Does MPHS have photographs: Yes
Address in Mount Prospect:
Birth Date: March 28, 1913
Death Date: December 1995
Date: February 1942
Children: Five children
Interesting information on life, career, accomplishments:
Jack Keefer was a World War II veteran, having served for four years on the crew of a PT 332. He opened a pharmacy in Mount Prospect in 1949 and soon became a fixture in the community. He was involved with many local organizations including the Mount Prospect Historical Society. Below is a selection from an oral history that was done with Jack Keefer in 1991.
Interviewer: Michelle Oberly
Date of Interview: October 20, 1991
Oral history text:
MICHELLE OBERLEY: Hello. My name is Michelle Oberley. I’m the director of the Mt. Prospect Historical Society. Today is the 20th of October, 1991, and it is 1:30 p.m.. I have with me this afternoon for this oral history interview Mr. Jack Keefer. We are conducting this interview here at the Mt. Prospect Historical Society. We’re now located at 1100 Linneman Road in the old St. John’s School. I’d like to welcome Mr. Keefer this afternoon and thank him for agreeing to be part of this oral history project that will be used for the 75th anniversary of the town, and we’d like to commend him for volunteering his time. Welcome, Mr. Keefer. First of all, what we’d like to do is, you as a local businessman is one of the reasons we’ve invited you to participate in this tape. First of all, we’d like to start out by having you tell a little bit about yourself. Can you tell us, please, when you moved to Mt. Prospect and where you live-if you’ve lived in The same location since then? And then start off telling us a little bit about your business and how you came to be in the pharmacy business.
JACOB KEEFER: Thank you. Yes, I was born in Chicago on March 28th, 1913. At the age of two, my family bought a farm in central Wisconsin, Nakoosa, Wisconsin, which was a paper mill town, and we lived there for nine years during World War I. Then at the end of that time, why, we moved back to Chicago where I was born and moved back to Rogers Park. And I lived in Rogers Park until I went in the Navy in 1942 and I was gone for four years roughly, and then I came back to Chicago again. Shortly after I got back from the service, why, I married. I married just about the time I went into the service in the beginning of 1942, so it will be 50 years next February that we’ve been married. Then we moved to Highland Park. We bought a little house in Highland Park and we lived there for five years. During that time, I worked at a drugstore in Glencoe for Mr. Lee Adams, and eventually in 1949, I bought my drugstore here in Mt. Prospect in 1949 from Mr. Steve Brant. I’ve been here in Mt. Prospect ever since. When I bought the store, the town was, oh, maybe three and a half thousand people, and I think I had one employee and that was Evelyn Britt, who was a native of Mt. Prospect and she lived just two doors west here of the Historical Society Building on Linneman Road, and she’s still over at the drugstore today. As I say, she was the only employee at that time. Eventually I had twenty-eight employees in this drugstore. There were two independent drugstores when I came here. Eventually we had nine independent drugstores, and as of today, we’re back to two independent drugstores. So you can see, they’ve come and gone, and a lot of the big chain organizations have taken over a lot of the so-called drugstore business.
OBERLEY: Mr. Keefer, let me just interrupt here. I mean, everybody who’s listening now to this tape in 1991 will know where your drugstore was located, but, let’s say, beyond that, can you give us the address of the drugstore for the future audiences listening to this tape?
KEEFER: Yes. When I came to Mt. Prospect in 1949, I bought the store under the name of Brant Pharmacy from Mr. Steve Brant, who bought it previously from Doc Burda’s wife. When he bought the store, it was like in the little two-car garage behind the present brick building where Marcie’s Card Shop is today at 10 East Northwest Highway. And then Mr. Brant had Mrs. Burda build a brick building for him. It was 30×40 square feet, and he a little soda fountain in there. He operated for about two years, and then I came along and bought it from Mr. Brant. I was in there about five years renting the property, and then Mrs. Burda sold the building to me. After I took possession of the building, I put a new addition on the back, a new forty-foot addition onto the building because we were expanding and business was booming. I stayed in there then for 17 years. I got to a point where I didn’t have any parking really. They widened the road and took all the parking away. When I first came to Mt. Prospect, I used to park my car in front of the drugstore to make it look like I had a customer. So, now I get to a point where I not only have no parking for the customers, the piece of property that I owned was kind of a landlocked piece of property, and I didn’t have room to park my own car. The town is really booming about now, so I decided I needed another location. Right across the railroad track there was a Brumburg dime store, who came here-that building was put up in 1950, the Stop and Shop center there. He had a dime store there, and he was going to retire and go to California. So I rented the building from the Lambert Tree Estate, who were the owners there, for a period of a ten-year lease, with an option for ten more years. Then when my time ran out after ten years-that would be 1976, I believe-then I sold the store to a young man by the name of Jerry Pospisil and his wife Geraldine, who are still the owners today. I worked in the store after I sold it for five years, full-time, and then eventually I went on to four days a week, three days a week, two days a week, and it was only about a year and a half ago that I finally retired for good for the third time. I go in there practically every day. It’s nice to go over there and meet the people who used to trade with me. Pharmacy has been a big thing in my life. Our oldest son, Jim, a Wisconsin graduate in pharmacy, has a drugstore up in Waupaka, Wisconsin. My brother Al and I were classmates at the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy, and he has had a drugstore partnership in Evanston for the past 50 years, and his son and daughter are both pharmacists. I have a nephew in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, who has two drug stores in Tomahawk and his daughter, Bob Huston’s daughter, is a pharmacist also in Colorado. So we have a total of seven pharmacists in the Keefer family now.
OBERLEY: Interesting. Why pharmacy? Is there something in the family that. ..
KEEFER: Well, I was really destined to be a farmer originally. Then when we came back to Chicago, I went to a parochial school and my buddy asked me if I were going to go to high school. I didn’t tell you, I’m one of 13 children, by the way, and when you lived on the farm, of course, there was no opportunity to go to high school there because we lived seven miles from the end of the world. We didn’t have telephone or electricity. We had telephone the last two years, but we were there all these years without telephone and electricity. When I came back to Chicago and went to a parochial school, my buddy said to me, “Are you going to go to high school?” I said, “I really don’t know. Nobody else in my family ever went to high school.” But he said to me, “I am going to go to Lane Tech and become a printer.” That sounded good. I had never heard of Lane Tech, but I jumped on the streetcar and I traveled eight miles to Lane Tech, and I became a printer. I had Linotype and pressroom and composition-everything that goes up to make a printer. Fifty years later on, I wrote to him-he’s out in Montana-and asked him how come he didn’t go to Lane. He backed down. He said that he didn’t go to Lane because he didn’t have the seven-cent streetcar fare. Many times I would go-down from Lane Tech there was a grade school. I was the big farm kid, of course, but I would get on the streetcar and bend my knees a little bit and give the conductor three cents, you know, which is what it took for the kids to ride to school. So I didn’t have much more than the seven cents, either. But anyhow, I finished four years in printing and got out of high school in 1931 right in the middle of the Depression, and, of course, it was almost impossible to start a business or get a decent job. I got a job then delivering orders on a bicycle in a drugstore. I sold newspapers on the corner of Clark and Devon, which was a great big streetcar corner in Chicago. The streetcar barns were only two blocks north of there, and there were streetcars everywhere, so it was a good newspaper stand. Then I also had newspaper routes. At that time, the Hearst papers had the afternoon Chicago American paper, which I delivered-my brother and I both. It was a three cent paper daily and five cents on Saturday. So we delivered six papers a week for twenty-five cents, and on Friday night we would have to go back and collect the quarter for the papers. Somehow or other, our profit came out of that quarter, and we paid for six days of paper. We would go out in the evening and get the extra Hearst paper, which was the Herald Examiner. That was a morning paper, but they would come out with a night edition. We take maybe ten papers apiece and start over at Devon and Broadway in Chicago, which is 6400 North, and we’d walk down one side of the street to Lawrence Avenue, which is 4800 North-so you can see that’s about two miles-and then we would cross over and come back and try to sell these ten papers, which were three cents. The only businesses open in the evening were saloons-this was before Prohibition ended-and the automobile agencies up and down Broadway. We would hope somebody maybe would give us a nickel for the three-cent paper. But the fact that we always went out and sold the papers, we were always high man and we’d get coupons for that. The coupons for all of our newspaper routes we used to buy our clothing and gifts. Practically everything we had, we got for newspaper coupons. Newspaper business. And then, of course, I had a little print shop at home by this time, too, where I would print calling cards and envelopes and letterheads. I did it originally on a hand press, and eventually I got what they call a Peral Press. That was run by a treadle. I would have to use my foot to make the press run, and then later on I traded that in and got a larger press. Then, of course, after being out of high school for four years, I’m working in a drugstore and my brother Al was working in a drug store. He’s two years my junior. We decided to go to the University of Illinois and study pharmacy. Tuition was $35 a semester, two semesters a year. We paid our tuition in thirds. We would go down to the cashier’s office and pay one-third at a time. This school is down by the County Hospital. This is before the Eisenhower Expressway was in. You could down to some of these Greek restaurants or Italian restaurants and get a pretty good meal for a quarter. Or you could go in the backyards-the alley, I would say-back where Taylor Street is today. They had a bunch of sandwich shops where you could get a junior sandwich for a dime or a senior sandwich for fifteen cents of corned beef or pastrami, and that would last you a good part of the day. I remember one day we went down there to school and it was a bad snowy day and we took the streetcar to school, but there was no school so we went over to the delicatessen and bought a fifteen-cent sandwich and took it home with us and I think we ate on it for the rest of the day. They were huge and there was corned beef or pastrami. So. ..
OBERLEY: That sounds wonderful. You’ve seen a lot of changes.
KEEFER: Oh, yes. That was in the early days. Then, of course, we got out of school in 1939. We were in the first four-year class of pharmacy, and we ended up with a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy. By this time I was working for an independent drugstore out in Glencoe. My brother already was in Evanston working in the store that he eventually bought a partnership in. Two years after I was out of high school, of course, World War II started. I took a new job on December 1st of 1941, and a week later was Pearl Harbor. So I stayed with Parke-Davis for maybe a month learning their system. I knew I would have to go in the service. I was single. My wife and I-future wife-planned to get married the coming May of 1942. But then when I realized that I had to go into the Navy, I went up to Great Lakes and volunteered, and they took me and gave me a thirty- ay leave before reporting for duty. During that thirty days, we got married on February8, 1942. I was up at Great Lakes, of course, in ship’s company for a short time. Then I went to Fargo, North Dakota. I was in the medical department, of course. I went to Fargo, North Dakota, on a recruiting assignment with the U.S. Navy and spent five months there. Then the Army and Navy discontinued their Navy recruiting. Now everybody who was going into the service would have to go through the Army at Ft. Snelling in Minneapolis if you were in that area. Then at the end of the day-they were taking maybe ten percent of the men for the Navy-and they’d say, “Well, now, your papers show that your eyesight is such and your teeth and so and so, that you’re eligible for the Navy. Would you like to join the Navy?” That’s how they would get the recruits. But then, of course, that all came to an end in about two months. There’s no more recruiting, of course, so they shipped all of us medical people to the East Coast to Melville, Rhode Island, for PT boat training, which was supposed to take a couple months, but I think I was there three weeks and you had learn everything. You had to learn gunnery, navigation, motor mechanic, first aid, identification of airplanes and ships and all of that. As soon as I got out of there, I went to New York to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is the biggest Navy yard, I believe, in the world. There we outfitted our PT boats as they arrived. About every five days we would get a new PT boat, which was just stripped down with no gear on it, and our crew had to put the armament on it and the radar and smokescreen generator and all of that. I had to make provisions to take care of 250 men, which we would eventually have. Each squadron had 12 boats and a 250-man complement, and it was my job to give all of the shots to these men and get enough supplies to last us for the two years that we would supposedly be in the jungle. My commander was a U. S. Navy man, and he said, “Keefer, I don’t know anything about the Navy. All I can tell you is we’re going to be in the jungle for two years. I want you to get enough supplies to tide us over for two years, and you’re the senior medical man aboard.” I didn’t have a doctor until we got out into the jungle. Then, of course, I had help. So, where do we go from here?
OBERLEY: Well, just to keep on the track, we’ve got to get back ourselves to Mt. Prospect.
KEEFER: Oh, yes, yes. I’m sorry.
OBERLEY: No, no. This is fascinating because, you know, this will be information people will look back and be interested in. But let’s talk about when you first arrived. I mean, I’m sure the town looks very different today than when you first arrived in it. Do you have any memories or thoughts of what the town looked like? I mean, as a businessman in our downtown area, what. ..[phone rings]
KEEFER: Do you want to shut it off?
OBERLEY: What did the town look like? Excuse me.
KEEFER: Now we’ll go back to 1949 when I arrived in Mt. Prospect. Mt. Prospect was a small farming community, a very sufficient town that had a dry goods store, a hardware store, a grocery store. It had everything that you would expect to find in a small town. As far as the farms, the farms were all around us at that time, and a big crop was sugar beets. They raised a lot of pickles. They even had a pickle factory over on Northwest Highway and Wille. The sugar beets they would load on the railroad cars over in front of what was Kruse’s Restaurant at that time at Emerson and Prospect Avenue. Today it is Mrs. P and Me. Then they grew a lot of-what are the big flowers?
KEEFER: Peonies. A lot of peonies out here, and I have never to this day been able to figure out what they do with these peonies. But that was a big crop. A lot of them were up on what we call Elmhurst Road today-[Route] 83-around where Zanies [Comedy Shop] is and Grandma Sally’s and that area. There were peonies everywhere. They grew a lot of tomatoes here, too, and the farmers would pick these tomatoes and take them to Chicago to the Campbell Soup factory. Of course, they grew all the other crops, too. But there were two drugstores here at that time. There was my store, which we call Keefer’s after I took it over, and Van Driel Drug Store at the corner of Emerson and Northwest Highway. There were three doctors in town. There was Dr. Woolfarth, Dr. Granzig and Dr. Kestler, a lady doctor, and they kind of took care of all of the needs of the people who were sick. The closest hospital, you could either go to Evanston to St. Francis, where four of our children were born, or you could go to Elgin. You had a choice. Of course, now today we’ve got many, many hospitals. But things really started to boom. The town was growing so fast, you couldn’t keep up with it. I remember the first day I filled fifteen prescriptions one day in the early part of my career here and I thought, “Boy, I’ve really got the world cornered now.” Fifteen prescriptions in one day! But I got to a point where I had three full-time pharmacists later on plus myself. I filled as many as 285 in one record-breaking day. This, of course, was before all of the chain pharmacies came along and took over. Even to this day, we’re doing real well under our new ownership over at the drugstore. Jerry over there is a very knowledgeable man and we’re very much involved in the colostomy and ileostomy business and he is an expert. He’s a real wizard on information for people who are in need of this type of medication. The prescriptions in the early days were not like today where you just count out pills or capsules or pour liquid. Practically all the prescriptions you got were for hand-made capsules or powders-powders where you take and put a bunch of papers out on the counter and fold them into neatly folded powders, like Setla’s Powders, if you’re familiar with that. The capsules all had to be the ingredients-maybe there were three, four ingredients-and they had to be weighed out very accurately and then divided into capsule form. Sometimes the prescription would call for, say, a hundred capsules. We even made suppositories at that time. This was before air conditioning, don’t forget. We didn’t have air conditioning, and suppositories are made with cocoa butter as a base and then you mix the ingredients into this cocoa butter, which melts at body temperature, so it was a real crazy thing. Many times on a Sunday afternoon, you’d get a prescription to make suppositories when you were really not in the mood to do it, but it had to be done. You’d run back and forth to the refrigerator and cool off the mass and then bring it out and roll it. They had to be rolled just like you would roll putty for a window. You’d roll it out and cut them into whatever length it was-maybe one and a half inch-and then shape them into suppositories. It was quite different from what it is today. We made up our own syrup. We’d make up a gallon of cough syrup, where today you just buy it. Everything is prefabricated. It took a lot of know-how and a lot of time to do this. People would come in, and they wouldn’t sit there and wait. Generally, they’d go out and do some other errands. Today they give you a prescription and they hand it to you and they want to know if it’s ready. You know, they’re always in a big rush today where before I think we had more time to do this. I just happened to run across some memo today where I found-I got some notes over here in my bag where it showed where we made two capsules, and I charged somebody, I think, 25 cents for these capsules. Today, you know, you say hello to someone, and they’ll give you a bill for probably five dollars. It’s just the opposite. So it has changed a lot. What else can we talk about at this point?
OBERLEY: Well, I’m curious. You say that they town has grown. .
KEEFER: Oh, it has.
OBERLEY: …tremendously. First of all, what attracted you to moving here? Did it look like, as the name suggested, that it would be a good prospect? Were you able to tell that other people would be in need of your type of store and move to the area? What first appealed to you?
KEEFER: What influenced me to come out here, I was working over in the North Shore. I always worked along the North Shore. I worked in Glencoe, Kenilworth, Lake Forest in drugstores, and I happened to be working in a drugstore just doing some relief work in Kenilworth. We had at that time Badger Ice Cream which came from Kenosha, Wisconsin-real good ice cream. It was eventually bought out by Bowman Dairy. The drugstore here in Mt. Prospect also had Badger Ice Cream, and the salesman told me that this drugstore in Mt. Prospect was going to be for sale. So I came out here to talk to the owner one day, and before I left, why, he handed me the keys and asked me if I would relieve him for two weeks so he could go on a vacation. He hadn’t had a vacation for a couple years. So I was free. I was just doing part-time work. So I stayed here for two weeks and ran the drugstore, and I fell in love with it. It was all new. Everything was brand-new. We didn’t have much merchandise, but we managed to get by. We had a little soda fountain with about twelve seats. By this time, I just had this one employee helping me, and I decided I would buy the store and, of course, then things started to boom and I enjoyed it. I felt like I was in a place where I could serve the needs of the people who needed my type of services. I was fresh out of the service, full of vim and vigor, and long hours didn’t mean much to me. I worked long hours. I’d come in maybe at eight in the morning and be here until, many times, ten o’clock at night, you know, six days a week plus Sunday shorter hours. So it was very rewarding, and I liked it real well.
OBERLEY: A question that comes to mind, you said you didn’t have too many products in the early days. Could you remember some of the things and how the product line grew in the store?
KEEFER: Oh, yes. We had a lot of proprietaries like for the kids, we had Castoria and we had a tonic called Congola and we had Milk of Magnesia and Citrate of Magnesia. We had Setla’s Powders and Kohler’s Headache Tablets and powders. Just about everything that you can think of. See, there were really more proprietaries at that time. We had a lot of salves that were made and put in I the tubes eventually, where originally we had to make them up by hand. In my portfolio here, I have a list of all of these things that you could buy in a drugstore because you didn’t run to a doctor every time you had some little ailment like you do today. You went to the druggist and he generally told you what to do and how to use it. That was the way of life. A doctor was kind of a novelty. You only went to him when you were really sick. If you went to the hospital, you knew you were sick, you know.
OBERLEY: Okay. Let’s just explore the possibility here of some of the other stores. Could you tell us a little bit about some of the other stores you would patronize or some of your neighbor’s stores, you know, next to your location?
KEEFER: Yes. On the corner, right around the corner was a Ben Franklin store. A man named Mr. Kelly ran that. That’s where the Grancic Building is, right next to the alley behind that corner building today. There was a Ben Franklin in there, and the post office was in that big building on Main Street, the post office. There was a bakery in there. Mr. Horrack had a bakery shop. Meeske’s Grocery had just put up a new building on the corner where the former Wille Home was. That was turned into Meeske Grocery Store, which was the big store-been here many years. Eventually they burned out and had to rebuild after a few years. At a different time, Ridenauer had a little dry goods store in there. A fellow by the name of Mr. Seek, had a boy’s, menswear store in there. I believe there was always a barber shop in there. Then over on the block where Biermann Hardware is there was a bowling alley where AI’s OIde Town Inn is today. That was the only bowling alley in town, and the pins were set by hand just like they were in the days when I set pins in a bowling alley in Chicago. There’s a young man here in town named Roy Otto You probably know him, a lot of you. Roy Ott used to set the pins in that bowling alley. Everything happened at the bowling alley. Every church had a bowling alley. I sponsored four ladies’ and four men’s bowling teams, and they all bowled over there in that little alley originally. Then a little later on over at Rand and 83, Elmhurst Road, where Fish Furniture Store is today, that became the first automated bowling in this area. A fellow by the name of Jack Gonelle, who had a little tavern and a restaurant in the front of the building, had this new bowling alley put in the back, and it was, I say, all automated, which was a real innovation in bowling. No more pin boys. That held up until later on when L. Fish Furniture came along and took it over and made a furniture store out of it. Then, of course, later on we did get two other bowling alleys. We had the one up on Rand Road by the-what do you call it up here? Rand Road around, oh, what’s the name of the big catering hall in there today?
OBERLEY: Oh, Mr. Peters? Around there?
KEEFER: No, no. No, the one where the Historical Society is going to have the big dinner next year?
OBERLEY: Oh, I can’t think of it.
KEEFER: I can’t think of the name of it, anyhow. Then there, of course, was the other bowling alleys over in the Busse Building on 83 right where Walgreen’s and Dominick’s are on 83 and Golf Road. There was a bowling alley up in there also. But I believe the one up on Rand Road is still there. What was that called? I can’t think of the name of it. My memory isn’t what it used to be.
OBERLEY: Well, your memory is doing pretty good, I think.
KEEFER: For 78 years. You know, you lose a little every year. Then what else did we have in town? As I said earlier, a lot of the little luncheons and noon get-togethers were allover at Kruse’s Restaurant, and you could go in there and for a dollar and a half and get a real good chicken dinner. I guess beer was probably twenty-five cents a glass. So that got to be quite a busy place. We had just a little post office, you know, originally on Main Street there in that big Busse Building on the east side of the street, and then they eventually built a new post office over where the Federal Savings and Loan bank was located here on Prospect Avenue and that was about 1960. Or ’60 maybe was the one over by the water tower. Anyhow, the post office was in that building where the Savings and Loan Bank is located today. That building was owned by Herman Mein. He was the blacksmith man who originally had a blacksmith shop here where the restaurant is on Northwest Highway there and Wille Street, you know, in that little triangle. There’s a restaurant there today. That used to be the blacksmith shop. Then eventually there was a Sinclair gasoline station there that was owned by Winkelmann before they built the one up at Central and Northwest Highway in the triangle up there. All right, so then the next post office, of course, was built over, as I say, by the water tower, which is now an office building, a one-story building. I believe that was 1960. And then, of course, the next post office was built over next door to the Haberkamp Greenhouses on …[END OF SIDE 1][SIDE 2]
OBERLEY: …[conversation in progress] tape here. I’m talking with Mr. Jack Keefer. He’s going to be telling us more about his pharmacy business in the downtown. Mr. Keefer, would you like to tell us a bit more about some of the products in your…?
OBERLEY: Or some more history about the town?
KEEFER: I’ll tell you a little bit more about the history. It sometimes becomes a little hodgey-podge because I don’t have it written down here in proper sequence. Usually in a small town it starts out you have a doctor, who arrives in the community and starts practicing and then the drugstore follows. But in the case of Mt. Prospect, it was in 1924 that a man by the name of Mr. Horstmann came to Mt. Prospect and started a drugstore over on West Busse Avenue. If you know where the Moehler Barber Shop used to be-there are a couple of girls in there who have a barber shop and hair salon today. That was Moehler’s Barber Shop. Well, right next door to the east there’s a two-story white building, the Wille Building, and the original drug store was started there in 1924. Do you just want to press that one second? [taping interrupted] In doing some research, I went to Arlington Heights to Paddock Publications and looked at a copy of the Palatine Enterprise which was dated April 18, 1924. The headline said, “A New Drugstore in Mt. Prospect. William A. Horstmann of Arlington Heights has opened a Mt. Prospect pharmacy in the Wille Building. This business institution is a great addition to Mt. Prospect and should receive the support and patronism of people living in that community. Mr. Horstmann is not a stranger to a large number of our citizens, as he is, strictly speaking, an Arlington Heights young man. He has had over eighteen years experience in the drugstore business, both as a wholesaler and a retailer and as a registered pharmacist. Patrons will be assured of having their prescription carefully compounded. He will carry such lines as are usually found in the best of the drugstores. The grand opening day will be held May the 3rd, further announcements of which will be given in these columns.” At about that time the following drug specialties were being advertised in the Cook County Herald: Dodd’s pills, Bayer Aspirin, Tantalac Tablets, Gold Medal Harlem Oil Pills, Zonite, Cuticura, Castoria, Frezone, Belans, Diamond Dye, Winslowe’s Soothing Syrup for the babies and Vaseline. You could buy a two-passenger Roundabout Ford car, FOB from Detroit. The lowest price, $265. Or you could get a Studebaker 6 for $1,045 or an Oakland for $1,095, and this was offered at Schoeppe’s in Palatine. Would you believe that? Schoeppe’s was an all-purpose store in Palatine, which wasn’t too many years ago when they went out of there. Other cars advertised were Durant, Star and the Jewitt. The play in Chicago was “Abbie’s Irish Rose.” It was playing at the Studebaker Theater on August 30, 1924. Then there was an ad read like this: It said, “Own a home like this one.” There was a picture of a house for $6,500 or $8,500 for the deluxe model. Everyone of these small towns, by the way at that time, had a small hospital. In Palatine they had Dr. Stark, who had a little hospital there. In Mt. Prospect, we had Dr. Woolfarth, who had a building over here at 111 West Prospect Avenue, and the building is still there today with a couple chiropractors in the building-right near where that printing place is. And here are some of the ads from the National Tea ad of that day. It said, “P & G Soap, ten bars for forty three cents.” Gold Dust, which was a very popular cleaning agent for the kitchen, was twenty-four cents a box. Corn Flakes, seven and a half cents a package. Lard, which was a big item in big use at that time, lard was thirteen and a half cents a pound. This was before we knew about cholesterol, you know. Then sugar was ten pounds for seventy-five cents. Also, in Mt. Prospect on another subject here, at Mt. Prospect, next door to where Van Driel is located today, Annen and Busse-well, there was a Busse all-purpose grocery store when I came here, and eventually Annen and Busse real estate were in there. But in 1924, they had an ad for that store. It said, “A large display of fireworks will be at the Mt. Prospect Ice Cream Parlor Store,” which was located right here on Northwest Highway and Main Street, the Mt. Prospect Ice Cream Parlor. June 13, 1924, they were going to have a big display of fireworks. Can you imagine that? I remember when I was a kid in Chicago, I would ride a bicycle all the way out Peterson Avenue to Lincoln to buy firecrackers, because they were illegal in Chicago and I had to go out to the edge of town to buy them. In Mt. Prospect at that time, we also had Dr. Wilhelm. He was an optometrist-“eyes tested and glasses fitted.” His office was in the Mt. Prospect Drugstore. His telephone number was 267-only three digits. He had hours on Monday and Friday from 7 to 9 p.m.-only two hours a day that he worked in the drugstore, and that was very common at that time. Here’s a little item. It said, “Herman F. Mein, a blacksmith on Northwest Highway and Wille Street”-you all know where that is. That’s where that restaurant is in that triangle up there. So you want to …? .
OBERLEY: Okay. Thank you very much for that. We’ve got a few more questions here. We’d like to go back again to your business. How did you advertise? How did you get people to know about the kinds of things you were doing in your store? Were there any advertisements that were your favorites or was the community the type that a lot was word of mouth?
KEEFER: Well, of course, we had the Paddock papers at that time. The Cook County Herald, which most of the people read, and also, from time-to-time, we had small newspapers that sprung up. We had the Mt. Prospector, when I came here. The office was on the corner over there by Northwest Highway and 83 in the big white building at that time. Mr. Folks and his wife ran that. It was a kind of a picture paper. They were photo bugs, and they took a lot of pictures of happenings in town and then they combined it with a story to make a little news item for the community. But the big papers would always buyout the little guys, and then we’d come up with somebody else. Another time Di Mucci came up and started a newspaper in town, but that didn’t last too long. I always said I do a lot of advertising, like I sponsored four ladies’ and four men’s bowling teams, four ladies’ and four men golf teams, and I figured this was very good advertising. I remember one of the first things I did here when I came to town-there was no Catholic Church here, and St. Raymond’s was being organized and they wanted to hold a bake sale. So I had a big store without a lot of merchandise it in, and we had the bake sale right in the front window of the drug store. These were the things that I thought was good advertising to get people to know me and know what I stood for, and I was always available to be a help to somebody in need. So I didn’t spend a lot of money. I never did advertise, by the way, in the Yellow Pages just because I felt the Yellow Pages I couldn’t afford. They were very expensive. I did other little things to promote my name in town and it seemed to work.
OBERLEY: Well, I know that you’ve been active with some of the local civic events in the community. What other kinds of groups did you sponsor through your long career in town? What kinds of activities did you become involved in?
KEEFER: Oh, yes. That’s a good question. You know, before I arrived on the scene, they had a chamber of commerce in town and then it went defunct. In fact, they even had a bank account left over with a couple dollars in it until in the middle of the ’50s sometime. But in 1949, a group of the businessmen in town-I have all their names here somewhere-started to reorganize a chamber of commerce. Of course, I got very much involved in that. I was president for a number of years and treasurer, I think, for ten, twelve years-secretary and everything else. If you were to try and call the chamber of commerce in Mt. Prospect, the phone would ring in my drugstore. Maybe you wanted to know what the elevation of the town was and the height or how many grains of hardness in the water. Anything like that pertaining to the physical an geographical aspects of the community, I knew. If I didn’t have the answer, I was sure to find out what the answer was and get back to you. So I felt like I was really a part in helping get this community going and be a service to the people. There were a lot of things that we did. We started a parade in about 1954, I think. We started the Fourth of July Parade. That was started by Dick McMann, who had a dry goods store over on Prospect Avenue and Wille, Carter Bowen, who had the music store at that time on West Busse Avenue, right across the street from Olde Town Inn, Herald Rickless, who was with the Paddock Publication, and myself. The four of us started this Fourth of July Parade. Now, Carter Bowen was the music man and Rickless was publicity and Dick McMann and I built floats. We had beautiful homemade floats for every parade. I remember the first year we were going to end up-we started out here on north Emerson Street. There was a park up at Emerson around Memory Lane in there, and we were to cross the railroad track to go to Lions Park. Of course, the authorities said, “No, you can’t do that. You have to have a permit from the state to cross the railroad track.” Well, to this day we have never had a permit, and we’ve had a parade every year. But we patrol it and the police help us. We had some wonderful parades, and I have many pictures of all of these parades at home in both color and black-and-white. Then, of course, we also had the Memorial Day parade we helped run for the VFW, which was in May. So we’ve always had two parades here in Mt. Prospect ever since back in the early ’50s, and they were well-attended and we’re real proud of it.
OBERLEY: Okay. Let’s see. Some other questions here. [taping interrupted] Okay. Was there any special way that this early chamber of commerce and your businessmen would get together to talk? I mean, did you ever, you know, deliberately get together with your colleagues at, let’s say, a certain restaurant or somewhere to discuss things? Was there a routine that developed?
KEEFER: Oh, yes. We had monthly meetings. Definitely. We had monthly meetings, and we would have outside speakers come in and talk to the members. Then we had the typical Christmas party and party around the middle of the year. We always had dinners going on. I remember one year at Christmastime, we had a Santa Claus. We engaged a man to be Santa Claus, and he lived in the north end of town up around Rand and Louis Street in there. He would work at the Mt. Prospect State Bank, we’ll say, in the morning, and then he would work at the Federal Savings and Loan Bank in the afternoon. He would greet the kids and give them candy and talk to them and have the pictures taken, and that was quite an interesting thing. It was my job to pick him up when he was finished at one bank and take him home for lunch and then bring him back in the afternoon. Then I would be driving down the side streets, maybe past a school and the kids look in there and see Santa Claus and they’d say, oh, Mr. Keefer with Santa Claus!” It was hilarious, you know. But we did that for quite a number of years. Then one year we had a float in the parade, a Christmas parade it was. We met Santa Claus. He came in on the train and we put him on the float and it was raining and sleeting and snowing, and they get out here in the residential section around Hi Lusi and Council Trail in there and the float broke down and here’s poor Santa Claus out in the snow and rain. We had to abandon the float and take him in a car and go back later on and pick up the float. Let’s see. How did we start out in this? Well, we had meetings. Yes, we had meetings all the time. For a while later on, we would go down to Gonelle’s when he had a dining room there. Sometimes it was just a little committee meeting. We would go over to Kruse’s Restaurant. Then, of course, Mt. Prospect Country Club was owned by the Sophie family-Mr. Sophie and his three sons-and, of course, all of our big banquets would be held at the Mt. Prospect Country Club. Everything happened over there. So we had a lot of activity. We didn’t have the expressway here like we have today where we could run into town. We didn’t have O’Hare Airport. If you wanted to go for an airplane trip, you’d have to drive out to 55th and Cicero out to Midway, and that was a big project to do because when you wanted to go out there in the morning, that’s when the traffic was heavy. I went out there one morning with Dr. Bagnolo, who came to town a few years after I did, and we get out there just as the plane was taking off for Florida. In those days, you had to make a reservation maybe three, four days in advance. I had to take him back home and turn the telephone back on and the milkman on, and then he had to make another arrangement for a flight going to Florida. So it was a lot different than today. The expressway was built quite a while after we came here. That changed our way of living quite a bit. We have always had, of course, the Northwestern commuter train, which is one of the finest in the world. That’s been a real factor in helping these towns like Mt. Prospect, I think, develop-that we had good transportation.
OBERLEY: Yes. I was going to ask, did the train, did you see any changes with the commuters and the commuter traffic? I mean, your business being located so close to the train line. Do you think that was successful? A good location to that? KEEFER: Yes. Yes. It was a good thing to be near the train. However, when they go by in the morning, you’re closed. When they come in the evening, they have one thing in mind-they’re going to go home. They’re going to, you know, run right by. But it is good because they’re living near the train tracks some way where they can get back and forth very easy, and, yes, the location I think is very good and our parking is very good where we are now on Prospect Avenue there. Very good.
OBERLEY: I liked that story about Santa Claus and the abandoned float. I leads me to ask, was there any certain particular way you would decorate your stores for the holidays or do special promotions in addition to Santa Claus to attract business? KEEFER: Oh, yes. See, we did a lot of, as we call, the front-end business in the store. I remember going down there the night before Christmas, the day before Christmas, and moving the stock forward because you really sold everything you had. It was the only place they could buy the merchandise was in these local stores. We didn’t have the big chain stores at the time. Yes, we all decorated. My gosh, I always had two beautiful twelve-foot windows in there, either Christmas trees or a Santa Claus display. That was part of the excitement of getting ready for Christmas. One year we invited all of the kids over to the VFW for a Christmas party, and we gave them candy and snacks, you know. Then we were going to show them a kiddie movie. Well, somehow or other, they got things mixed up down at the distributor. Instead of getting a movie for the kiddies, we ended up with a travelogue, and, of course, that wasn’t too good. But at that time, where Jake’s Pizza is over here today, that was owned by a couple called Mel and Paul. They had a restaurant over there. It started out with a hamburger shop originally in a trailer right on the corner of the point there. They had a little trailer. Then eventually they put up that building, and he was quite a movie bug. He ran home and picked up some kiddie movies that he had at home and brought them over and saved the day. But these are the things you’d run into, you know, just like the Santa Claus getting caught in the rain and snow. But they all made for a well-knit community, and we did real well.
OBERLEY: In comparison for these early years versus today, would you say that the community was friendlier back then or people knew each other a bit more, or do you say that no, the town’s pretty much remained the same? What are your thoughts? KEEFER: Well, now, this was the day before drugs on the street, before hippies, and at one time, I could stand over there on the corner and I would say that probably a third to a half of the people I knew as they walked by, you know. They were all natives here, and they traded in the local stores where today a lot of them never come into a local store, you know. They’ve got their favorite places to go, and you just seemed to be more involved with them. You were going to church, and you knew all of the people from your church. Everybody in my church I knew. I was working on fund-raising campaign and running bazaars and everything else, so you became very well-acquainted with them-more so, I think, than you do today. We had baseball games. First thing I did when I came to Mt. Prospect, they asked me if I would sponsor and American Legion baseball team. I said, “Sure.” Five hundred bucks. I didn’t know, of course, that baseball bats came in different lengths and different weights and all that. I found out real quick, though. One Saturday morning they came running into the store. They needed a dozen baseball bats-certain lengths and certain weights and all of that-and I had to have my wife run down to Evanston and pick them up that morning because they had a game scheduled. I didn’t have a nickel’s worth of insurance on these kids, being new. But the following year, I took all of my equipment and turned it over to help form Little League in town. Everything that I had was put into the Little League program. Of course, they had a blanket insurance policy that covered all of the kids. I remember right off the bat, one of the kids broke his ankle or his wrist-I forget what it was-and I got a check for $1,000 to hand to the mother to pay the expense. Fortunately that didn’t happen to me when I had the team the first year without any expense. But we were very involved in the community. We were involved in baseball game and then midget football started shortly after that. That took another whole big group of people to keep that going.
OBERLEY: Let’s see. What other special events in town? I mean, you talked about the parades, you’ve talked about starting the sports leagues. Are there any other big events that you can think about or memories or special things that stick out in your mind?
KEEFER: Yes. One of the big things in town here was the Lions Club. They were organized in 1934, which is, I think, fifty-seven years ago. Every year they had a fall festival. Originally it was held in various places in town. One time it was held over by the water tower where the water tower is now. Another time it was held over here where Keefer’s Drugstore is today, in that corner triangle. Another time it was held over on Owens Street in the park. It was held one time in here where the car wash is on Prospect Avenue. It was held there. We had nothing but rain, and we took loads of sawdust and spread it allover, you know, to keep the ground dry. Then eventually we went into Lions Park, because the Lions Club donated the sixteen acres of property that eventually became Lions Park. This was before we had a park district here in town, and that sixteen acres of property became the nucleus for the Mt. Prospect Park District. Then when they had the Fall Festival every year with the Lions Club, why, that was a big drawing card, especially when it was in Lions Park because people could walk to it. It wasn’t as big as it is now, but eventually we wore out our welcome. I guess the noise was too much and people got tired of us and we went over to Melas Park where we have the carnival at the present time. So that was always a big thing.
OBERLEY: Okay. Well, I also want to ask you since you’re a member of our Historical Society, can you remember some thoughts about when the Historical Society was started because I know you’ve been involved for many years?
KEEFER: Yes, I can. In ’76, ’86? Anyhow, twenty-four years ago it is now. Next year it will be twenty-five years ago we started. We had the fiftieth anniversary celebration of our community, and all of the businessmen in town donated some money toward the celebration. It was a big thing. We had a big band out here, and we had one of the biggest parades we ever had. We had the Medina parade people out here with their horses, and it was a big thing. At the end of the celebration, we had a certain amount of dollars left, and they said, “What are we going to do with the money?” A committee of us got together and decided- here was a man here in town by the name of John Weber, who was president of the Historical Society at one time. We got together and decided we would use this money to start a historical society in town. That was the initial funding that we came up with. Of course, after that we had membership and other means of collecting money. Yes, I remember that real well. Let’s see, what would that be-1966?
OBERLEY: About ’68.
KEEFER: 1968. Yes. That’s when we had our fiftieth anniversary, in ’67.
OBERLEY: You know that the downtown of Mt.Prospect has changed over the years physically. Do you think the changes are better or do you think it was better the way it was in the 1940s when you first came here? That’s a very objective question.
KEEFER: Yes, it is. I’ll tell you, …
OBERLEY: I mean a very subjective question.
KEEFER: Due to the fact that you have such a large population in town, the old town wouldn’t really be big enough to service the population today. So, our center of town has turned into more of a service type of community where you have barber shops and offices and drugstores and eating places. Then the big, big stores with all the merchandise, they’re in the shopping centers. The fact that people have generally two cars to a family, why, the mother can get out and go shopping with the car, and she doesn’t have to depend on walking to the stores like they did years ago. When you figure out years ago our border in town was from Wa Pella here to, oh gosh, down here to Prospect Road. That was the big area really. Then maybe from Central to the railroad tracks here. That was the business part of town. Today, of course, the big stores are a mile or two away. But it’s no factor, because once you’re in the car, why, it doesn’t make any difference if you drive one mile or two miles. Another unusual thing that happened here in 1949, we did not have a movie in town. A young couple here by the name of-oh, I can’t think of it. Anyhow, they decided they were going to start a movie house in town, and they sent out a number of postcards. I don’t know how many, and the postcard read something like this: “Would you like to have a movie in Mt. Prospect?” And, of course, everybody wrote down yes. So with that small amount of information, they decided to build a movie house here in town, which was built in 1950, and I still have the original opening night program.
OBERLEY: Do you remember what the movie was?
KEEFER: No, I don’t. No, I don’t. This happened to be at the time when TV was coming into its own. The movie was a disaster. The movie house never did get their feet on the ground because, number one, they had no parking. They didn’t have a single parking spot there for the movie house, and TV was coming in full blast. They’d say, you know, why should I go to a movie house when I can watch TV for nothing. It was a disaster from the very beginning, unfortunately. I felt so sorry for these people because the movie just didn’t cut the mustard.
OBERLEY: It just didn’t take off.
KEEFER: It didn’t take off. No, it didn’t.
OBERLEY: Well, just as a final question, because you’ve been great talking here all afternoon, just one final question. Just your philosophy here. This I’m going to read off of a suggested sheet of questions. It’s probably the only one I’m taking verbatim.
KEEFER: Can you hold that off one second? [tape interrupted]
OBERLEY: Okay, if there’s one thing that you would want children to remember about the history of their hometown, what would it be?
KEEFER: What would it be? Well, I’ve been halfway around the world a couple of times, and, as I always say, “There’s no place like home.” The old saying used to be, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” I think home is where you grew up, and this is where you have your roots and you might go halfway around the world, but still you’re going to appreciate your own hometown more than anything because you were part of it and you grew up there and you made the community go by being involved in it. This is where your friends are. A lot of times I think of moving away, but really my friends are right here in Mt. Prospect and this is where I’d like to spend my remaining days.
OBERLEY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Keefer, and we appreciate this interview. Be it so humble, there’s no place like home here in Mt. Prospect. Thank you.