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If these walls could talk...West Jefferson Street

April 29, 2013

Jim Grothaus provided this photo of his father, Don, behind the counter at the skating rink the family operated on West Jefferson Street in Culver in the late 1950s.

Returning to our ongoing series of "virtual" walks through commercial buildings of Culver, we just left Hammer's Garage at Jefferson and Slate Streets, and we've got a few more stops to make before we leave this side of town.

It might be easy to forget that the west end of Jeffer­son Street has long been one of the "gateways" to town, in this case from today's State Road 17 (though it hasn't always been so). It's a logical place for some business presence, as is evidenced by what remains in that area today.

Before we get any further west, though, it's worth a quick stop into 409 W. Jefferson, home for years to Sims Print­ing, and later Sims Printing and Culver Feed and Garden.

As many Culverites may re­call, Jesse Sims --starting in 1946 -- worked in the print­ing operation of Culver Press Inc., which operated out of today's town hall on Plymouth Street and published not only the Culver Citizen newspaper, but for several years also local and regional yearbooks, mag­azines, and other publications. The operation would eventually become subsumed by Indiana Press in Plymouth in 1967, but Sims had departed to start his own, considerably smalled printing business by the late 1950s, if not earlier.

Sims Printing was locat­ed in the one-story building still standing at the southwest corner of Jefferson and White Streets, which appears to have originally been a garage or out­building to the two-story home next door to the west. By the late 1970s, the printing opera­tion had added its garden cen­ter.

The business -- which was taken over by Jesse's son Leon in later years -- closed in 1988, six years before Jes­se Sims passed away.

Heading west a block or two, today's Culver mobile home park, on the south side of Jefferson Street, has re­placed what had for many years been a poultry operation. Starting some time in the first half of the 20th century, Hand's Poultry Farm was sold in August, 1946 -- includ­ing equipment, building, and lands -- to Ted Powers and Lester McKee, who would re-dub it The Culver Produce Company. In Sept., 1960, the Culver Citizen reported of a large picnic on "the beautiful lawn" surrounding the com­pany.

By that same year, the Culver Mobile Home Park had been added to the area. Ted Powers, originally of Argos, was listed as sole owner of the mobile home park and had been assisted in the operation of Culver Produce by his wife Mary. He passed away in 1965, though Culver Pro­duce continued into the late 1960s.

Mary (formerly McKee) Powers, remarkably, lived to age 98, passing away in 2010. She had worked as a seamstress at Boetsma's (just down the street to the west and north) in Culver for many years besides retaining a lengthy memory of many long-gone facets of "old Cul­ver." The mobile home park continues under the owner­ship of some of the couple's children.

Right across the street to the north sits 514 West Jeffer­son, home today of the `Puter Pit Stop.

In 1956, Don and Pat Grothaus built Skate-Way (which opened the following year), a 60 by 120 foot roller skating rink to capitalize on the popularity of the activity in Cul­ver. The Grothaus family had come to Culver from Fort Wayne in 1950, when Don Grothaus and Don Luniger purchased the Cloverleaf Dairy (which had started several blocks east, also on Jefferson Street), and which the two operated for the next four years.

According to Don and Pat's son, Jim Grothaus, who lives today in Phoenix, Arizona, the rink was built on three acres of land "purchased from our neighbor, Art Hatten. They originally intended it to be open without walls for summer recreation only. After a successful summer season they decided to enclose it for year round uses such as roller dance and race competitions. One of my favorite memories was when dad ended the open skating hours on Saturday evenings with the Hokey Pokey dance!"

Culver's Skate-Way rink, noted the Cul­ver Citizen in 1957, "has no posts and four speakers of a 30-watt public address system (which) will feature organ music."

The family operated the business for two years and later leased it for a year, Don Grothaus working for two years following with Zechiel Farm Service.

The Citizen announced in 1961 that the Grothaus family was leaving Culver to live in Phoenix, Ariz., having "sold their home on West. Jefferson Street recently to Mrs. Her­man A. Knoerzer...the Grothauses and their sons, Tom, Jim, Billy, and Steve will be great­ly missed here but we wish them good health and much happiness in their new home."

Wrote the Culver Citizen in November, 1961: "Jerome Zechiel, 462 Liberty St., own­er of Zechiel Farm Service, has purchased the Culver Skating Rink on W. Jefferson St. and plans to move the Farm Service business to the new location after extensive remodel­ing has been completed in the building."

That remodeling included adding walls to the once largely open building, with back office space in addition to the street-facing retail offerings. Je­rome "Zeke" Zechiel, had started the business in 1954 with his wife Betty, but obviously expand­ed his offerings in the new building. Zechiel Farm Services liquidated its stock in 1985, after which Zechiel opened the popular Parlor video arcade on North Main Street the same year. Zeke and Betty died together in a car accident in 1996.

In 1980, Rich Sytsma established Culver Com­munications, Inc., drawing on -- among other things -- his background with his father, Al, who had sold and repaired appliances and electron­ics for decades prior in Culver. Culver Communications would expand from radio and other electronics sales and repair, to focus more heavily on computers, including of­fering Culver one of its first -- and its only lasting local -- Internet service providers and email servers (the service continues today, though Sytsma has transitioned out of direct involvement). Various other businesses shared the building in the years to follow, includ­ing tax services and Al's own appliance operations.

Late in 2011, Colleen (Ditmire) Wat­wood opened the Puter Pit Stop there.

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