Bucktown Then and Now – What A Ride! Part II

by Van Young

Part Two of What A Ride!

Feel free to go back to our 10th issue if you haven’t read Part One of What A Ride!

Our little town provided a strong “What to do” menu. Our location near several lakes meant some good fishing, swimming, or just fine sandy beaches. A few miles west of our town, Clear Lake beckoned. We formed some friendly groups for taking trips to Lake Michigan and Tower Hill. Our railroad trains could put us in Chicago in a little over two hours. South Bend also had an electric train going onto Chicago. Notre Dame offered good sports. South Bend offered shopping at Robertsons plus Gilberts Cothing. Silver Beachs sandy beach and fishing pier gave us another place to swim or sun our-selves as well as a fine place to fish from the pier. A few miles north of Buchanan on Red Bud we had a special attraction: Bear Cave. We never saw a bear but there were plenty of critters running around in there! Another thing that was neat in our little town was the number of home grocery stores like Treet’s on 4th Street, Mc Gowen’s on front street plus maybe 4 to 6 more of which I can’t remember. The IGA grocery, Stibbs 5&10 cent store, the Hi-Grade gas station up by the rail road tracks. Job’s for everyone, Clarks, Buchanan Steel, Electro Voice, Studebaker and Bendix over in South Bend. Every year there was the Berrien County Fair where many of our farm kids showed their animals. These are just a few memories that come to mind. 

But…we didn’t have to drive outside of Buchanan. The town had some fine restaurants and bars: a very busy Fabianos, as well as Sonny’s, Riley’s and news depot next to the Michigan Bell office, Louie’s, Marzita’s, Kenny Gills specialty on sandwitches, Snyders of Main street, the Tastee Freeze on the point at Front and Rynearson streets then Smokeys up on the hill towads Niles. Best Root Beer ever. Oh, Carbon’s pancake business on North Red Bud trail. Mr. Carbon would have open house on Saturday nights (free pancakes). Across the street from the town library, the young folks had a new building, now empty, with Maude Slate in charge. We played basketball, pool, badminton, ping pong, along with cards and chess. We usually could find a Saturday night dance held at the center with the Don Boyer Dance Band. Don’s Dixieland band was a crowd pleaser as well, usually on Sunday afternoons at various locations. 

I had some fine teachers, beginning with third grade. We actually began writing sentences and paragraphs for Ms. Houston. Her husband was a motorcycle courier when we were fighting the Germans. On her desk, she kept his picture with him on his cycle. We all told her she had a good-looking husband! In Ms. Fuller’s fourth grade class, 11 remember spending a couple of weeks studying Eskimos! Ms. Van Avery, our fifth-grade teacher introduced us to some good poetry and then asked us to write a poem. I knocked off one 1 called “Flippy the Whale.” One day when I was sick at home, she read it to the class. When I returned, I spent most of the morning recess letting some of my “friends” know I wasn’t a sissy for writing poetry! Mr. Bailey gave me a “three day pass” for that action. He tried to keep the little ones from hurting one another. 

All of the elementary classes were housed in the first floor of the high school and the second floor housed the high school students. I can remember several teachers who were excellent. Duke Elbers, our government teacher, not only taught us but also advised us; e.g. “Buy land in Michigan along Lake Michigan. They’ll double and triple in price over the next few years.” It did, but Duke was the only one to make money off the investment. 

As mentioned earlier, most of us loved our school. I did but I came very close to not graduating. I turned into a teen-monster in my senior year. I began the year with six classes but ended it with two. In family living, Stanley Stromswald didn’t appreciate my response to his brief discussion. When he finished, I told him I thought I knew more about it than he did. One class down. My senior English teacher’s class met first hour and I invariably fell asleep during class…sitting in the back row. She said I was wasting my time. Second class down. Coach Miller’s replacement taught gym class. Third class down. Mr. Heesen, my algebra class teacher, saw almost immediately that I wasn’t into algebra. The fourth class down. I wound up with four study halls and two classes: English and band. In May of my senior year, Mr. Bailey called me in to tell me I was a quarter of a credit short of graduation. We both thought for a few minutes, then he said, “You’re in the National Guard! Right? Do you do physical training there? I gave him a quick “yes!” Most of the NG physical workouts occurred after the meeting. I did graduate! In fact, I became an English teacher and taught both at the high school level and college. When I received an award for Indiana’s Teacher of the Year, I sent a copy of it to Mr. Bailey who shared it with the faculty. Some didn’t believe it. 

On January 20, 1955, along with John Schmidt, we climbed on a train in Niles and headed to Detroit to the enlistment office. John and I were entering the U.S. Army! We were told that we could use the “buddy” system to stay together for the three-year enlistment. When we reached Ft. Leonard Wood, several hundred of us found out some of us would do basic training in Texas. When they called names for Texas, they included John. I guess the buddy system worked for the train ride only. When we were discharged in 1957, I found John at the Hollywood theater, siting with a date. He told her he’d give her a call and John and I then managed to spend a few hours catching up. Years later, John died in a Niles house fire. I believe small town folks where everybody knows everyone, when someone passes they are truly missed. 

There’s more to what makes a great town but I’ve covered the essentials, think. Buchanan recently received news that they were picked as one of the best small towns in the country. Ive previewed what I think made the 1940’s Buchanan “the place to live”. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who still love living there. Much of what I said earlier about the ’40’s holds true for today as well. I still call Buchanan my home town but when I received notice that five buildings in Buchanan are making and selling drugs, that hurt. I know the state made some drugs legal in Michigan. The state pays out a lot of the tax money to Buchanan. I was told it came to $80,000 so far. I also know a lot of the money that supported the city government came from companies that no longer exist. I had my run with alcohol and tobacco but that stopped once I realized how stupid it is to do those things. My brother convinced me to quit while he was on his death bed. He believed his illness was as result of smoking. He was in his early ’40’s! 

I still enjoy coming down the hill on the Niles-Buchanan road where I can see the downtown. That view has remained almost the same over the decades. Some things just won’t go away but my found memories do help. I believe Buchanan has changed but as I’ve told my friends “the only thing that doesn’t change is change!” ~ Van Young


*The Buchanan Chronicle wishes to provide a venue for guest writers to be showcased. We may edit but only for typos, language, or length; as we desire to present submissions as received.*

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