A tribute to those who help preserve stories from the past

January 12, 2017

Jack Wasson , left, and his wife, Geneva, right, pose with collectibles from the Quality Dairy, which was once located at 1248 Lyon Street, Hannibal. It was Jack's grandparents, John W. and Clarissa Smith, who operated the dairy from the mid 1920s until 1949. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY/COURIER-POST

 

Note: This story was published in the Hannibal Courier-Post three years ago, on Jan. 11, 2014. Mary Margaret Smith shared memories of her parents' Hannibal business, the Quality Dairy located on Lyon Street in Hannibal, Mo. Geneva Wasson, Mary Margaret's daughter-in-law, facilitated the interview for me, a year prior to my retirement as editor of the Courier-Post. I am re-posting this story in honor of Geneva, who died this week at the age of 61, and of her family. While human existence is finite, memories, once written down,  linger ... Mary Lou

 

MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

The shoe factory whistle bellowed throughout the town, sounding out - for all to hear - the beginnings and endings of shifts for hundreds of Hannibal workers. 

When that whistle blared, Mary Margaret Smith, who was a Hannibal teenager in the 1940s, knew she'd better prepare for the swelling of workers who'd walk the few blocks during their break to the Quality Dairy - located on Lyon Street - which was owned by her father, John W. Smith. She stood behind the high raised glass counter and waited for the rush. "People would get off work and line up out the door," she said. "I can see it in my mind" Smith made the ice cream himself from milk he purchased from local dairy farmers, and from eggs his wife, Clarissa, collected from her chicken farm on West Ely Road. 

The flavorings were fresh, such as strawberries Clarissa grew herself. 

Mary Margaret, now 86 and living in Rancho, Cordova, Calif., spoke this week of her vivid memories of those grand days, via a telephone interview set up by her son and daughter-in-law in Hannibal, Jack and Geneva Wasson . 

Mary Margaret was 9 or 10 when the family moved to West Ely Road, in 1936 or 1937. "It was a tar-topped road," she said, and her father had "five acres. A creek ran down through the back. 

Mom raised chickens, and had an incubator in the basement. There was a long barn going down the side of the road on the left side of the house. 

"I worked at the creamery for a long time. Mom and I would wrap butter by hand in a little room at the back. Mom's little hands worked faster than mine," Mary Margaret said. 

She remembers Bill Fohey and Teddy Poore, who also worked there, along with "Hagood, the good looking one. He was quite a card. He cheered up the room." 

"The guys would see who could lift a can of milk over their head with one hand," she said. "You had to have muscles to work for a dairy." 

At the back side of the creamery, there were glass windows, where people could watch the bottling operation. The building had big back doors that opened to an alley off of Lemon Street. The trucks would back in there to deliver the milk. The dairy supplied milk for several neighborhood grocery stores, she said. 

Delivery was a big part of the business. A delivery runner would pick up the note from the customer's front porch, then run back to the truck to fill the order. 

"They would lay the money on the doorstep to pay for the milk. Nobody would bother it. Life was diff erent then," Mary Margaret said. 

Mary Margaret's parents drove her to Eugene Field School each morning, and then she walked to the dairy on Lyon Street after school, where she helped with whatever needed to be done at the family business. 

Her best friend in Hannibal was Lura Mae Pitts, who she stayed in contact with for many years. "Her father ran the 5 and dime on Market Street and my father ran the dairy. We got ice cream and candy whenever we wanted," Mary Margaret said, noting that their status made them both very popular with their peers. 

She met her first husband at the creamery. "Bob (Bolin) worked there during his high school years doing a route. I was doing books. He was a senior and I was a sophomore." 

Bob and Mary Margaret married in February of 1943, when she was just 15, and he was 18. "The military was grabbing all of the 18-year-olds," she said, and he was sent to Tacoma, Wash., to boot camp. "He went off to war, and I stayed at home with Mom and Dad until 1946. 

I saved all of my allotment checks," she said, so she and Bob had money to start their lives together after the war. 

"I didn't see too much of him until he came home from the war in 1946." In 1947, their daughter was born. 

Bob Bolin settled in to work at the dairy along side his father-in-law. 

Bob did the books, while Mary Margaret's brother, John Jr., helped his father with the production. 

The dairy business was booming in the postwar years, but a series of events would soon change the course of the family business. 

John Jr., drowned in 1946, which served as a great blow to his parents. 

Then, in 1950, Mary Margaret, her husband Bob and their young daughter were involved in a serious accident on Route MM near the Sky High Drive In. Bob and the daughter died in the accident, and Mary Margaret was so seriously injured that she had to have a plate put in her head. 

The drowning, followed by the accident, plus a trend away from bottled milk to more practical paper cartons, took a combined toll on her parents, who ultimately closed the dairy and went on to other business pursuits. 

'Miss Mary' helped raise Mary Margaret 

In a shack at the end of the five acres lived Mary Jenkins and her husband - "My father called him Ginco. He worked for Dad. She did our washing and helped raise me. 

She did our ironing in the basement, and I'd carry a meal down to her. 

Her son Albert and I dug potatoes together. That was her only child. Albert was shot and killed. Mary lived to be over 100." 

During her last visit to Hannibal in 1993, Mary Margaret visited with Mary Jenkins - by then known as "Miss Mary" Carter. "It was just like seeing my mother again," she said.

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