The good ole days
Editor’s Note: As the days draw closer to the celebration of Le Mars 150 years of existence, the Daily Sentinel will highlight personal stories of some of the town’s residents, as well as the community’s longest-standing business and downtown building.
In the first of the four part series, Rich and Jane Schultz share their recollections and fondest memories of the town they have called home most of their lives.
LE MARS — Rich and Jane Schultz love their hometown.
Both came to Le Mars at the age of three, Jane from Sioux City and Rich from a farm west of Le Mars.
And while they were away for nearly 20 years, they returned in 1977 to the place they still call home.
Jane attended Central School from elementary through high school, while Rich attended the “old” Clark School on Clark Street.
“They tore that down and I went to Central for a couple of years. They opened Franklin and Clark Elementary schools in 1939,” Rich said. “Those buildings, brand new, cost $52,000 each.”
Living on the north end of Le Mars, Rich remembered Tourist Park, an area close to the Floyd River.
“Clark Street used to be Highway 75 coming into town. You can see the old bridges in the area around the Erdman home. There are three bridges there yet,” he said.
He explained Tourist Park was just over the bridge. There’s still a building there.
“My dad, when we moved to town, used to take milk down to sell when the gypsies came through once a year and camped there,” Rich said.
He also recalled an outfit called The Sweet Show.
“They would come with a big tent and put on really high production programs, five nights in a row, five different plays,” he said. The tents would be set up east of the Erdman house.
“That’s reaching back a long way,” he added.
In high school, the couple was in band, Jane on flute and Rich on baritone. He also sometimes filled in with baritone saxophone, trombone and tuba when needed.
He played in the city band, with concerts held in Foster Park at the old bandstand.
“We must have played 10-15 concerts, starting in the spring and went almost until school started,” he said.
“Concerts started at 8 p.m., and it was dark at that time, no Daylight Saving Time,” Jane added. People would walk around the square while the band was playing, or through the diagonal. They would honk after every song.
Growing up in Le Mars, the two recalled Saturday nights in downtown, and activities that kept them busy.
“A guy named Pinky Brody had a little cart and he had all kinds of ice cream and candy bars. He did every band concert,” Rich added.
“Then the city fathers tried to kill the band. They tore the bandstand down, the fountain, the Carolina Terrace, and the amphitheater at the park. We had the oldest piece of cement west of the Mississippi and we celebrated that once, and they blacktopped it,” Rich said.
During one summer, Jane worked at Fairmont Ice Cream Parlor, which was located across the street from the Royal Theater.
Going downtown on Saturday night was a big thing, the couple recalled.
They said there were three shoe stores, three men’s clothing stores, “and I don’t know how many women’s stores,” Rich said.
“Three bakerys, two children’s stores, and two theaters,” Jane added.
The streets got crowded, too.
“We had a goofy thing in downtown. All the farmers came into town on Saturday night and parked on Central and then there wasn’t enough room, so people would park on the street behind them,” Rich said. “So if you were parked there and wanted to get out, you would get into that guy’s car and drive it ahead so you could back out.”
“You’d leave your keys in the car. That tells you a lot doesn’t it,” Jane added.
“And nobody locked their house. Never locked anything. It never occurred to us,” Rich said.
They chuckled as they recalled the night they went to the movies, came out and Rich couldn’t find his car.
They asked the girl who sold tickets at the theater, and she told them, “Charlie has your car. He had to go pick up his girlfriend. He’ll be right back.”
Rich was 17 when he spent a summer in California, working for 80 cents an hour. That was more than the $12 he earned working 5 1/2 days a week at a car body shop in Le Mars.
He came back to Le Mars and purchased a 1931 Pontiac for $85 from the Pews dealership.
Later, he was able to obtain a 1938 Packard Super 8 which had been owned by Charlie Flaugher.
“He bought it new for $6,000 in 1938. It got about six miles to the gallon,” Rich said.
With World War II raging, gas rationing allowed three gallons of gas a week.
“The Packard got about six miles to a gallon, so you can imagine how far we went on three gallons of gas a week,” Rich laughed. “It was a beautiful car. Today that car is probably worth $80,000.”
Jane graduated from Le Mars High School in 1945 and Rich in 1946. They will be married 71 years in August.
They also remember going to the municipal park sandpit, swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
“Life was pretty simple then. It pretty much revolved around the school and the church,” Rich said.
Rich admits his family was poor.
“It’s amazing how little money you really need,” he said. “It was a simple life, but it was pretty darn nice.”
In the mid-1950s, the couple moved so Rich could attend college. He graduated from Iowa State University and they moved to Davenport, where they lived until 1977 when they returned to Le Mars.
During those years, Jane raised the family and continued to pursue her passion of watercolor painting.
When they returned to Le Mars, the park sandpit and the now famous Round Barn were two of the first paintings she did.
In the 20 years they were gone, there were some dramatic changes.
One was the number of houses that had been built.
“When we grew up, the town was about 5,000,” Rich said.
“I think it was 5,600,” Jane added. “It blows my mind that we don’t even hit 10,000. Someone’s not counting right. All these houses.”
The couple said they enjoy being in Le Mars.
“It’s a nice size town. I know young people like the city life, but it’s no fun stopping at stoplights like we did in Davenport,” Jane said.
“Yes, life was pretty good back there, we had a lot of stuff going on,” Rich concluded.