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If these walls could talk: 108 N. Main Street

March 2, 2011

This 1983 photo by STEVE McDANIEL shows Verl's barber shop in all its glory.

(Part 3 of a series) We continue our series of semi-regular journeys through Culver’s past as we look at the lives of historic buildings in the Culver area. For now, we’re strolling down Main Street’s east side in downtown Culver, making our way south.
This week we’re stopping in to see the Willhite family at 108 N. Main, today’s Gladie’s deli and catering (as of 2007), owned by Lee Willhite with assistance from his family, including Gladys, for whom the deli was named, of course. This is, today, the last building south on that block of Main Street, but it wasn’t always so, as we’ll discuss in our next installment.
This building truly has a storied history and has housed some of the most iconic and longest-lasting businesses in Culver. For Culverites of the first half of the 20th century (and a few years after), the building was the Easterday Funeral Home and (for part of its existence) furniture store. As reported in last week’s “If these walls could talk,” William Easterday actually launched his mortuary business in 1893 a few doors north, in a frame house located at what is today the northern section of the K of P building (that’s the one directly north of Gladie’s today, and home of JMC Engineering).
The site of 108 N. Main Street, which would eventually house Easterday’s business, was listed as the site of a grocery as of 1914. William S. Easterday, the founder, had moved the business to the brick building, certainly, by 1924, when it was remodeled and renovated. Easterday’s curriculum vitae in Culver could easily fill an article of its own (and no doubt will some day!), but suffice it to say he was deeply involved in Culver’s business, civic, church, and even educational life, in addition to his duties in the mortuary business (he abandoned the furniture side of his operation in 1923).
In fact, John Houghton a few years back dug up a 1907 Culver Citizen article detailing the fact that a keen demonstration of embalming techniques was on display for some time outside the Easterday business at that time, in the form of a dog, preserved in friendly greeting for passers-by, apparently not quite as odd a notion as it might seem to some today.
In 1933, William’s son, William R. Easterday moved to Culver from Plainfield, Indiana (where he’d been chief clerk of the Indiana Boys’ School). The two were partners in the funeral home until the elder Easterday passed away in 1946, after which son William R. continued the business in the same locale, later with the assistance of part-time staff members A. M. Romig and Charles Ferrier. William R. and his wife Hildreth occupied the second floor apartment above the mortuary until “Bill’s” retirement in 1962.
Two years earlier, in September of 1960, Jim and Rosalie Bonine had moved to Culver and began working with the funeral home. Their early years with the operation were recounted in great detail last summer in an extensive article in this newspaper, celebrating their 50th anniversary in Culver and as a married couple. Your editor, in fact, was chatting with Jim about the building last week, and he told me -- quite rightly so, I’m sure -- that he could fill me in on it in great detail. He mentioned a now non-existent door leading from the outside of the building to the basement mortuary, which actually extends, under the sidewalk, west all the way to the edge of Main Street. Inside the business, a large elevator was used to lower caskets into the basement and back.
Many in Culver will recall the “box” style sign (between 108 N. Main and the K of P building north of it) posting funeral notices, a concession, said Jim Bonine, to the fact that Culver had (and has) only a weekly newspaper. Understandably, local residents wanted to know funeral times more rapidly than every week. The sign is still there, and well into the 2000s was still being updated by the Bonines.
Soon after the Bonines’ arrival, the business officially became the Easterday-Bonine Funeral Home, with Jim and Bill running it together until 1963, after which Jim and Rosalie took over completely. By 1966, the Bonines moved the operation to what had been the home of O.T. Goss and his family (we’ll meet Mr. Goss again in a few weeks, when we examine the hardware store he owned for years before its sale to the Snyder family). In 1961, the Van Gilder mortuary operation had purchased the Goss house, at the northeast corner of Main Street and Lake Shore Drive, for the purpose of expanding their Plymouth-based business to Culver. Their move was apparently unsuccessful, as the Bonines moved in five years later, to what remains today Culver’s only funeral home (having been purchased and taken over recently, of course, by Greg Odom).
Generations of Culverites will remember 108 North Main, as does your editor, as Verl Shaffer’s iconic barber shop, complete with the classic red, white, and blue barber pole out front. Inside, almost as classic, were the touches that made Verl’s Verl’s: the array of clocks -- painstakingly repaired, wound, and kept up by Verl himself -- including that cuckoo which every child surely loved; and the deer head, hooves, and -- other parts, some quite lifelike when Verl wanted them to be. Many the treats your editor enjoyed there, from bottles of orange pop to Tootsie Roll suckers, and many the comic books I read while listening to the grown-up men swap stories with Verl, and how much simpler times seemed in there.
Culver’s last official barber (so far, anyway) removed the last clock from those hallowed walls in 2006 to, as the sign on his window put it, stop and smell the flowers before he started pushing then up himself. By the following year, the interior was transformed into the beautiful cafe setting it contains today, and Gladie’s Deli began carrying on a century-plus business tradition in that historic spot.
Reader response, incidentally, to this column has been very positive (which your editor appreciates). Returning momentarily to our previous installment, reader Jeanette Geiselman wrote of the K of P building just north of 108 N. Main, which is today home to JMC Engineers. “Also above the Kelly Shop (in that building),” Jeanette points out, “was Dr. Howard’s office before he built (I think) the Lake Shore Clinic. Then too was the Landrace Office that Gene and Opal Benedict were managers of, and before it was moved by the next managers to above Verl’s Barber Shop.”.
Reader Russ Leonard wrote of his memory of the same building upstairs, in what was for decades “the Lions Den” (home of the Culver Lions Club). “I heard a speech by (popular former Indiana Governor)Henry Schricker,” writes Mr. Leonard, referring to the Starke County-born Governor, “who said whenever he came over into Marshall County he had to conform and wear shoes.”
Speaking of which, in spite of the bout of warm weather last week, you may nonetheless want to wear your shoes as we stroll -- in our next installment in this series -- just south of Gladie’s, not to today’s grassy lot, but several once-staples of Culver’s downtown business buildings. But don’t hurry -- you’ve got about seven days to get there from today.
EDITOR's NOTE: Kay Tusing has informed me that her daughter, Michelle Allyn or Michelle's Headquarters on Main Street, is in fact a licensed barber, making HER Culver's current, non-retired barber (and Verl Shaffer technically not the last).

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