him. I couldn’t write and edit my manuscript as fast as dementia took away his memory, and finally his life. Dad never got to read the printed copy. So I wrote this story for my four children. When I went to the printer, I discovered that it wasn’t that much more expensive to print up another 200 copies.
One pleasant surprise of my writing journey is that others are liking this story too. This summer Minneapolis City Council Member Blong Yang requested an order for 200 copies to distribute to volunteers and contributors to his reelection campaign. When I asked him why he liked my story he responded, “Because I’m Catholic. I love small towns and I love baseball.”
I recently published a third edition of 1,000 that now includes glowing newspaper reviews.
As many authors know, actually getting published is also a challenge once the book is written. What was your experience?
As is often the case in life, many problems can be solved if you have time and money. I retired as a teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools in 2014, so I have the time. At about that same period in my life my Uncle Pat McTigue passed away and left me just enough money to purchase the services that are necessary for every aspect of the publishing of this novel, including promotions. I’ve signed on with a professional marketing company that is generating good leads in media. It helps immensely to be from Burlington, Iowa where people are unbelievably gracious and supportive.
What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel?
There’s a line in the cable television series, The Affair, where a grizzled old writer remarks to a younger writer, “Everybody in the world has one novel in them. Writing a second novel is the real challenge.”
I actually wrote a novel many, many years ago about a ninth-grader and the trials and tribulations that he must confront in his life. The Empty Set was a young adult novel before there was such a genre with subject matter about suicide, before we talked about that subject. Now it is somewhat dated, so I’m doing a massive rewrite in hopes I can make it more relevant for today.
I’m hopeful that it doesn’t take me another 40 years to rewrite and get this story published.
To read a review of Fathers, Sons, and the Holy Ghosts of Baseball, click here. The book is available at Burlington By The Book in Burlington, Iowa, and by mail order from Itasca Books.
I just love this photo of my maternal grandmother, Rubye Ekstrom Sutter. She married my grandfather, Raymond Otto Sutter, on Sept. 24, 1924 at St. John the Baptist Church in Burlington, Iowa.
How cool that she wore a flapper-style hat and dress. She was 25 years old. I don’t have a lot of memories of her, as she died on her 60th birthday on May 13, 1964, when I was 5 years old. I do recall that when I visited her at her home at 1515 N. Eighth St., that we would walk down the alley to Heinie’s Grocery at Ninth and Oak streets where she’d buy candy for me.
I’ve never attended the event, as I haven’t been in Burlington when it’s been held in the past. It’s an annual event (held April 19 in 2018) and sounds delicious! This year’s theme is “Wedding Customs: 1900 to 1950.” The planning committee is seeking photos from 1900 to 1950, including photos of the bride and groom, the wedding party or the general event.
I also shared this photo of my parents from their wedding, which was Sept. 27, 1952 also at St. John’s. According to the news clipping that I have, my mother wore a “white strapless ballerina gown of nylon tulle and imported Chantilly lace over satin, the bride carried an arrangement of white roses centered with a white orchid. Her gown was styled with a basque bodice with a white lace Spencer jacket with long pointed sleeves and bouffant skirt bordered with Chantilly lace. A bonnet of white satin with lace ruffles and seed pearl held her fingertip veil of imported silk illusion in place.”
I just love how newspapers used to write these long stories about weddings, what the bridal party wore, who attended, etc.
The maid of honor was my mother’s good friend, Harriet Jones (who later became Harriet Shetler), and friend Pat Curley was the bridesmaid. Too bad this photo isn’t in color, as the newspaper stated: “They were dressed in companion gowns of Nile green and emerald greenwith short-sleeved Spencer jackets and matching tiaras. They carried bouquets of rust pompons with wheat and green velvet leaves.” I’m sure my mother picked that color scheme with the idea that the colors epitomized a fall wedding.
Do you have wedding photos from that era? If so, you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Or you can take them to the Heritage Center Museum, 501 N. Fourth, to be digitized on site. They need submissions by March 1 to be considered for the slide show that will play during the event.
Questions or for more information on the event, call 319-752-7449.
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 historyis on the company’s website; the criteria involves academic excellence in rigorous high school science classes.
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?
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.)
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!
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.