The "M" in F & M Publishers of the Recipes for Living is Mickey Thomas, whose life story appeared in the first book, 1996. He has recently become a featured columnist in the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune with his "Tales from the Aisles"-recollections of his years at Robinson's store. He has given permission to use them. Readers have responded positively to being reminded of the way life used to be, which is vastly different from life today. Douglas Alan Walrath, in his book Frameworks, wrote about the events that many of Mickey's readers lived through: the Depression, W.W.II, the bomb dropped on Japan, the Civil Rights Movement, the killing of Martin Luther King, J. F. and Robert Kennedy, the Korean and Vietnam wars. The point is that all these were not simply events and situations. Each one had a profound effect on the culture and all who lived within it.

Closer home and more recently, Mickey wrote of changes since he and Betty came to Osceola in 1955. In one article, he mentioned that the town of Leslie disappeared when Interstate 35 was developed. The creation of highways and interstates increased the convenience of travel and people could drive to larger centers for their grocery, clothing, and other needs. Small town businesses, that formerly served a radius of six to ten miles, and which also were gathering places for visiting, could not compete and boarded up their windows.

Another factor was school consolidation and the closing of rural schools, which at one time provided a neighborhood center, a facility where each child had an opportunity to participate in all facets of education, including games and performances. Ones who have shared stories of those years, have told of games they played, many unknown to children now.

The economy created another factor, the demise of the small family farm, which could no longer provide the family's needs. Some have told in their stories that they learned responsibility and a work ethic as they participated by having chores. Additionally, the psychological effects of failure often led to desperate measures that contributed to divorce, single parents, abuse, addiction, and child-neglect, because, in order to supplement income, other employment was sought by one or both parents. Were respect and discipline adversely affected?

Increased availability of opportunities, including higher education, led young people to vacate the area. Families scattered. Many children do not have a close acquaintance with grandparents, and both are the poorer for it. Additionally, the senior population, many on meager incomes, have been left to maintain churches and other institutions.

Was the "Me Generation" the result of some parents, who had lived during the Depression, lavishing "things" on the children to guard against their feeling deprived as they had been? Did the children watch as parents denied themselves pleasures to save for the possible "rainy day," and determine they were not going to follow suit? Did that contribute to the "throw away society" and the credit card dilemma faced by many? During the war, forecasters promised a push-button era, but the appliances have not increased leisure time and computers have not simplified office work or home life.

In the days of which Mickey writes, "going to town," especially on Saturday nights, or to church on Sunday, were events. The appropriate attire for church was suits and ties for men, hats and gloves for women. Mickey alluded to a change when he wrote about the more casual dress of today.


1 Subtitle: Patterns of Living and Believing Today, Pilgrim Press, New York, 1987


It is appropriate in this book which features the lives of United Methodists, to begin with the story of the late Rich Robinson, whose will included a large bequest that enhanced the Osceola Methodist Church Foundation. Mickey wrote:

Clarke County has had many wealthy citizens. Few if any have had a desire to share their wealth with the community as did R.A. Robinson.

Richard A. Robinson preferred to be called Rich Robinson. However, he will always be Mr. Robinson to his employees.

He was born in Cedar Falls in 1904. His father was a merchant who later moved his business to Lincoln, Nebraska. Although Rich Robinson's family was wealthy, he had to make it on his own.

Richard Robinson started a variety store, known in those days as a five and dime store, on the east side of the Osceola square in 1933, where "High Expectations" is now located. This was in the depths of the Great Depression In time he acquired a drug store, hardware store, dry goods store, and an apparel store.

Initially these were separate outlets in various locations on the east side of the square on Main Street.  Later the businesses were consolidated into adjoining buildings at their present location, known as Robinsons. Arch­ ways were made through the walls of the adjoining buildings.  A split level addition was constructed across the east end of all the buildings.

Besides making money, Rich Robinsons' interests were boating, swimming, and travel. He traveled extensively on the great ocean luxury liners of the world. He once owned a boat building business in Osceola. Most weekends he could be found on his 30 foot cruiser on the Mississippi River. At one time he owned a boating marina at Naples, Florida, where he spent his winters. Rich Robinson always wore a suit and tie to work. In cold weather he wore a cashmere London Fog top coat. After many years he bought a new identical coat. He gave the extra coat to the church rummage sale. Upon returning home he discovered that he had given away his new coat. He rushed back to the church, but it was too late. Someone had found a bargain.

As I mentioned earlier, Rich Robinson was a self made business success. However, in mid-life he inherited a sizable estate.  He made brilliant investments in young growing companies like 3M, IBM, Xerox, etc.  The success of these investments propelled him into the banking business.  In 1963 he acquired controlling interest in Clarke County State Bank.

Back to his generosity: Many years ago Rich Robinson funded the swimming program at East Lake. In 1954 he built Osceola's first swimming pool. In 1980, when a second pool was needed, he provided the majority of funds, $80,000.  These pools were named Robinson Community Pool.

Richard A. Robinson died in 1988. He had written many wills, several written after he became incompetent. His adopted son, Craig Robinson, prevailed in having the court accept an earlier will. This will, after giving several small bequests, established a life-time trust whereby Craig would receive the income from the estate during his lifetime. Upon Craig's death, the principal of the estate would be equally divided between five beneficiaries ­ Clarke County Hospital, Osceola United Methodist Church, Southern Iowa Council of Boy Scouts, Simpson College, and the University of Nebraska.

Craig Robinson was successful in getting the above beneficiaries to accept a lesser amount if they would agree to immediate settlement. The amount was approximately $170,000 each. The remainder, or the bulk of the large estate, going at once directly to Craig Robinson.

The lesson to be learned is that if you want assurance that gifts of your estate are given according to your wishes, make them during your lifetime. Rich Robinson's philanthropy was not fully appreciated. This is difficult to understand. He was a fierce but honest competitor. There was probably jealousy of his financial success and suspicion that his motivation for  contributing was that it provided him a tax benefit.

Richard A. Robinson is remembered at the Clarke County Hospital by a memorial plaque which bears his likeness. I would hope that Osceola's new aquatic center will find some way to memorialize his contributions to Osceola's early swimming programs.

On the subject of changes in locations on the square, Mickey shared the following:

In past decades we had three shoe outlets on  the East Side of the square. J.C. Penney was located in the building now occupied by Redman's Pizza and Steak House. Moore's Shoes was in the Kustom Kraft location. Miller Shoes were where Marc E's Gold Boutique is situated.

The J.C. Penney store was destroyed in the fire of 1973. Miller Shoes went out of business. Moore Shoes became Burgus Shoes, which later sold to Haines Footwear which operated for a few years. Then there became a void in the downtown shoe business. We were not enthused about the shoe business, but we felt an obligation to carry footwear.

One day while I was walking the aisles of the shoe department, I noticed that we only had two black tennis shoes left, both for the left foot. I thought whoever had purchased the two shoes for the right foot would return them. Several weeks went by without the right shoes being returned. One day a staff member noticed  a mother with her son who was wearing two tennis shoes for the right foot. I was not surprised when I recognized who they were. I quickly found the two tennis shoes for the left foot. I showed them to the mother and gave her a price she could not refuse.

In the middle 1900s, before the construction of the Clarke County Hospital, there were three prominent doctors in Osceola- Dr. Harken, Dr. Stroy, and Dr. Dean, each with their own facility. Dr. Stray's hospital, long since demolished, stood where the Querrey car lot is located in the 200 block of South Fillmore, with Dr. Harken's hospital across the alley on the same side of the street. Dr. Dean's house is being preserved at 139 North Main Street. Dr. Harken had a reason to compile his life story in 1948 and with permission of the Clarke County Historical Society, it is included in this book. Mickey has written about Dr. Dean:

It was a chance of fate that brought Dr. W. F. Dean to our area in 1894. He was in route to Ames, Iowa, when a train delay forced him to stay overnight in New Virginia. The news that a doctor was in town brought a call to deliver a baby.  Realizing that there was a need for a doctor, he set up a local practice. He moved to Osceola in 1905, when he married Josephine Miller of Osceola.

When Betty and I first came to Osceola in 1955, we rented a home from Dr. Dean at 311 West Cass Street. I remember the home well because it had a coal burning furnace.  Our coal was delivered by City Fuel which was located at the site now occupied by Alley Bowl Center. As a tenant my contacts were with Mamie Diehl, Doctor Dean's office manager and nurse for more than 33 years.

Doctor Dean was very well educated. After teaching school for three years he entered Pharmacy College.  Following graduation he operated a drug store. Seeking more knowledge he attended the Keokuk Medical College.  He received his Doctor's Degree from Vanderbilt University and interned at Nashville and Chicago.

As a very busy practitioner, Doctor Dean was extremely active in community service. Our early paving and sewer projects occurred during his tenure as Osceola Mayor. He is credited with the routing of U.S. Highways 34 and 69 through Osceola. He was a School Board member, Chairman of the Clarke County Republican Party, charter member of the Osceola Lions Club, advanced degree Mason and recipient of the Community Service Award.

On Dr. Dean's 100th birthday on April 3,1961, more than 300 persons visited his home and office with the distinctive tall white columns at 139 North Main Street, including Ray Dickison, who had been the baby DoctorDean delivered at New Virginia in 1894. Doctor Dean at this advanced age was still seeing patients on Mondays and Fridays. He was  acknowledged as the oldest living practitioner in Iowa. He was also honored as the oldest living member of Lions and Masons in Iowa.

Doctor  Dean is  remembered for his pioneering development of ointments and treatments to assist healing and preventinginfections.

My neighbor, Don Lynn, remembers that as a teenager in 1945, his wrist and hand were severely burned from a gasoline explosion. Doctor Dean repeatedly applied his famous salve to Don's injury over a six-month period. Amazingly, no scars remain from the accident. Doctor Dean's Salve is still available at Osceola Drug Store.

Osceola was known in the mid-century just past for at least two breeders and trainers of Palomino horses. One was dentist, Dr. E. W. Paul, whom Mickey referred to as one of Osceola's most visible citizens. "Wearing an elaborate costume, he rode a Palomino horse with a decorated silver saddle draped with glittering trappings in many Rose Bowl parades. One of Dr. Paul's clients was movie and television star, Roy Rogers." The other was Austin Smith, about whom Mickey wrote (slightly altered):

Austin Smith is remembered by (his grand­ children) as "a very gentle man" and "very humble."  These are their memories of this nationally known trainer and showman of dressage horses, which are horses that perform under inconspicuous control of the rider.

Austin  Smith's American Saddle Bred dressage horses were trained to high-step, kneel, march, sit, stand on two legs, and dance. They could Spanish trot, and trot in place. (Many of his horses) were headline performers at the major horse shows throughout the country. His '"Lucky Strike" performed for Ringling Brothers Circus for two years including performances at Madison Square Garden...

Austin Smith became one of the nation's most sought after trainers. He turned down an offer to go to California to work for movie and television star Roy Rogers.  (His) performing horses were featured on television and Fox Movie Tone. Austin Smith was named to the coveted Iowa State Fair Horseman's Hall of Fame in 1962...An article in the Des Moines Register quoted (him) as saying, "The strongest tool in training is the kindly word and a pat. Horses, like children, have different dispositions. It does no good to beat a child for something it doesn't understand.  The main problem is getting across to the horse what you want it to do."

Mickey began working at Robinson's store in October, 1955. They were having an anniversary sale and some of the specials were "3 for 10¢ candy bars, 29¢ a pound for chocolate peanut clusters, 9¢ coffee mugs, 3 for $1 tea towels, 99¢ ladies' blouses and men's chambray work shirts. Check gingham was two yards for $1." Of course, family incomes were accordingly lower. Mickey told in his life story in the 1996 Recipes for Living that his training as a salesman was from going door to door in his home town of Iowa City, first selling vegetables from his parents' gardens, later selling Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, and Liberty magazines.

Many of Mickey's articles reflect life in rural Iowa at the time he came to Osceola. Before the days of "canned entertainment," people created their own. Mickey told in his article of May 9, 2002 about Lewis Springs, which was developed in 1928 by brothers Pete and Ray Lewis near the town of Leslie. Leslie vanished with the construction of Interstate 35. Many readers will recognize 1928 as a year during the Great Depression.

Lewis Springs (was) a popular swimming area...Using a team of horses pulling a dirt scraper bucket, (the brothers) made an earthen dam surrounding the deepest and largest springs in Clarke County. Initially swimming fees at Lewis Springs were 25¢ a truckload. When parking became uncontrollable, the fee was changed to 10¢ a person. People came from many towns and adjoining counties. Receipts on a busy day would be $50-500 swimmers @ 10¢ a person...  (There would be homemade ice cream and soda pop at the refreshment stand. The pop was bottled at the Jewell Bottling Works in Osceola.)  Lewis Springs had 20 picnic tables, a miniature golf course, and a nearby baseball field.(It) was open seven days a week including evenings. Although there was no rural electricity in those days, a gas generator crafted by Joe and Otho Griffin powered the lights and refreshment stand...The Lewis family operated Lewis Springs until 1940.

Another of the sources of entertainment in those days was dancing - ballroom dancing to the big bands, round and square dances. Mickey organized square dance clubs and called for them. He tells in his own story that his stuttering was normally so evident that he became a guinea pig at the speech department at the University of Iowa and, based on his progress, a pamphlet was published about him. It became one of the leading written works on the subject of stuttering, which gave him no trouble as he called square dances.

For many years, according to Mickey, some of Osceola's businessmen had a "Liar's Club," a poker club, which met in a room on the second floor "above the aisles." It is now as it was - the seven-man poker table, bar, Frigidaire refrigerator, oil heating stove, restroom, and the "girlie" pictures are still on the wall. Mickey told one "poker" story about a local man who weighed about 300 pounds. One night, after an evening of poker and beverages, Jim passed out on his way to his car. The three buddies were unable to lift him and "to solve their big dilemma they called the Webster Funeral Home (now Kales) and had the hearse take Jim home. This fancy taxi cost big Jim $30, about 10¢ a pound. A lot of money in those days."

Under the headline, "Remembering former long-time Osceola Mayor Jack Jeffreys," Mickey wrote:

Jack Jeffreys was Osceola's most famous bachelor.  He was also mayor for 12 years. His tenure as mayor set the standards by which his successors are judged.

Jack had a daily route around the city to places where he could get a free hand out of coffee and snacks. We all looked forward to his visits. He liked the ladies and enjoyed telling about his romantic adventures.

Jack also liked to have his picture in the newspapers. One week, as mayor, his picture was on the front page of both local papers - the Sentinel and the Tribune.

I wrote a letter to the editor: "I wish to warn you that it may be hazardous to the mental health of the community to have Jack Jeffreys' picture on the front page of both papers in the same week."

The next edition contained the following rebuttal: "M-M-Mickey ma-ma-may be right. Jack Jeffreys."

Jack Jeffreys died in 1979  from  a car accident while returning from a wedding for a daughter of a former girl friend.  It was a terrible tragedy and a great loss to the Osceola community. To this day many like myself still grieve his loss.

The Osceola city election ballots had been printed prior to the accident. Bob Toland and Eddy Saylor came to the store and asked me to be the sole signer of a letter of endorsement for  election  of Jack Jeffreys  for mayor. Their purpose was not just to get a win for"Old Jack," but by winning, the Council could choose the best qualified person to lead the community.

I wrote Jack's tennis buddy Walt Shotwell, columnist for the Des Moines Register, and explained about the election.  Shotwell's column was entitled, "Dead man's name on Osceola ballots."  Among many deserving comments, he stated that Jack had been mayor of Osceola longer than Rob Ray, another tennis buddy, had been Governor of Iowa. He also mentioned my name as an information source.

Soon television crews were in the aisles of Robinson's interviewing me. Somehow they were able to erase most of the stutters.

Jack lost a close election. Had he won, the story was set for national news release.

Joe Reynolds and I requested the City Council to rename Highland Drive, Jeffrey's Drive.

A noticeable difference between then and now seems to be that in those days there was more laughter, less tension. There was a great deal of original humor concocted by "friends." Jerry Kelly seemed to be the unfortunate victim of several practical jokers:

(There was a time) when Jerry was waging war against the coyotes that were killing his lambs. Kenny Kemp, former area veterinarian, while a student at Iowa State, obtained a page of official Iowa State stationary. Using the letterhead, Kenny Kemp typed a letter to Jerry Kelly stating that Jerry's farm, because of the rolling hills and woodlands, had been selected as an area to raise coyotes. To this letter, Kenny signed a fictitious name of an Iowa State professor.

Jerry became furious and phoned Iowa State repeatedly trying to locate "the professor." In fact, his wife Eva, who knew of the hoax but never had the nerve to tell her husband, said that Jerry spent over $50 in long distance calls trying to find that professor.

To retaliate, after Mickey had played a joke on Jerry, on the next Halloween Mickey found a huge round hay bale blocking his driveway.

Two more who tried to one-up the other were Stack Samuelson, publisher of the Osceola Sentinel, and former resident, Bob Toland, manager of Iowa Southern Utilities. It began when Bob received a new company car. Bob was required periodically to report his mileage to company headquarters. Stack began secretly adding gasoline to Bob's gas tank. Bob became ecstatic about the great mileage his car was getting. When Bob's car reached 90 miles a gallon, Stack began siphoning out gasoline. This continued until the gauge registered less than 20 miles per gallon, and Bob was greatly disturbed. It was then Stack admitted what he had been doing.

Bayard Shadley, pharmacist and former owner of Osceola Drug, was a neighbor when I lived on Adams Street.  Shad, as he was known, frequented the aisles of Robinsons, especially after he sold his business to Roger Kentner in 1985. Shad loved to work in his flower garden and purchased many supplies.

Years ago,  Osceola Drug had a soda fountain as did the other two drug stores. A man whom I will call Wilber, frequented Shad's soda fountain.

Wilber's appearance and mannerisms were repulsive. He would drink the remainder of ice cream malts left in customers' glasses. One day Shad boiled over and he said, "Damn it, Wilber, you can't do that! If you want a malt, I'll give you one. Get out!"

Several days later, Wilber returned and asked Shad, "Did you really mean it when you said you would give me a free malt?"

"Sure," said Shad as he proceeded to make Wilber a chocolate malt heavily laced with Ex-Lax. Wilber never returned.

Shad had always been involved in community affairs - fire chief, city council, water board, etc., but after he married Neva, and he retired, he devoted himself full time to community service. He served as mayor of Osceola for four years.



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