A strong business, a good pharmacy and GREAT malts!

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

SHENANDOAH, Iowa, Nov. 13, 2013 – When my old hometown here had the annual autumn celebration “Shenfest” in late September, one focus of it was a tribute to George Jay Drug Company, a pharmacy that is celebrating 125 years in business and happens to have a very famous soda fountain. 

There are four things all Shenandoahans know and love about Jay Drug: 

1 – It’s one of the oldest businesses in the southwest Iowa community. 

2 – For more than 50 years, the “George S. and Grace A. Jay Memorial Trust” has been making loans to local high school graduates who want to go on to college, at the amazingly low interest rate of three percent.  In any year, they have about $160,000 loaned to about 125 students, and it has totaled more than $3 million since the trust was launched.  The Jay loans have helped a few thousand of us get through college, this columnist included. 

3 – We all know this saying: “We, ourselves, the better serve, by serving others best.”  That was the motto of both George G. Jay, who founded the store in 1888, and his son and business successor George S. Jay. That wonderful saying, which seems almost scriptural, is on a handsome wood plaque that hangs above the pharmacy department, and most Shenandoahans not only are aware of it, we can even recite it. 

4 – At the old-fashioned soda fountain, they make the greatest malted milks on Earth.  I am not exaggerating. Why are they so good?  “Because we make them with love,” said chief “soda jerk” Donna Robison, who has presided at the fountain for three years. (More malt analysis will come later here.) 

So, on Shenfest day, just before the parade, SHS 1957 graduate Ronn King, now of Sioux Falls, S.D., and I met at the soda fountain for two of those malts – butterscotch for him, chocolate for me.  Quickly we were surrounded by four Jay Drug regulars from Shenandoah – my 1965 classmate Bob Longman and brothers Ardell Bueker, 71, Arthur Bueker, 65, and Ron Hansen, 62.  I proposed a toast. 

“Here’s to Jay Drug,” I began, as King and I hoisted our malts, “and 125 more years of good business, good medicine and GREAT malts!” 

 

Jay Drug store & Hallmark Shoppe.JPG

The George Jay Drug Company in the heart of the Shenandoah business district, with Jay’s Hallmark Shoppe located next door in a former bank building. (Photo by Chuck Offenburger)


BUT WHO WERE THE JAYS? 
On my way out of town later that afternoon, as I drove up West Sheridan Avenue, which is Shenandoah’s main street, I glanced over at the Jay Drug store and gave one little additional wink of homage.
 

And right then a thought hit me.  I realized that for as highly as I have always regarded that business, and as much as I look forward to my too-infrequent malt stops there now, I really don’t know much about the Jay family. 

Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed about that.  And suddenly curious, too. 

Seven weeks later, after dozens of phone calls and Internet searches, a few hours pestering librarians and historians for old records, and several “a-ha!” moments, I can confirm that the Jays were as fine a family as Shenandoah has ever known. 

In three generations in Iowa, they worked hard and became very wealthy, they gave most of it away, they had great business success in New York state and Colorado in addition to the pharmacy in Shenandoah, they were well-connected to high society in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, a few of them were a little peculiar and eccentric, and that the last member of the family in Shenandoah died in 1966. 

That was Miss Fannie Jay, one of three old maid sisters of store founder George G. Jay, a wonderful even if strict woman who was just a little tight when it came to spending money.  In the late 1950s, when brothers Benny and Bob Kling, who lived next door, trick-or-treated at Fannie Jay’s house, “she gave us half of a weenie!” says Bob from his home in Indianola, Iowa. “And when Benny first started mowing lawns, one of his jobs was to mow Fannie’s yard.  When he was done and it was time for her to pay him, she gave him one black jelly bean!  Mom was furious.” 

But there’s another vignette I’ll now never forget, and this one has to do with a Jay family member living on the other end of money management. 

George G. Jay died in 1938 and his wife Gertrude had died in 1930.  They had two sons, George S. Jay and John J. “Jack” Jay.  George S. had moved back to Shenandoah in 1937 from business success in New York state and was taking over management of the store.  Jack, two years younger, was in transition then between Miami Beach, Florida, and Denver, Colorado, after making an early fortune in road construction in Cedar Rapids. Jack had married Francis Eggers, of Cedar Rapids, who was 15 years younger than he was.  So, anyway, when their father passed away, the two Jay sons decided they’d spend time together in Shenandoah, settling out their parents’ sizable estate and dividing the property. So Jack and Francis came driving in to start a brief period of residency in his hometown. 

“They moved back here with a chauffeur, who was a black man, driving them around in either their Hudson luxury car or their Stutz Bearcat sportscar,” recalls Jean Braley, now 92, whose late husband Francis “Red” Braley was a partner in the drugstore much later.  “They didn’t exactly fit in well in the Shenandoah of about 1940. They lived here as short a time as possible.” 

But I’m ahead of myself here.  Let’s go back to the beginning.
 

George G. Jay the founder.jpg

George G. Jay, the founder of George Jay Drug Company in Shenandoah.

 

DESCENDED FROM A PATRIOT.  The Jays were apparently descendents of the American patriot, and one of the “founding fathers,” John Jay.  He was a New York City lawyer, the son of wealthy merchants there, and of Dutch heritage.  During the Revolutionary War, John Jay was a foreign minister to Spain and France, then the first Secretary of Foreign Affairs.  In 1778 and ’79, he served as president of the Continental Congress.  He then became the first Chief Justice of the new U.S. Supreme Court until 1795, then became governor of New York state for six years.  More than a century later, the Jay men in Shenandoah were members of the Sons of the American Revolution, which requires direct lineage from the founding fathers or Revolutionary War soldiers. 

James W. Jay, who may have been the grandson of the patriot, was born in New York in 1837, subsequently married another New Yorker Sarah Burridge Jay.  Just before or during the Civil War, they moved to the new state of Iowa, settling near what would become the town of Randolph in southwest Iowa.  How they picked Iowa, and the Randolph area, I do not know. 

James and Sarah Jay had five children – son George G. Jay (the eventual store founder) born in 1864, then three daughters Della Jay born in 1865, Berdena Jay born in 1869 and Fannie Jay born in 1879.  Another daughter Julia died in infancy. 

In 1887, George G. Jay married Gertrude Smith Jay, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Canada four years earlier, and they settled in Shenandoah.  The timeline on the George Jay Drug Co. site on the Internet reports that George received a pharmacy license in 1881, although he was less than 20 years old then.  Later, it was reported he was “a druggist here since 1886.”  At that point, he must have been working for another pharmacy, possibly in Shenandoah, maybe elsewhere.  

But in 1888, he opened the doors of his own store, George Jay Drug Co., in the same location where it is now, in the heart of the Shenandoah business district. 

It had to be a busy time for the young Jay family, because son George S. Jay had been born in 1887 and John H. (“Jack”) was born in 1889. 

Soda fountain early scene.jpg

The drug store’s Internet site says this photo was from the 1890s, showing that the soda fountain was already in place and pleasing customers. (Historic photos with this story are from George Jay Drug Company.)

The earliest photos of the store, which are dated in the 1890s, show a well-established business, with the pharmacy appearing to be in the back, general merchandise in and behind counters on the west, and a soda fountain along the east wall.  In one photo, an early soda jerk appears to be vigorously shaking a drink of some kind for a customer, seated on a stool at the counter.  Jean Braley, whose husband Red’s career at Jay Drug spanned 50 years from 1946 until just before his death in 1998, said she’s “sure that’s possible” that there was a soda fountain operating in the store “almost from the beginning.” 

Bob Longman, my high school classmate, has had a long association with Jay Drug, starting when he was working as a soda jerk when he was 15 years old, earning 55 cents per hour.  He now serves on the board of the Jay Trust which has funded so many loans for college students from the area.  Larry Cole, another of our classmates, and Longman “were both working for Edie Bean, who was in charge of the soda fountain and was a real master-at-arms,” Longman said.  “She’d been there a long time then, and what she told us about the soda fountain was that it was kind of a courtesy to the pharmacy customers.  They’d have to wait to get their prescriptions filled, so Jay’s had the fountain there as a place where they could get a cup of coffee or an ice cream treat while they were waiting.” 

It’s also possible that malted milks might have been served at the soda fountain almost from the beginning.  The Internet tells me that the treat was first mixed – and the name “malted milk” trademarked – in 1887 by brothers James and William Horlick, in Chicago.  Malts quickly became American favorites, and the Horlick brand of malt powder is still made and sold today. 

 

The Jay family home.JPG

The Jay family home still stands on South Elm Street in Shenandoah, but it is now the home of another family. (Photo by Chuck Offenburger)


PROSPERITY AND PROMINENCE.
  As the business grew, and the young Jay boys did, too, the parents decided to build a big new home at 403 S. Elm Street, which is not quite three blocks south of the store, ideally located across the street from Priest Park.  Real estate records now indicate the Jay home was built on lots that George G. Jay purchased from Dwight Priest in 1906.  Built in Georgian Revival architectural style, it appears to be a slightly smaller version of the house in Des Moines at 2900 Grand Avenue that for decades was the home of Iowa’s governors and then later became the headquarters of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.  That Des Moines house was built in 1905 for the prominent W.W. Whitmer family.
 

Earlier, in 1892, George’s parents James and Sarah and his three sisters all moved into Shenandoah, too. The three sisters – Della, Berdena and Fannie – never married and lived together for years in a house on the corner of Summit Avenue and Church Street.  All were active in the community. 

Berdena Jay was Shenandoah’s first librarian, hired in 1905 at the salary of $25 per month. “When I worked there (decades later), people would talk about Berdena’s ghost haunting the place!” said Kelly Carey, a native Shenandoah and now a teacher here. “The current librarians probably know the stories, too.  I can’t remember any particulars, just that if something was missing, we’d say that Berdena had hidden it!” 

However, when I mentioned that to current library director Jan Frank-de Ois, she said, “Sorry, Chuck, I’ve worked many solo night and weekend hours with nary a wiffle of the ghostly Berdena.  I’m sure that we’ve made many decisions on subject matter and content – like having TV’s ‘The Walking Dead’ horror series on DVDs – that would have her rolling or walking!” 

Fannie Jay was long the organist at the Congregational Church, and also sang in the church choir until she was 80 years old.  She made it a priority to know just about everything about just about everybody in town. 

“I came to Shenandoah in 1946 after I’d met Red (Braley) in college at the University of Iowa,” said Jean Braley.  “I got a call from the Sentinel (that was The Evening Sentinel, then Shenandoah’s newspaper) asking me to go to work as a news reporter.  I didn’t have to go out and cover stories, but just write up the news that came into the office. 

“Well, Fannie Jay called me when she heard I was going to work there and had some advice,” Braley continued. “She said, ‘Now, Jean, you have to be careful because everybody is related to everybody else in this town.  So when you get a news item about somebody you don’t know, you check with me and I’ll tell you all about them.  You’re probably the only person in town not related to anybody else here.’ ” 

Of course, the Jays themselves justifiably appeared in the news frequently, since they quickly established themselves as community leaders.

They were business leaders, too.  Jay Drug was so busy that two additional young pharmacists were hired, Seth Bergren and Carl Burnside, and both stayed on for decades. 

When George G. Jay died at the age of 74 in 1938, the Sentinel had a news bulletin at the top of page 1.  The Sentinel story began this way: “A grand old character whose life was entwined with the pages of Shenandoah history died this afternoon.” 

 

Jay Drug sign 2.JPG

The sign hanging above the pharmacy at Jay Drug in Shenandoah, with the motto of the first two owners. (Photo by Ron Osborn)


THE JAY SONS AND THEIR STORIES. 
I could not find out what brothers George S. and John H. (“Jack”) Jay were like as boys in Shenandoah, but they certainly were growing up in a family that valued education.  George graduated from Shenandoah High School in 1905, Jack two years later, and both headed off to college – which was still a little unusual in that era.
 

George went first to nearby Tarkio College in northwest Missouri, then on to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and did graduate work – presumably in pharmacy – at the University of Michigan.  Jack went to Knox, and then followed his brother to Michigan but earned a law degree. 

George, late in 1914, married Grace Allen, who was originally from Fairfield in southeast Iowa.  Her father was William Sylvester Allen, who was Iowa’s Secretary of State after serving earlier terms in both the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Senate.  The Allens were very prominent in Des Moines social life, and Grace had attended Drake University. 

George and Grace settled in Shenandoah and, from 1914 to 1928, he worked with his father in the drug store – except for a year or two of service as a U.S. Army infantryman in World War I.  He took an early lead in civic activities in Shenandoah, serving as Chamber of Commerce president in 1917-’18, joining the Masonic Lodge, and becoming a charter member of the Elks Lodge.  Grace was as actively involved as her husband, especially in the “Tri-H” Club, the American Legion Country Club and the Elks Ladies.  They were members of the Congregational Church.  They lived for a time in a house on West Street, just east of the Episcopal Church. 

Interestingly, in 1928, George and Grace apparently decided to try life elsewhere, and his professional advancement then speaks to the man’s knowledge and abilities.  From 1928 to 1930, he served as director of retail research and general sales manager of the Prophylactic Brush Company in Florence, Massachusetts.  Then from 1930 to ’35, he stepped up to become assistant sales manager of the E.R. Squibb & Sons pharmaceutical firm in New York City.  And from 1935 to ’37, he became general manager of Foster-Milbourn Company of Buffalo, N.Y., another pharmaceutical maker. 

In 1937, George and Grace moved back to Shenandoah, with George S. taking over store operations from his ailing father George G. Jay, who died within a year.  Remember, George G.’s wife Gertrude had died in 1930.  After the death of George G., then George S. and Grace Jay moved into the big Jay home on Elm Street. 

“They were an interesting couple to see,” recalled Jean Braley, about the younger Jays.  “George was about 6 ft. 6 in. tall, very upright, not your cuddly sort of man, quite severe-looking, actually.  Grace was only about 5 ft. 1 in. tall, so George towered above her.  She was outgoing and friendly.  It was actually Grace who introduced me to Shenandoah ‘society,’ such as it was.  She wanted to be sure I met the ‘right people,’ which were generally her friends, the older women in the Tri-H Club.” 

George and Grace were outstanding leaders in Shenandoah.  When you think of them dedicating most of their fortune to the Jay Trust, which has provided affordable college loans to so many young people, it tells you a lot. 

George S. died in 1951 after an extended illness.  Grace died in the fall of 1962.  By the way, observing an old tradition, the funerals of the four Jays who died in Shenandoah were all held in the big family home. 

The Evening Sentinel had a wonderful tribute after George S. Jay’s passing.  “His ideas for community and business betterment touched folk of all stations of life,” the Sentinel wrote. “His desk at the drug store was a Mecca for most all returning visitors as well as community residents.”
 

One of Jay family burial plots at Rose Hill.JPG

One of the Jay family burial sites in Shenandoah’s Rose Hill Cemetery. (Photo by Chuck Offenburger)


JACK JAY MUST’VE BEEN THE FAMILY’S FUN LOVER. 
After he had graduated in law from the University of Michigan, John. H. “Jack” Jay moved to Cedar Rapids.  That was his home city while he served in the Army during World War I.  Either right before he left for service, or immediately after returning, he joined a prestigious Cedar Rapids law firm that became “Grimm, Wheeler, Elliott and Jay.”
 

While undergoing basic training at the historic Jefferson Barracks Military Post south of St. Louis, Jack Jay struck up a friendship with young Howard Hall, a native of Onslow in northeast, Iowa.  But like Jay, Hall had settled in Cedar Rapids and was working for a delivery service. 

After the war, Jay and Hall re-started their careers, Jay at the law firm and Hall in some Cedar Rapids business.  In 1919, they decided to partner up and buy Carmody Foundry in Cedar Rapids, and they renamed it Iowa Steel and Iron Works.  As the 1920s unfolded, they both foresaw the coming boom in road construction across Iowa and beyond.  In 1922, they bought the buildings of a manufacturing company, Bertschey Engineering, in northeast Cedar Rapids and re-incorporated as Iowa Manufacturing Company, with Jay as president.  In the next seven years, they both became wealthy young men, as road building proved as lucrative as they had imagined it becoming. 

Their company was making rock crushers and paving machines which were used to build many of the new highway systems across Iowa and in neighboring states. 

While Iowa Manufacturing Company was rapidly growing, Howard Hall struck up a romance with Margaret Douglas, whose family was one of the wealthiest in Cedar Rapids.  They’d built a fabulous 30-room mansion called “Brucemore,” which still stands on a beautiful estate on First Avenue, east of downtown Cedar Rapids.  Today Brucemore is operated by a non-profit foundation as a National Trust Site, serving as both a historic and cultural enrichment center for the whole area.  That’s almost what it was when the Halls had it in the “Roaring ’20s,” too.  They turned the grounds into an exotic garden, with a live pet lion, “Leo,” roaming part of it.  Inside the house they had a “Tahitian Room” for parties with its well-known “Grizzly Bar” with décor from big game hunts. 

Jack Jay, still a bachelor, was enjoying all that with his pals and business partners Howard and Margaret Hall. 

Then, in 1929, the two men decided to part ways, amicably as far as I can determine.  Hall bought Jay’s portion of Iowa Manufacturing.  Hall continued running it until his death in 1971, directing road building and other construction projects all over the world.  The company continued under new management, and ownership, until 2009 when it was dissolved. 

Jack Jay obviously had a bright future ahead of him in 1929, already having more financial resources than he ever dreamed he’d have. 

In January 1930, when he was turning 40 years old, Jay married 25-year-old Frances Eggers, of Cedar Rapids.  She had spent her early years in the northwest Iowa town of Ireton, then moved with her parents first to Sioux City and then to Cedar Rapids, where the family had a meat market.  She had attended Coe College there in Cedar Rapids. 

After their marriage, Jack and Frances Jay moved first to Miami Beach, Florida, where he began thinking of a new business he wanted to try.  Later in 1930, they re-located to Denver, Colorado, where for a time they lived in a neighborhood of elegant apartments around the Colorado State Capitol.  Later yet, they moved into a suite of rooms in the historic Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver – one of the best hotels in the U.S. both back then and still today.  Even the Beatles stayed there, while performing in Denver. 

Jack Jay purchased the Quick-Way Shovel Company, which had been founded in the Colorado mountain town of Keystone, west of Denver.  They started out making steam shovels mounted on the back of trucks.  Jay, using the construction knowledge he’d developed in Cedar Rapids, soon turned the company into a global road building company, developing highways in the western U.S. and troop roads overseas for the U.S. War Department during World War II. 

The man clearly was one of those with a knack for making money, big money.  And he and Frances, who had no children, apparently loved spending it, too.
 

Everly Brothers at soda fountain 1986.jpg

A favorite moment in soda fountain history at Jay Drug — the time in the summer of 1986 when the Everly Brothers, charter members of the National Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, came back to Shenandoah for their first-ever hometown concert.  They’d spent their boyhood and high school years in the community, performing with their parents on Shenandoah radio stations KMA and KFNF.  When they toured the town in 1986, they made a stop at Jay Drug for the “Green River” phosphate drinks they remembered from their youth.


BACK TO SHENANDOAH, BRIEFLY, IN 1938. 
Hopefully you recall that when store founder George G. Jay died in 1938, Jack and Frances Jay moved back to Shenandoah for a short time.  Jack and his brother George S. were settling their parents’ considerable estate and dividing the property.  George S. wanted to keep the store, Jack wanted to get back to Colorado.
 

That was when Jack and Frances turned heads around Shenandoah with their black chauffeur driving them in their Hudson luxury car, or their Stutz Bearcat sportscar. 

Jean Braley recalls hearing how the chauffeur, who’d come with the Jays from Denver, did not like the racial climate in Shenandoah.  He would have been one of the only African Americans in the community then.  He soon returned to Denver. 

That’s when Jean’s eventual husband, young Red Braley, got involved.  In his boyhood, Red had already become a favorite of the extended Jay family.  They probably helped pay his way to the University of Iowa for his college studies and pharmacy degree, which allowed him later to become a partner in Jay Drug. 

“When the first chauffeur left town, Jack Jay asked Red who might want to become their driver,” Jean Braley said.  Being black probably was not a requirement, but Red Braley happened to know and like young George Howe, who indeed was African American, a native of Bedford who was in Shenandoah looking for work.  Howe jumped at the opportunity. 

If you talk to older people around Bedford today, they can remember hearing their parents telling stories about George Howe. 

“He was a good man,” said Max Dougherty, who lives in the community.  “He graduated from high school with my dad, Marion Dougherty, around 1930.  George was on top of things.  He was a good student, and I remember hearing that he was a good football player,.  I think he played center.” 

Paul Jones, an attorney in Clarinda, said both his father Frank Jones and mother Gwendolyn were Bedford classmates of Howe.  “I can tell you a lot of George Howe stories, because my father and George carried on a correspondence for years after they were out of high school,” Jones said. “And I remember hearing the story of how he became the chauffeur for the Jay family. 

“That was a tough time to be a black person,” Jones continued. “Even someone like George Howe, who had a lot friends, would face discrimination.  As I remember it, George had a hard time finding a job.  But at some point in the later 1930s, he learned barbering, and there was this barber in Shenandoah, Toby Carson, who hired him to be a barber in his shop.  Toby liked George and was very satisfied with his work.  But before long, a lot of customers started complaining to Toby about having a black barber, so he finally had to let George go.” 

Jean Braley remembers hearing that Howe spent some time as a cook in a food service that the Iowa Power and Light Company had for its employees.  And he was sleeping some nights on a cot in the barber shop.  He was thrilled to hire on as the Jays’ chauffeur, and Howe became a quick favorite of many people in Shenandoah’s business and social leadership.  But soon, the Jays and Howe drove away to their affluent lifestyle back in Denver. 

In 1943, Jack Jay died suddenly at the Brown Palace Hotel of a heart ailment at the age of 53.  He lingered only long enough that his brother George S. was able to arrive from Shenandoah to be with him as he passed.  He was buried in Denver.  Frances Jay was only 37 at the time, and she stayed in touch for years with George S. and Grace Jay, Red and Jean Braley, and others in Shenandoah.  “I don’t remember hearing that she ever married again,” Jean Braley said.  However, Coe College alumni records indicate that she might have had a brief second marriage later in the 1940s.  I could find no information about Frances Jay’s later life, but she surely was able to live it out comfortably. 

George Howe? 

He continued to be quite a story.  He joined the Army in World War II, served again in the Korean War, and left the service as a captain.  His old friends in Shenandoah, Bedford and Clarinda remember him working for a time in New York City, then spending several years living with one or two of his sisters, who had settled in Hendersonville and Madison, Tennessee. 

“George Howe came back to visit in our area several times over the years,” Jean Braley said.  “He was a houseguest in our home a few times, and he was as nice a guest as we ever had stay with us.  I remember him once coming back for a high school reunion over in Bedford, and I think he might have been honored at that event because he’d been the valedictorian of his high school class.  And several people in Shenandoah who’d gotten to know George had a party for him out at the Country Club.” 

She said she thinks Howe was married for a time to a woman in Denver, that they had a child but then the marriage broke up.  “I remember that being something he really grieved over,” Braley said. 

He died in June, 2006, in Aurora, Colorado, and he is buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in the Denver area. 

 

Donna Robison & Annie Van Houten at soda fountain 2.JPG

Today, Donna Robison (left) is the chief soda jerk and Annie Van Houten is the Jay Drug owner. (Photo by Ron Osborn)


FINALLY, WE GO BACK TO THE SODA FOUNTAIN. 
As the Jays died and the years moved on, ownership of the store moved to Red Braley, Gary Laughlin and now Annie Van Houten.  You can read about that on the store’s Internet site by clicking here.

It’s fun to think about how Red Braley and Laughlin, now both deceased, both became pharmacists and co-owners of the store, after both began their Jay Drug careers as soda jerks in high school. 

The Braley and Laughlin era of ownership of Jay Drug saw the end of competition from two other locally-owned drug stores that were both less than a block to the west.  Olsen-Rexall Drug Store and Leacox Drug, both of which had neat soda fountains, too, changed hands and eventually closed.

Jean Braley and Gary Laughlin’s wife Mem have always been much involved in community life, and Mem also had a long career as a surgical nurse at the local hospital.  The two of them were honored as the parade grand marshals during the recent Shenfest salute to Jay Drug. 

Annie Van Houten and her husband Chad Van Houten, a coach who died this past July in an auto accident, bought the store in 2009.  Annie had worked at Jay’s for 25 years, beginning as a student assistant in the pharmacy.  She eventually became a certified pharmacy technician, and also attended nursing school along the way.  The chief pharmacist now at the store is Ron Osborn. 

The iconic soda fountain has been presided over by many different people through the decades.  Probably the two most legendary chief soda jerks were Edie Bean from the 1950s to the ’70s, then Neola “Ole” Wehrkamp, who was in charge for 17 years before handing over the leadership to Donna Robison three years ago. 

“I learned from Ole,” said Robison. “And I’ll tell you, I think darned near everyone in Shenandoah has been a soda jerk here at one time or another.  I actually think it should be mandatory that every Shenandoah kid’s first job is making malts here.” 

And so, I asked again, why is it that the malts are so good – other than being “made with love,” as Robison told me earlier? 

“Good ingredients,” she said.  “We start out with really good ice cream.  It is Wells Blue Bunny in 3-gallon tubs.  It’s a special soft serve, not as soft as ice cream coming out of a machine, but just soft enough so it’s a little easier for us to dip out of the tubs.” 

The malt powder “isn’t really special – you could buy it anywhere,” Robison said.  But knowing the right amount to put in is important. 

And then there are the steel cups that the malts are mixed in – and in which the malts are served to customers.  Then they pour it into soda fountain glasses as they drink it. 

“The steel and the glass are important to keeping the malt really cold,” Robison said. 

The malts are $3.50 each, but real Shenandoahans don’t give a damn what the cost is. The Jay Drug malt is priceless.

You can write the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or can comment using the handy form below here.

6 thoughts on “A strong business, a good pharmacy and GREAT malts!

  1. Great article. I have fond memories of working for Red Braley and it sure beat working iin the corn fields. I think Ronn King worked there at the same time (but my memory sometimes isn’t so good!) Love to take the grandkids there when we visit Shen.

  2. Over the decades that I’ve read your writings (sports coverage in the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, Des Moines Register “Iowa Boy,” KMAland Newsletters, Offenburger.com), I’ve marveled at your writing/journalistic gift/talent. I’m probably just biased, but I look forward to anything you write about anyone or any event. The Jay family story is absolutely fantastic and will be a keeper in my archives. (You should be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.) Keep ’em comin’, Chuck. Thanks a million.

  3. A return trip to Shenandoah ALWAYS includes a milkshake or soda — or both! Although I was a competitor soda jerk at Leacox Drug thorough my high school years, I always had an appreciation for the fine shakes and sodas at Jay’s.

  4. Thanks for all the memories. My family rented a house from Fannie Jay from 1940 until 1943, when we became part of the 8th Avenue people. (Remember?) Part of the rent was a dozen eggs every week. (My mom had chickens in town). It was my job to take the eggs to that big old house on the corner of Church Street and Summit Avenue. It would have made a good house for Halloween. Very scary. I don’t know about Fannie playing the organ for the Congregational Church, but she sang in the choir at the Methodist Church from the 1940s until she could just barely make it down the aisle. She finally had to give it up. My grandchildren have take advantage of the Jay Trust to help with college. What a wonderful thing for the Jay family to have done. Thanks for remembering some of the good times.

  5. Hey Chuck, Just read your great article about Jay Drug. I remember of course every Sunday after mass we would walk to Jay’s for that very chocolate malt. We met (his brother) Dick & Jo in Shen this fall just to get together. I don’t think I need to tell you where we ended up after mass! And by the way, I consider myself an EXPERT on chocolate malts and Jay’s still make the very best I’ve ever had.

    Mike O’Brien, Boone IA

Leave a Reply to John McCracken Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *