Leo Rice: Bread man’s route a representation of the times
Tim Rice is pictured in 1949, standing in front of his father’s bread truck. They lived on the steepest part of Grace Street. Notice St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in the background. Mr. Rice was working for Sultzman’s Bakery, and Holsum was the brand name for the bread he sold. Photo contributed by Tim Rice.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
A silver-haired man’s memories of a bygone era serve as the catalyst for today’s look back into the past. Tim Rice of Owatonna, Minn., a war-era son of Hannibal, Missouri, cherishes intricate details of the golden days of two-bedroom, one-bath frame houses, clustered shoulder to shoulder in neighborhoods carved out of Hannibal’s steep hillsides; of paperboys who climbed those same hills both winter and summer, delivering the daily news to neighbors who shared the common routine of reading that newspaper; when fathers went to work and mothers stayed at home to care for their children; and when many of those same fathers worked for one of Hannibal’s thriving wholesale bakeries - including Rupp, Zimmerman and Sultzman - which combined supplied the daily sustenance for Hannibal and its radius.
In Tim’s household, the breadwinner was in actuality a bread man, a daily deliverer of freshness to grocery stores from Hannibal on south to Silex and Elsberry.
Leo Rice and Margaret Smelser, both described by Tim Rice as “Stoutsville (Missouri) people,” began their life together in Hannibal in 1934, renting half of the historic “Green House” at 113 South Third. (Recently featured in this column.)
“Mom and Dad first lived there after they were married, and set up housekeeping there. Dad worked as a baker for Sultzman, right next door, so it was handy for him to go to work.”
Later, “he went out on his own, an independent contractor. He had his bread route, got bread from Sultzman and cakes and stuff like that. He maintained his own truck, that was their livelihood.”
Margaret Smelser of Stoutsville was a high school basketball standout nicknamed “Ricey,” recruited by nearby Monroe City for their competitive girls’ team.
Leo Rice, the son of Ben Rice of Monroe County, a railroader, lost his mother by the time he was 8, and was on his own, working for Sultzman’s bakery, by the time was 18.
Margaret and Leo married in 1934, and throughout their marriage their income was derived from Hannibal’s bakeries.
Owned and operated by Carl D. Sultzman, a second-generation baker, he took over business operations following his father’s death in 1905. He expanded the business to 113 South Third St., circa 1912.
Leo Rice worked for the Sulzman bakery, primarily as an independent salesman, through the 1930s and 1940s.
In the early 1950s, Leo Rice was approached to come to work for Zimmerman’s Bakery. He would maintain a bread route, like he did for Sultzman’s, but Zimmerman’s would supply and maintain repairs on the bread truck, where with his previous employer, that was Leo’s responsibility.
“Occasionally, (in the 1950s) I’d go with dad on the (Zimmerman) bread route. It was a treat. He got up out of bed at 2:30 in the morning and headed down to the bakery. He’d stop by Dixi Cream Donut Shop (1241-43) Market Street to pick up donuts, that was part of his route. He’d be in there getting donuts at 3:30; he’d pick up 10 or 20 dozen.
“His first stop was in Center, Mo., on highway 19, and he had keys to the store. He let himself in and arranged the bread rack, put fresh bread out and put donuts on the counter. In the cash register drawer, there was his money for the previous delivery. He would leave a bill for that delivery. He had a big leather wallet. There was no invoicing; whatever he wrote up on the ticket, all cash.
Then he’d go to Perry, and usually ended up in Bowling Green by 5:30 or 6 at the Moonwinks Cafe. He enjoyed going there; occasionally there would be wrestlers and they would be on their way back to St. Louis. They were a rough bunch. (When we drove up) you could tell when they were there. They had a ring that they traveled with. Not all the towns had rings, Hannibal, did. They could set it up; when they got done wresting they tore it down and headed back to St. Louis. I thought they hated one another, but they were all buddies. It was kind of an eye opener. It was all fake.
“As the day went on the stores were opened, so Dad didn’t have keys for those stores. He got down to Silex, Mo., he was getting quite a ways south, then he went to Elsberry, Frankford; so basically it was a long day, if he got home at 3:30 or 4. Thursday was always late, he picked up the stale bread and got credit from Zimmermans.”
As fate would have it, Leo Rice was struck down in the prime of his life. Bright’s disease, an infliction of the kidneys, slowed the steps of this tall and husky man, and in those days before dialysis, the diagnoses was grim.
“Basically, Dr. Greene told him to go home and get his affairs in order,” Tim said.
When her husband became ill, Margaret Rice trained as a licensed practical nurse. She went to work for St. Elizabeth’s hospital, and cared for the sick - in the hospital and for her husband at home - until death claimed Leo in 1959.
“By that time, she had had enough of caring for the sick,” Tim Rice said. “I was 13 at the time; my mom and I grew up together.”
She changed careers, training as a beautician, and ultimately operated her own shop, “Margaret’s Modern Beauty Shop” at 515 Broadway, until her own death in 1970.
Leo Rice, 1912-1959. Photo contributed by Tim Rice.
Leo and Margaret Rice began their marriage in this duplex, located at 113 S. Third St., Hannibal, Mo. Leo worked next door (the double brick building) at Sultzman’s Bakery. FILE PHOTO
Margaret “Ricey” Smelser, middle row, third from the left, was recruited from Stoutsville to play basketball for Monroe City. She married Leo Rice in 1934. Photo contributed by Tim Rice.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com