Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Old newspaper clippings tell the tale of a simpler time

Last week we learned, from a 1934 News-Herald clipping, that popular Willoughby delicatessen owner Fritz Reuter was shot down in a German zeppelin during the World War. (That was before it was called World War I.)
The lengthy account, written by Fritz and partially narrated by Art Hommel, described the hair-raising adventure of how Fritz, an officer in the German Imperial Navy, was shot down and then rescued by a submarine that managed to save only seven members of his crew. Eleven crew members were lost, along with their pet dog, “Schnaps.”
It was, in the words of Fritz, “very sad.”
There are far more details than I can go into here, but the important matter is that Fritz survived the ordeal, came to the United States, became an American citizen and adopted Willoughby as his home.
He and his wife, Lou, tried to live in peace and quiet at their modest home at 34 River St., but according to Art’s account, “Mr. Reuter has had too many hair-raising experiences to entirely escape the natural curiosities of his fellow men, and they have pried into his past life and brought forth a story of a remarkable adventure which, for the sake of accuracy, is penned by Mr. Reuter himself to in some way appease the inquisitiveness of his many Willoughby friends.”
Thus Fritz told the tale of his being shot down, rescued and his subsequent return to the peace and quiet he sought to find in his adopted country.
I told you a bit last week about his deli, where the “elites” of Willoughby, if I may use that term, gathered five days a week for lunch.
All of the sandwiches he served were cold cuts and cheese. Only the soup was cooked. So when one of the regulars brought in a friend for the first time to introduce him to the unique atmosphere, it was a common prank to tell the visitor to order a hamburger.
There was no such thing at Fritz’s. The order would elicit Fritz’s patented glare, which he was very good at, along with a response such as, “Quit wasting my time. What do you want?”
So someone would calm down the unhappy customer with a few soothing words, such as, “Why don’t you try the Wisconsin brick cheese on rye? It’s really good.”
By the way, I mentioned that the guest (the victim of the so-called humor involved in ordering a hamburger) was of the male gender because I don’t recall ever seeing a lady in the place other than Fritz’s wife, Lou, who served as soup-cooker and waitress, now known as a “server.”
Don Prindle, a city councilman at the time and one of the regulars, insisted the soup was so hot that it took at least two days to cook it to make it so hot.
Lou Reuter, who doubled at times as a house mother at what was at the time Andrews School for Girls and is now Andrews Osborne Academy, had an iron-clad rule against accepting tips for her service, dispensed in an aura of cheerfulness which eluded her husband.
Don’t get me wrong. Everybody loved Fritz. But to term his normal expression as dour would be to do him a kindness.
Anyway, if a stranger had the temerity to leave so much as a quarter on the table before leaving, Lou would run out the door and chase him halfway down the block to return it.
Fritz sold ice cream suckers, but they were the kind that were dispensed on an assembly line.
Fran Koster, across Erie Street at Koster’s Sweet Shop, made home-made ice cream suckers. He stamped the word “free” in green letters on about every ninth sucker stick.
Many of us liked to sit at the counter, watch him slice the ice cream and dip it into liquid chocolate.
It’s hard to describe how incredibly good they were.
Every so often, Fran would stamp “free” on a stick in red letters and make a single sucker from an entire pint of ice cream.
Here’s where Fritz Reuter came into the act. A few of us would get a hold of one of Fran’s ice cream sucker sticks, write the word “free” on it and take it across the street and present it to Fritz in the hope of obtaining one his manufactured ice cream suckers, free of charge.
Did I tell you that Fritz had no sense of humor? Well, he didn’t. So handing him a phony “free” sucker stick elicited nothing but outrage.
Margaret Hommel, Art’s widow, who still lives in Kirtland, sent me the lengthy News-Herald article about Fritz’s harrowing World War adventure.
She had a great many other News-Herald clippings, mostly from 1934, and they are fascinating.
At least, to me they are, as I am sure they would be to Don Lewis, whose knowledge of Downtown Willoughby is encyclopedic. It ranks right up there with Bob Meil’s knowledge of Downtown lore.
They both came by their store of information honestly. Don’s father ran the Wright Department Store across the street from Fritz’s, and Bob’s father owned Meil’s Department Store (or maybe it was called Meil’s Dry Goods) down the street.
One of these days we’ll talk about the rest of those old newspaper clippings which, fortunately, Margaret Hommel, saved for posterity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your article. Loved getting a free stick from Koster's and did sit on a stool to watch them made. Seems like their was something with the gumball machine, too. Don't know if you remember ordering a Gizmo to go with one of the outstanding hamburgers you could get at Koster's. Shopped at both Wright's and Meil's; was theire, a Simon's? I remember Hall's (I think Variety Shoppe) in the Cleveland Trust block; he still had the ball of string hanging from the ceiling. Kinter's was great for ice cream. We used to ask for the cardboard drums the ice cream came in for school projects; decorated one for a wastepaper basket. And we can't forget Toot's Pool Hall; name one kid who didn't peak through the little window to watch. Of course there was sticking a piece of gum on a stick and putting it down the grate on the sidewalk to try to catch a nickel or dime someone had dropped. So many more wonderful memories. Willoughby was a warm and friendly place for kids. We had to be in our yard by dark; but, it was a safe place for kids. Will look forward to future articles.

April 8, 2015 at 6:50 AM 

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