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John C. Opfer


Posted By: Reid R. Johnson (email)
Date: 3/23/2014 at 03:03:31

source: Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2 April 1950

Fifty Years a Druggist.

At 73 Years of Age, John Opfer is Going Strong.

Waukon -- Congratulations are in order here for John C. Opfer who, at the age of 73 years, is rounding out his first 50 years of service as a druggist. If you know John Opfer, you understand that remark about his "first" 50 years. His appearance belies his age -- and his record of service to the profession into which he was graduated in 1900 from the University of Iowa.

Opfer believes that he is the first Allamakee county pharmacist to be graduated from the SUI college of pharmacy. Most of the would-be-pharmacists of his day "bucked the board at Des Moines." Explaining that, the Waukon man will tell you that pharmacists of an earlier period usually learned their profession in someone's store, then took the state examinations for their registration certificates.

Born in Waukon, and one of 12 children of Mr. and Mrs. S. H. Opfer, the Waukon druggist has spent most of his life in this city -- including 48 of his 50 professional years.

His store, now known as Sullivan's, has filled a half-million prescriptions and refills in those 48 years, and it's a particularly safe bet that John Opfer's own steady hands have prepared a generous three-fourths of them.

After grade and high school days in Waukon, Opfer spent a year attending the Nora Springs seminary, Nora Springs, Ia., and then a year at Mission House college, Sheboygan, Wis., where he studied German grammar along with his other subjects.

It was approaching 1898 when he got to the University of Iowa and that year and the year 1899 were spent in his studies there for his profession.

Graduated in 1900, he first went to work at Ottumwa for the L. C. Horner Company. There he remembers, he earned "good money" -- but the hours were long. The "good money" was about $65 a month. The long hours amounted to beginning his work at 7 a.m. and finishing at midnight.

From Ottumwa he went to Princeton, Ill., and there spent about six months.

In 1902 he came back to his hometown of Waukon and opened the drug store in the same building in which his father had operated a hardware store for 18 years. Even in 1902, Opfer had a soda fountain in his drug store; and he made the ice cream for his trade right in the basement of the building.

The big changes that have come in the business since those early days, Opfer says, include:

1.) The increase that has come in the number of drug items a store carries -- because so many drugs are already compounded when the druggist receives them. Then, too, there are the scores of new drugs which have come to light in recent years.

2.) People have, according to Opfer, become "drug-minded," probably as an outgrowth of the war days and because of the aforesaid new drugs, cures from some of which have been almost miracles.

3.) People today simply have more money with which to buy drugs than they had in earlier days.

The veteran Waukon druggist recalls some pretty busy -- and at the same time sorrowful -- times in his profession. An influenza epidemic, for instance, took its toll in the community and Mr. Opfer had to stand his ground alone -- because his two clerks both became ill with the "flu."

Although Opfer's store today carries many items which once did not belong in drug stocks, he no longer carries one line which drug stores often sold and frequently didn't like -- wallpaper and paint, "I don't know how we ever got into that business" Opfer will tell you. "I was just one of those things. There was a demand for the goods and there weren't any wallpaper and paint stores in Waukon."

His 50 years of hard work haven't left Opfer much time for outside activities, although he has served on the city council, is a member of the Masonic lodge, the Reformed church and qualifies easily as an unofficial booster for the city of Waukon...."It's always been a good business town." he'll tell you without reservation.

Opfer never has been one for hunting or fishing. But he did have a hobby and still has an interest in it -- harness horses. He owned some of his own, at one time, although he never raced them.

Six years ago, Opfer sold his store to F. J. Sullivan, who had worked for Opfer for 24 years. But the veteran druggist continues associating with the store and spends about five hours a day on the job there. Despite some serious illnesses in recent years, he appears in good health today. His quick, nimble step and his ready smile are known all over Waukon to the hundreds who, with their families, have been his customers and friends for many years.

His family gets more of his time these days. One sister, Miss Minnie Opfer, lives in Waukon as do Opfer's two daughters, Mrs. Howard Martin, wife of the Waukon funeral director, and Mrs. Aletha Harrison. The two granddaughters, Janet Harrison and Irene Harrison, both are students in the high school at Waukon.

Although he is past the 50-year-mark on his service record, John Opfer has no immediate plans for retirement. Not coming down to the store every day, even for a few hours, probably is a habit too difficult to break.

John C. Opfer obituary

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