A look at
Minonk's past

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Chocolate Shop Memories

By Don Uphoff

If you lived in Minonk during the 1940's and 1950's you probably had a relative or a friend who worked at the Chocolate Shop. My cousins Jean and Eileen worked there as did my sister-in-law, Norma. Hey! Come to think of it, even I worked there during that era of Minonk history. Nestled in between the bank on the south and Doc Hayes's drug store on the north, it was THE place to meet and eat. If you didn't have money to buy a News-Dispatch to find out what was going on in town, all you had to do was spend 30 minutes in this local hangout and you would get the lowdown on most everything that had occurred recently. If you were lucky, you might get to listen in on one of the discussions on what was wrong with the world then and how it could be improved. These were often lead by the sage of Minonk, Babe Smith, seated at one of the lunch counter stools.

I'm not a connoisseur of food, but the meals that were served there must have been pretty decent as people from all over frequented the place. Some of the business men ate all three of there daily meals there and trainmen from the IC would grab a bite before heading out of town. Since Route 51 still went through town then, it was not unusual to see cars from out of state parked in front of the shop while their occupants were inside enjoying a good home-cooled meal prepared by Elsie Shelby or Dorothy Broers or Minnie V. Barth. Also helping out in the kitchen were Irma Kuehl, Dorothy Oyen, faye Sildorff, Connie Konwinski, Mrs. Fitzgerald and others whose names I no longer remember.

The shop was owned and operated by Bob Morrison, a most congenial fellow, who lived above the store with his wife Eileen and daughters Barbara and Sue. His right-hand

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Man was Preston "Shorty" Fryman who often opened up the place in the morning and took care of such things as ordering supplies, minor repairs and garbage disposal. He loved his cigars and on more than one occasion, was seen to light up a White Owl or Charles Denby after completing a difficult task. He also was available to transport workers to and from work in case of a car breakdown or inclement weather. Working at the front desk was Leora Oldenburg Sullivan who manned the cash register, exchanged your light bulbs, answered the phone and performed all the other necessary secretarial tasks.

The daily routine never varied much during the weekdays. The breakfast meal was followed by a short lull to be followed by the mid morning coffee groups. After another short lull, the lunch crowd was served, another lull, mid afternoon coffee groups, another lull and then the evening meal. After a short break the after movie crowd showed up and during the basketball season, the fans from the games, usually on Tuesday and Friday, gathered to rehash the night's game. The weekend generally saw a full house on Saturday night and Sunday noon.

I started working at the shop in 1946 while I was still in high school and stayed with the place until I departed for college in the fall of 1948. Even though the pay wasn't that great it turned out to be a real education for a country bumpkin like me. As is usually the case, I started out at the bottom as a general flunky, cleaning off tables and taking the dirty dishes and silverware back to the kitchen to be washed. When business was slow, I swept and mopped the floor, brought up clean dishes to the lunch counter and did a multitude of other jobs that didn't require much gray matter. After several months I was promoted to the lofty position of "soda jerk" where I was instructed in the fine art of making sundaes, milkshakes, sodas and such exotic drinks as cherry cokes, chocolate cokes, pineapple root beers and orange fizzes. To my knowledge, only the cherry coke has withstood the test of time. One of the favorite desserts that I often prepared was the Bob Special, no doubt concocted by the proprietor. It consisted of several dips of rich Meadow Gold chocolate ice cream smothered with a generous portion of marshmallow topping and covered with a sprinkling of nuts and topped with a nice red cherry. It was exciting to make it and even more exciting to eat.

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In addition to the good food and homey atmosphere, another attraction to the shop was the presence of a juke box. I suspect that most of the adult patrons couldn't have cared less if it existed but the school kids and young adults were not bashful about dropping their hard-earned coins in it to hear their favorite tunes. In some cases when the place was packed after a game or other high school event, the noise from the crowd plus the sound of the juke box became so great that Bob would pull the plug on the box. I have often thought that if I had gotten a dollar for every time I heard Elmer Tanner whistle "Heartaches" or Vaughn Monroe sing "Ghost Riders in the Sky" on that old Wurlitzer, I could have reitired much earlier in life.

So what's the point of all this rambling about a small town eatery that doesn't even exist anymore? Well, for me and for countless of other Minonk highschoolers who worked there, it was the first real job that we ever had and it marked the beginning of the transition period from adolescence to adulthood. While we were employed there, we learned how to meet and get along with people and it helped us to become more self confident. It also taught us the importance of responsibility and aided us in becoming more independent by providing us with income that permitted us to do things we hadn't been able to do before. It even was responsible for me getting a job at college that helped me pay for my books and tuition. The job - you guessed it - a soda jerk at the campus hangout. The list of benefits could go on and on but the real point is that it had an impact on our lives that would last as long as we lived. Jean Stapleton, from the Archie Bunker show, was right on when she ended the show's theme song with these lyrics, "Those were the days."