Interviewed by Charlotte Wangrin, March 10, 2008
CW: Will you please tell us your name.
RS: My name is Robert Sperry. I was born in Colton, Ohio.
CW: Colton, that is an interesting place.
RS: Reading Moe Brubaker’s column “Back to the good old days” going back 100 years, in conversations with some friends here the subject of the Opera House came up and lo and behold there was an opera house here in Napoleon. We are now trying to research this because we have a “History in View” here. So this is something we want to go back to and find out where this Opera House was.
CW: You mean the History in View project is in the Alpine Village?
RS: Yes, and Mary Osborn started it. Linda Miller, our Activity Director is carrying it on and Dave Meekison, across the hall from me has a lot of memories from the old days. His father at one time was Mayor of Napoleon. He went to Chicago to get bonds to finance our water and electric system here in Napoleon. Anyway I digress a little bit here.
CW: I got David’s oral history and that was very interesting.
RS: You know this man, his mind is so keen. He brings back these old names like Scott and Heller and Lankenau . You know these people and names are important and are a part of history also. In “Our History in View” we did a segment on Napoleon. I forget what year it was. We had an arial view from the Courthouse, showing Washington and Perry Street where the Community Bank used to be. Other pictures we had and how Napoleon has changed over the years. People who have made these changes possible. Another project was the Wellington Hotel. How many years back it went and the famous people that stayed there and dined there and the story about how on Sunday mornings people would go in and gamble and the priest from St. Augustine found out about it and went and he chewed his people out and from that day on they didn’t go on Sunday mornings to the Wellington Hotel.
CW: Is that right. I remember when they redecorated that one room and it was all pink. My, it was pretty.
RS: You mean the Josephine. In our South lounge we have, well our new projects we put in the North lounge. When we start another project we move from the North to the South. In the South lounge now we have the Hotel and there is a chair that was salvaged from the fire.
CW: Oh really.
RS: Yes, and you know that is priceless.
CW: Did they ever find out how that big fire started?
RS: I don’t think they ever did.
CW: It is kind of scary.
RS: Yes very, very. Our current project we are doing the one room schools and two room schools in Henry County. Our next project will be the railroads in Henry County and how the railroads built up the county. We used the Ghost Town book for some of our research.
CW: What is the Ghost Town book, I am not familiar with it.
RS: You haven’t heard of it, before you leave we will get it. It belongs to Nancy Bennett. In researching our railroads right now we find that there was, I think the B & O bought a spur from a Fred Bunke in Standley. They have now dropped the letter d and call it Stanley. Anyway they bought it from a Arthur Bunke. We have two residents, Arnold and Elsie Baden that reside here, and their mother was a Bunke. I asked Elsie what her grandfather’s name was and it was Fred but they bought the spur from Arthur. Now I have to talk to Elsie and find out whether Fred and Arthur were brothers. In Stanley right now is the elevator. Cladys own that. We have another resident who ties in with this, Genevieve Folt who is related to Larry and Anita Sidle, and their daughter Lori married a Clady. They have the elevator and the trucking company over there. Isn’t that amazing you start digging these things.
CW: Where is the elevator?
RS: In Stanley, it would be south and west off of Route 281 in that area.
CW: I have never heard of a town like that.
RS: Oh you will read about it in this Ghost town book. Did you ever hear of Flickerville?
RS: You didn’t. Do you remember the Slentzes that lived on Road T?
RS: Okay. I can’t remember which road, maybe 13 and T. You know Mr. Slentz taught school and the youngsters, they had a big barn out there, and the youngsters from school on Friday would go and stay there all weekend and play basketball in that barn and they camped out in that barn. I went to school with Joan Slentz so that rings bells too. You know Colton, Ohio, that used to be a prosperous community.
CW: Oh it did!
RS: Yes it did.
CW: Did railroads go through that town.
RS: Yes the Wabash Railroad went through there.
CW: That is what caused Liberty Center to flourish.
RS: Right. They had four grocery stores and two bars. I think there were churches and the pickle factory. I was born in 1933, depression time, and at that time there was a Methodist Church, the only church left. Albert Barlow had a general store. It was a real general store. He had the post office there, a gas pump, and they would drop the coal cars off and he sold coal. Across from him Nolan Roberts had a grocery store. My dad at that time, during the depression, he worked for WPA and there was a Mrs. Whitaker had a huge farm west of the Methodist Church and on the same side of the road and he worked for her, and that is how we got our food, a lot of it. He also started working at the Napoleon Products. He stayed with Napoleon Products until the day he retired.
CW: In Colton, Ohio, isn’t that Methodist Church still operating?
RS: Yes ma’m. Oh yes, and it is very active.
CW: The women would all work together in the Spring making
RS: Easter eggs, and they are delicious. I don’t know how long we lived in Colton and then we moved to Liberty Center. We lived out there at the corner of East and Cherry Street. We lived on the east side of East Street. Mom and Dad you know, were not drinkers. We were brought up properly. If we did anything wrong we were disciplined. At that time you could spank your child. I got spanked many times. I was really quite the guy so to speak. My dad bought that house and he paid I think five or six thousand dollars for it at that time. It didn’t have a basement. It sat on a foundation. We had Harmons from Napoleon come over and raise the house and my dad, my mother, and us five kids by hand dug a basement. We put the dirt in a wheelbarrow. We had planks and dumped the dirt by the big barn out there. My dad poured the footers. He laid the blocks, and then they lowered the house. He finished the basement there. He gutted the entire house and redid it. He brought it up to date. We had a beautiful bathroom. We had a huge kitchen, a dining room, a living room, our bedrooms. There were seven of us. He built a garage on to the house. He got the lumber for the garage from the old barn that was out back. Us kids would go out in the barn just to play. We would go back and forth with our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Deward Blair. I would sit up there in that barn and I would open up that window, stick my arm out and play like I was in a train engine. Mom had a huge garden out back. Mom planted strawberries. I don’t remember the name of those strawberries. They were just huge things. We would go out in the mornings and pick strawberries and go all over town selling those boxes of strawberries. We got a quarter for a quart of strawberries. People would be waiting for us kids to come so they could buy those strawberries. We had so many strawberries and Mom would make shortcake maybe 5 inches in diameter. It would be 3 inches high and she would slice it in two. We would make a meal on just strawberry shortcake. My lord we were filled with strawberry shortcake. Now I eat one shortcake and I am done.
CW: I remember we would have a whole meal of just strawberry shortcake.
RS: Maybe with some cream or milk. We used to get milk and the cream would settle on the top. Wasn’t that good!
CW: Oh yes! Did you have a milkman that would deliver your milk?
RS: No, we had to go up to the grocery store to get it. I think Jett Bryant owned what McClure finally bought or did Joe Love buy from Bryant that grocery store. Anyway, Walt McClure had the grocery store. Across the street Ivan Eversole with the Red and White where we really traded mostly. There was a bakery there. I can’t remember the name of the bakery. For a treat, Mom would put a little money to the side, she would send us up on a Saturday morning to get a fresh roll so we could have it on a Sunday morning, before we went to Sunday school.
CW: Those are the things children remember.
RS: There are other things my mind goes back to are the changes in Liberty Center, an
d the people that were in Liberty Center. We had Pearl Creager, and sons were Ralph and Bruce. They had the road construction business. Ed Segrist was the undertaker. Ivan Ebersole had the grocery store. Bryan Jennings had the drug store, and his boy Ray finally took over that. Jimmy Morrison was with the five and dime.
CW: This was all in Colton?
RS: No, Liberty Center. We had the Liberty Press. I remember Walt Shockey had that for a while. Tommy Bichan had the Chevrolet and Allis Chalmers dealership. George Daso had the Ford dealership. Cyril Ernst had the Chrysler and Plymouth dealership in town. The hardware store, Pop and Lucille Crum had that as I first remember. Let’s see, did Ray buy it from.
CW: I don’t know who he bought it from. I think there was another owner and Ray came in then. I remember Ray, he was a nice tall man, a little bit bald on the top. He was a real nice man and I really liked him. We used to play chicken with our bicycles.
CW: You did!
RS: Anyway I got too close to his one wheel playing chicken and we broke our spokes. My dad took the wheel off and Ray put the new spokes in for me.
CW: What else did you play?
RS: Well, of course we had our roller skates and we had our bicycles.
CW: Excuse me for interrupting, but how did you play chicken?
RS: Well, you would ride your bicycles real close to one another. You would get close enough but not get knocked down. Lets see north and east was the old town dump. The elevator at that time the farmers would bring their corn in on the cob. The corn cobs they would haul out there to the town dump. Us kids would go out, a whole bunch of us and we would have corn cob fights. Oh yes, it would be the girls against the boys. You know those girls could beat us boys. Indeed so. There was a Nancy Kimberly, her dad owned the hardware store for a short time. So maybe Ray bought it from Mr. Kimberly. Anyway Nancy hit me in the eye with a cob, and I had a big shiner for quite a while.
CW: At least you didn’t lose an eye.
RS: Just think all those corn cobs and rain coming down and the town dump being there us kids never gave a thought about rats or mice or anything like that. We always had a great time. You know with the changes in Liberty and the things that made me aware of the changes I delivered the newspapers. At that time you bought your paper route. I can’t remember, but I think a Richard Myers was his name and he had the route and he graduated and I bought the route from him. I don’t remember how much the route cost. I delivered the Toledo Times, it was a morning paper, and the Toledo Blade and the Sunday Blade all over town and even out of town.
CW: You did a lot of work.
RS: Yes, and in my Senior year I had to give my paper route to my brother and sister twins , Rita and Rodney. They took over then. Delivering the papers and seeing the people, you know some would die and some would move in and you see the changes. Mr. Eversole went out of business, Walt McClure took over the grocery store. The Wabash Railroad kind of simmered down, and finally it went out. Just things like that, you keep these things in your mind.
CW: Now when you were delivering all those papers you must have had to get up very early in the morning.
RS: Oh yes I did! I did it on my own. My mom bought me an alarm clock and she said I am not getting you up. My dad worked third shift at the time and he would come home, have some breakfast and head for bed. That is how I got up, with that alarm clock. The only time my parents helped with the paper route was like if it was raining or a bad snow. If you wanted your paper between your doors, that is where you got it. I didn’t just throw it up on the porch. You were my customer and you were right. Mom and Dad always said that the customer is always right.
CW: Now the money that you made from delivering the papers, did you have to give some of it to your parents?
RS: No, the money was mine but I had to buy my clothes, shoes, and coats, and things like that and that cost money.
CW: Yes, and back in the Depression it would have been important. Money was so hard to come by.
RS: Yes it was. At that time the Depression was really over. We were coming out of the Depression, because at that time I was 9 or 10 years old. But still, and we were taught and Mom and Dad at least taught me that you do not throw your money away, you use it wisely. Money at that point became very important to me. It is yet today. I watch my investments you know. Today with our financial situation the way it is a lot of us are very concerned. Now school days is another part of history. I remember Miss Strock, Miss George, Miss Saneholtz, Miss Sherman, Cleo Bard and his wife and Mr. Romaker and Leah Romaker and Mrs. Riegel was the town librarian. The Library was in the school. I remember Mr. Rickley, Mr. Boyer, Mr. Leatherman, and when you went to school in my day you learned. I mean you did learn. My worst subject was math. I failed math, but I had good grades in the other subjects. After I got out of the service Mr Schlagle had something to do up here at the Henry County courthouse. I got my GED and he sent me on up to Four County learning computers. So I learned that. Here I am getting ahead of myself. We had so much fun in school even though the teachers were very strict. You didn’t chew gum and if you did you got smacked. Oh yes, they would smack you on your hands. I had one teacher, a Miss George and I was in typing, bookkeeping, and journalism with her and I did chew gum one day and she got on me. She had big fingernails and she put them on my shoulders and she left marks, which was permissable. The biggest thing, our last period in school on the east wing of the school was a study hall, a huge hall. The study hall was made for studying. You did not chit chat and pass notes and things like that. You weren’t supposed to. Some of us did.
There goes my bad boy again. Joyce Abby lived across the street from me and she and I were kind of boy and girl friends. She would sit in front of me in study hall. I yanked her hair one day in study hall and she screamed. EEK like that. Mr. Rikley was in charge of study hall he wanted to know what was going on. Joyce told him. I had to go in front of a whole bunch of people and bend over and he used a board of education. I turned around and smiled at him and I had to turn around and I got five more whacks. It was a nice sized paddle. When I got home my sister tattled. I had to go down in the basement and I got whacked some more. You don’t misbehave Robert and I should have known that. Again school was so much fun, the learning process. Today things are so much different.
CW: How would you say school was different from what it is today?
RS: We had the basics, reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling. Today everything is on computers. To a certain extent our country is moving so quickly into global and I can understand the youngsters being on computers today. We have a program here in our activities department, the Brillhart School, which is just a block away. Every other Tuesday we have six of the youngsters, second graders, come over here and read to us. It is a shame some of them can’t read. What are their parents doing? I understand both Mom and Dad have to work to make ends meet. These youngsters are our future. They should cuddle with them, read with them.
CW: You mean they come over here and they are supposed to read and they can’t read it?
RS: They read. In the second grade we learned punctuation marks. These youngsters don’t know a coma, an explanation point, or a question mark. I read with them. Where is Jack?, oh my goodness!, an exclamation point. I point these things out to them. Then still, I am sure they are learning but not like we did.
CW: Not in depth like we did.
CW: I think a lot of that goes back to the discipline. Teachers aren’t allowed to apply discipline.
RS: There is a beginning of a little crack. Some of the states allow that you may paddle a youngster now. Another thing we have been in this computerization in the schools and again taking into account we are a global situation. This combination has somehow brought our country into the state it is. We used to be a superpower. We are not any longer. These little things kind of bother me too. You and I are not going to see the end of it. What does the future hold for these youngsters? We are talking about maybe two or three generations. Right now we are going through a political process in our state and country. How do we get out of this mess? If I were running for President and I say If, I would take a step back and ask myself why are we imposing our will on every nation and country? We have the United Nations, that is what the United Nations was formed for. Why are we taking our peoples tax money giving it to other countries? They in turn kick us in the rear end. So let’s stop it and send one check to the United Nations. The United Nations was formed for one purpose. Let’s not impose our will on other countries. Other countries don’t appreciate that and want to close our embassy, and let us not be selling our military hardware. Other countries may use it against us. These are serious thoughts.
CW: I remember when President Bush said we are going to war with Iraq because I said so. As if he had all the power in the world.
RS: Do you know why we went to war with Iraq? Because when his father was president they tried to assassinate him. So our current president that is his reason for going to war.
CW: What you are saying is he is thumbing his nose at the United States.
RS: There again step back and let the United Nations handle this. If Saddam Hussein wants to thumb his nose, fine. We don’t have to take it. It’s water off the duck’s back. As long as we don’t do anything against him.
CW: Now we are spending so much money on our military. It’s not necessary.
RS: You know, we lived through the Cold War; this was when I was in the service. President Reagan ended that. This is all well and good as it should be. But it reflected on our military services. As soon as we got into Vietnam, our boys didn’t want to join the service. We are in Iraq and the same situation is happening. Sending our people home, battle scars in their mind. We are sending them home with no limbs and other injuries. Look at what it is costing us. Our leaders just don’t see beyond their nose. It is very harsh to say that, but that is it. But anyways history, which I just love, like Napoleon, I have seen the changes here. On Scott Street where the First Federal Bank is that used to be Tony’s Bakery.
CW: Oh really!
RS: Yes, and next was the alley. Then Cochran’s Electric was there. He had two sons, Phil and George, dentists. You go down the street used to be a gas station, which is now Sterlings store. I don’t know what the name is now. Just behind that was the old wooden Episcopal Church. That is down. Now they have a new church on Glenwood Avenue. You turn right and across from the gas station, was the Heller Hospital. You go down the street Herm Wesche had a furniture store, where Gilbert & Herr had a drug store, now it is Kurtz Ace Hardware. Across the street where Von Deylen Heating is was the Maher Bottling Co. They brewed Old Dutch beer.
CW: Was that the same company that 7 Up took over.
RS: Yes, and they had the big glass window and you could see all the things they had going on in there. When 7 Up took over they had the Dodger pops and all those things. Down the street where the Senior Center is was a Kroger store. There was another grocery store in there before Kroger. Across the street is the Armory. Then the old telephone company. I can’t remember what order it was, but there was a big house straight across from the Kroger store. There was a Catholic Church on the corner. On the other side, I don’t know what you would call it but where the nuns lived. I don’t remember the order. Then we can come back and go south, past the Catholic Church and the school and then turn right there was a gas station on the corner and some wood buildings and then Curdes Bakery. Two ladies had that bakery. Then came the wood fire station and the alley.
CW: A wood fire station?
RS: Yes, it used to be wood.
CW: Now that would be right by the alley on Perry Street?
RS: No, it was on Washington, across from the Sheriff’s office and the courthouse. Then there was the State Theatre. Then the City Loan Company and Gambles Store, and then Murphy’s Five and Dime.
CW: That was right on the corner?
RS: Yes, right on the corner, and if you turned right on Perry I forget what the stores were in there. There is the alley and on the side of the alley was a World Theatre. No, I am wrong, there was a Bassett’s Five and Dime.
CW: Oh, there were two five and dimes.
RS: Yes, this was just a small one. Across the alley was another theater, the World Theater. They showed the Class B movies. You can hop back across the street was the Charles Co. Then there was a shoe store.
RS: Yes, Gottschalk’s. Then Reichert’s had a jewelry store, up and down they had dinner ware and things like that. Then I can’t remember there was a alley there , and I don’t remember what it was, but there was a young man and wife they had a clothing store. That was right next to Spengler’s. That burned to the ground. There was some question. He put a lot of expensive clothes and he was heavily insured. There was a little question on that.
CW: Was that right where the other fire was and it burned? That was on Washington Street. That was on the north side of Washington Street. It was close to where the Napoleon Hardware was.
RS: The only other fire I remember on Washington was where the old World Theater was, a lady’s dress shop went in. After that closed Larry Emmel from Defiance had an appliance store in there and that burned. I don’t remember any other fires on Perry.
CW: No, this was on Washington Street. It was just recently.
RS: Oh, you are talking about where Heller Hardware was. That was the Tin Lizzie.
CW: That was kind of suspicious too.
RS: Okay, in Wauseon the Doc Holliday, the family owned that. They did find incendiary materials in Wauseon.
CW: They did!
RS: Oh yes. Mike Bell was the old fire chief in Toledo and he is with the Ohio fire board now. They took some materials from Napoleon, but they haven’t released anything yet. They also own Icky’s in Bryan. The same family.
CW: There is an Icky’s in Archbold!
RS: You’re right. I am getting my two communities mixed up.
CW: How did you get to school? Did you walk to school/?
RS: I started in school, we were still living in Colton and Harve Heilman was my bus driver. His wife taught school. At that time they owned their school bus. Mr. Heilman owned his. They were orange busses. They lined up in front of the school, loaded and unloaded. Then when we moved into town (Liberty Center) we walked to school. When we lived in Napoleon, us kids walked to school. We lived on the corner of Highland and Lagrange. We did the same thing with that house there. Dad bought it, lifted it up and put in a basement. My dad was so talented, and Mother as well. She could sew, crochet, and all those things. Dad was good in woodworking.
CW: People were more like that in those days. They had to learn those things.
RS: Oh yes. When my dad worked at the Products he was a set up man.
CW: What is that?
RS: They would make a
part and he would set the machine up. Somebody else then would do it. After Small’s sold the Products to Schuelers, my dad retired and Mr. Schueler had Dad come in and set his machines up. Then Schuelers moved to Holgate where they are now. Again the changes downtown, remember Ed Pilliod had the Hahn Clothing Store. Then there was Conrad’s Shoes. Dick Armey had a clothing store. Mr. Knipp had a clothing store. The Idle Hour, do you remember that. It used to be the Palmer House. Crahan had their store. Hagan’s had their furniture store. Schuette’s had their radio shop. Before Schuette’s went in Saur’s had their grocery store. Then that burned down. Dr. Glick, and Prentiss Photo. Westhoven Realty was on the corner. Mr. & Mrs. Schuette’s boy has insurance there. Shondell Jewelers, the old Sterling Store and then Heller-Reese Hardware. That used to be Watson-Lash. There was a Shaff’s Drug Store. This really goes back when I say Shaff’s Drug Store. They had the soda fountain in there.
CW: Do you remember going to that store?
RS: Yes I do. You know, I bought that building. That is where I had a children’s clothing store.
CW: For heavens sake.
RS: And then there was a One Hour Martinizing dry cleaning in there. It left the most god awful odor – the cleaning fluid. They drained it before environmentalists got involved in things. It went down into the sewers.
CW: Then it would end up in the river.
RS: Then we had the Napoleon Hardware. The Community Bank. Then we had the Napoleon Creamery. Then I had my pizza place. I would watch the creamery trucks come in and unload and they would make butter. Remember the old butter. There were other products they made too.
CW: Where was your pizza place then?
RS: Right where Hawks is now. That used to be a Gulf service station.
CW: Oh for heavens sake.
RS: My word yes.
CW: The road comes to a v there.
RS: Yes, East Washington and 424. Fred and Lucy Grieser had the creamery. Lucy is still alive. Both of her boys worked for me when I had my pizza business. Now Tony is with the Henry County Bank. He is an executive there. This part of history I pass on to these people and see where they go today. See how we work this. Lets see I told you about the Harmon people that razed my dad’s house. They had a boy and a daughter. The daughter worked for me too for a short time.
CW: Do you know why it used to be called Goosetown?
RS: Yes, when we were researching things for our History in View that was one of my main projects. Mary Osborn who started this whole thing was very interested in. I found out and I wouldn’t tell her, but there was a family that raised geese and they put out a neighborhood paper. That is how it got to be Goosetown.
CW: Was the paper just on the east side of town?
RS: Yes, isn’t that amazing? I kind of gave the secret away when I spoke to the Rotary Club with our project we have here today. It was a little bit of a disappointment. I couldn’t spring it on her.
CW: I have often wondered how. I thought it might be because of the fact it used to flood quite a bit.
RS: Oh yes, see the canal, Route 424 is the old canal.
CW: Right where it is now, or next to it.
RS: Right where it is now. To see it today, you know the high point is where the car dealership, Snyder’s is. How could that water get up and go over. They built that up, isn’t that amazing. If you can find old pictures, the electric plant, the old electric plant you can see where there was a bridge that went across that 424 at that particular area.
CW: And that was because of the canal.
CW: Now where would that be located at, that bridge?
RS: We got the photos, Linda Miller had some and maybe Russ Patterson would have the photos too. Mary Fran Meekison you know helps too. She is really brilliant on these things just like her husband. Even their son young Dave has many historical things.
CW: Do you know that the Bowling Green television station people are now starting to research the one room school houses. I sent an email to them and told them that Mary Fran Meekison had at one time had a program for Browsers which is a literary group of women, and she had gone around and photographed every single school house in the county. She showed these pictures and you never would have known that they used to be a school house. Buildings have changed so much.
RS: Well if you go on Route 24 coming out of Waterville and turn right on Road V and head West there are four one room school houses still standing. They are in disrepair but there are four school houses still standing on that road alone.
CW: Now is that on Road V?
RS: Yes, Road V as in Victor. That would be between 24 and 108. Isn’t that amazing!
CW: I will take a little trip down there in that area.
RS: On Road T, and this would be near Flickerville there is a Homan farm. It is on 12 and T, there used to be a one room school house there. On that road also was a Mr. & M:rs. Relue had a farm there. Also on Road13 was where Miss Sherman and Miss Saneholtz lived that taught school in Liberty.
CW: There were two Miss Sherman’s that taught. One was Margaret and I don’t remember the other one.
RS: Her picture was in the paper about two months ago with a class picture. Also in that Saturday paper, it was called “Out of Henry’s Past”. I was going to cut that picture out and I failed to do it. That was a Miss Sherman, but she was not the one that taught in Liberty. I am wondering if they were sisters.
CW: Yes they were.
RS: The reason I asked that was because they looked alike.
CW: Did you go to a one room school house?
RS: No, I went straight to Liberty Center from Colton on the bus. I have a bunch of pictures of Liberty for a “History in View” project. At some point they will be doing communities. One thing I don’t have from Liberty is a picture of the school before it burned. I would sure like to have one.
CW: Louisa Strock might possibly have a picture like that. Her father was the editor of the newspaper.
RS: Yes, and I wonder if they might have one taken during the fire.
CW: I bet they would.
RS: I will have to see if Russ Patterson can contact her and maybe get one. That is the only thing that I don’t have.
CW: Her mind is very sharp and she is still teaching.
RS: Oh yes.
CW: She is still teaching and she is close to 90 years old.
RS: Yes she is. She puts on all these operettas, plays and things like that.
CW: She remembers when Liberty Center was not the important place. The important place was Damascus. That was right by Damascus Bridge.
RS: Right. You bring that up in our Ghost Town book, Walt Shockey listed Damascus as West of 109. The bridge was named after Damascus Township. Right now the state owns all that property. The only thing left of Damascus now is the Truck Stop and across the road is Meters might have a little carry out or something. That is gone now. There was a garage next to that.
CW: Louisa Strock said that they used to ice skate on the canal all the way to Napoleon and back.
RS: Oh yes, isn’t that amazing! We were talking schools. Do you remember where the Union School was? It is now Central School on West Main Street.
CW: Oh, and that was called Union School!
RS: Yes, that was called Union School. The school housed both grade and high school. Yes, and my memories, there was a teacher Miss Gardner, a wonderful teacher just like those in Liberty Center, it was a Miss Thelma Gardner, well anyway she paddled me one day, and I don’t remember what I had done. Mom and Dad wanted all of us kids to participate instrumentally or vocally. The band director was a Mr. Lombardi. He was up on the third floor of the school, the Boyer Walker Mortuary side. He gave me a horn and I couldn’t do diddly wit with it. So he said okay drums. You know I could not do anything with the drums. I ended up being the drum major for Liberty Center for one year. Oh Mr. Lombardi if he got upset with you, why he would cuss us out or not, but it was in Italian. Oh my word yes.
CW: I remember he used to say, “You no prack.” He meant the word practice.
RS: Again there is another part of history. Boyer started the funeral home. Then Walker came in with it. You know Herm Wesche and Mr. Walker, I can’t remember his first name
RS: Myron, yes. Those two gentlemen started the Northcrest. I could be wrong, it could be just a rumor that I picked up.
CW: I don’t think that to be true.
RS: I don’t know, because there were several wheeler dealers there. We had Merle Franz, we had Doc Manahan, we had Jack Glick, Don Westhoven, Tom Short, Charlie Bauman. Yes, because Bauman’s Stockyard was in that area. They had a daughter that lived in there and I don’t remember her name.
CW: You mean Velda.
RS: Yes, and she married John McBride. Their youngsters came down to my pizza place too. They were a nice family you know. Okay so that may have just been a rumor. At that time too we didn’t have the EMS units. Herm Wesche had a blue ambulance a Ford ambulance and Myron Walker had a white Cadillac ambulance. Just two people in that ambulance they would pick you up and take you to the hospital and not try to save you on the way.
CW: They did that free of charge too.
RS: Oh yes they did. I know when Myron would come into Liberty Center more than once and he would pick people up. Ed Segrist had the funeral home in Liberty, but he didn’t have an ambulance service there and Bob Walters was the next funeral director. He had the funeral home across the street from Ed Segrist.
CW: Was that the same Walters that had the collision service?
RS: No, they were totally unrelated. My dad, Bob Walters had a hearse, which could be used as an ambulance if necessary, but he had a big long Plymouth limousine. It had the suicide doors that opened this way. My dad drove for Mr. Walters if he had an ambulance call. Dad would drive and Mr. Walters would ride in the back seat and that stretcher would be on his right.
CW: Now the hearse, did that have glass sides to it or was it panel?
RS: You are thinking of the one driven by horses, or was it mechanized. Okay the funeral home in Delta had glass sides. It was very ornate glass. They did some business in Liberty too. Segrist had just a plain Buick paneled door. You could put the casket in the door or in the back. Either side would open and the mechanical thing would come out and you could put the casket on that and push it in. Bob Walters had a brand new Buick built the same way. You know my fascination in my early years for some reason and I don’t know what it was I wanted to be a mortician. In my high school annual and we have it down that my future was to be a mortician. Isn’t that something. I don’t know whatever prompted me. After graduation I went to Toledo and stayed with my grandmother and granddad and worked at LaSalle & Koch as a stock boy. She lived on Nebraska Avenue out near Holland-Sylvania Road in that area. Anyway I would get the community traction bus to go to work and my granddad worked at the Toledo Glass & Mirror. When I got off work I could walk up there and he would drive me home. Somehow or other, connected with the Walker Funeral Home I got these magazines. I don’t remember what they called them, they were very interesting, where you could buy used emergency vehicles ambulances, hearses, and caskets. It was maybe a month that I worked there and it was fascinating. I got to go and pick up a corpse once. That did it.
CW: What do you mean “That did it”?
RS: Well, when you die all your reflexes relax and it is usually a mess.
CW: Oh, I see. It wasn’t as glamorous as you thought.
RS: No, when you go to pick someone up, you are still a human being. You take their arms up and tuck them under their body before you lift them up on the cart. You have all this stuff there, that did it. Another memory of Napoleon, the creamery used to deliver milk. It would be in little bottles, the cream would raise to the top and in the winter time the top would go pop and your cream would be up there. Tony’s Bakery delivered also.
CW: They did!
RS: Yes ma’am, they did. We had the Jewel Tea man. That was my uncle, Carl Starkey. He went from door to door.
CW: I still have a dish or two that my mother got from the Jewel Tea man.
RS: My sister collected them. Maybe seven years ago I had a chance to buy a complete set of those dishes and tea pots and coffee pots and I didn’t do it. Mrs. Wangrin, those are worth money today. Oh yes they are, so hang on to them.
CW: I know my mother always liked them because she could get them free dishes when she bought enough stuff from the Jewel Tea man.
RS: Just like the old S & H green stamps you got from the grocery stores. I called them the Sperry Hutchison stamps.
CW: Sperry Hutchison?
RS: Yes, but no relation. I am trying to think of some of the other people that made Napoleon famous.
CW: What ever happened to all those old buildings in Colton? Colton was quite a town at one time.
RS: I don’t know what happened.
CW: They probably just sort of deteriorated.
RS: When the pickle factory went out of business, you know the Depression era, maybe they moved on to other things. I don’t know why Colton was built up in such a fashion. I don’t know what was there other than that pickle factory. I didn’t think the pickle factory was that big.
CW: When the railroads came through that was a big influence. I remember Louisa Strock saying that was why Damascus disappeared, because they had been popular when the canal was there. Then when the railroads came in, traffic on the canals dropped. That is when Liberty Center came in to prosperity. Colton was the same way.
RS: Well, look at Texas, Ohio.
CW: They were on the canal.
RS: Right, and there was a turn around there too for boats in Texas.
CW: Did you know that they used to in the fall, the farmers in the area would gather at the turn around place, and when they drained the canal for the winter there were a lot of fish. Someone stayed in the middle the farmers would gather around and take the fish home.
RS: Yes and they would take them home and salt them down.
CW: Is that what they did.
RS: Come winter time, that would be good meals.
CW: Did they just put a whole lot of salt on them.
RS: The ice from the river they would cut it out. They would get it out of a certain area in the canal. We used to have an ice house here in Napoleon.
CW: Yes it was along the river.
RS: Well, I think I’ve done enough. I like to share memories with people.
CW: You have a good memory. Can you tell me some games that you played as a boy.
RS: We played what money could buy. We played checkers, pick up sticks, jacks, tiddly winks, and dominoes.
CW: Did you have an Uncle Wiggly game?
RS: We may have.
CW: That was my sister and me, our favorite game. You would pick up a card and it had a little verse on it, and you accumulate cards, that would be part of the game.
RS: Talking about games, we have a domino club here. We have about fifteen members and in fact my double twelve set is right there on the counter. I have a double fifteen I store in my microwave oven. That is just for Alpine Village and I am going to get the domino club started at the Lutheran Home too. We also have Scrabble. Oh, Marlene Patterson is a tough one in Scrabble. Yes she is. She and Lucille Sunderman come over. We have Grace Minnich and Madeline Gilliland come over. We are trying to get more people involved in Scrabble. These are things that keep your mind going.
CW: Now, back when you were a boy there weren’t any nursing homes at that time.
RS: It was called the Old Folks Home. That was where Country View Haven is now. When I was in school we visited that one time.
CW: Now did they call that the poor house?
RS: It could have been named that or the Old Folks Home. I remember our class going and we could go in and visit the people. The thing that stuck in my mind there was a lady there had cancer and had open sores and she really looked bad. That has been many years ago. We talk about old folks home our, I don’t know what you call it, Shelley was showing a family through and this elderly lady made some comment in the hallway “This isn’t an old folks home is it”. I looked at her and I said, “ma’am, this is not an old folks home, they will keep you going”. They haven’t been back since. We have five vacancies and they are trying to fill them.
CW: These are very difficult times for all nursing homes. So many people have died this winter. It has been a rough winter.
RS: Do you know even here I am the President of the Resident’s Council, and I am also on the food committee. The Resident’s Council applies only to the Alpine Village. The food committee covers both The Alpine and The Lutheran Home. We have someone here that may fall and break a hip, or for some reason they may have to go over to the Lutheran Home, I feel it is part of my responsibility as President of the Resident’s Council to go over and visit these people. They are so glad to have someone come in that they know other than family. I pick little things up like yesterday I went over and went to chapel there rather than here, and after chapel I went over and visited in their rooms. There is a school chum, Bob McCorkle is over there, my neighbor lady on West Maumee, she fell in her home, and Annabelle Daso, Morris’s wife is over there. I went over there and one of our residents was still in bed and mind you, this was after 10:30. She was sleeping, now I understand that and at 10:30 her table in her room was still a mess. Dishes and things were still sitting there. These things are not supposed to be. So again, this is part of my responsibility to say something. I take this very seriously, I really do. We have our bill of rights and I say to them if you have a complaint you come to me. I know how to solve it or I can send you to the right people. If possible I don’t want to have to use their name. You see again your privacy has got to be protected. So many of our residents don’t realize that and they are afraid to say anything is wrong.
End of tape.