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Triplet saw nearly 5 decades of change in Culver's pharmacies

September 26, 2011

Ron Tusing, left, and Jean Triplet during the Mr. T’s days.

Culver resident Jean Triplet may represent the last local link to the bygone days of small-town pharmacies, so well remembered by many here. After 49 years in the business, Triplet has retired from CVS Pharmacy in Culver, though her earliest years behind the drug-store counter were at beloved local pharmacy Mr. T's.
While Triplet was still in high school, her mother bought the South Main Street restaurant formerly known as The Grille (today home to Civvies boutique) around 1956. She stayed there for three years, and in December, 1959, moved across the street to 113 South Main, the site of the northern (and original) section of today's Cafe Max.
Triplet's mother, Mildred Ditmire, launched the M & M Restaurant with Marcella White, and young Jean was put to work at age 14, moving from the Leiters Ford based Aubbeenaubbe High School, to Culver's, from which she would graduate. The M & M was sold in the summer of 1972, eventually winding up in the hands of Janice Sensibaugh, for whom Mildred Ditmire worked for some time. Later, the restaurant would
become Nana Lou's, prior to present owner Susie Mahler's purchase of it to be refit as Cafe Max. Jean worked there until the sale of the place in 1972.
"I was working at the res- taurant when Mr. T (Ron Tusing) came in and
said, 'If you ever need a job, come to me. I'll always have a job for you,'" she recalls.
After a brief stint at Culver's town hall, a job opened up at Mr. T's
pharmacy, which for much of the 20th century had been Culver City Drugs, before Tusing -- who began work there in 1963 -- took it over completely in 1968. At the time, Mr. T's (as he re-dubbed it) was located at 107 South Main Street.
There, says Triplet, "I called myself the soda jerk and cashier.
He had the soda fountain and it came easy for me, since I'd been waiting tables all those years. It was a popular place."
Tusing's phar- macy co-existed for several years with Rob McKinnis' across the street and to the north, which McKinnis had taken over from its days as Rector's Pharmacy.
The drug store business in Culver changed forever with the arrival in 1974 of Hook's Drugs, an Indianapolisbased chain which would undergo several changes in name and owner- ship prior to becoming CVS, as it is
today.
"When Hook's came to town, Mr. T tried to stop it," says Triplet. "He knew it would hurt his business pretty bad. He went to Indianapolis to try to talk them out of it. When they came in, it hurt both (Tusing's and McKinnis') businesses, so that's really the reason why they merged."
The two local pharmacists joined forces in 1977 and moved into the newly-built structure on Academy Road which both men would operate from -- as Mr. T's -- until their respective deaths. The popular soda fountain was recreated at the new site.
"I kind of worked myself up to bookkeeper (with Mr. T's)," Triplet says. "I did the books and payroll; I was back in the office a lot. I would help him fill prescriptions when he got busy. We had the (Miller's Merry Manor) nursing home account, too, so that took two days a week."
She recalls working with Katie Cummins, who had come along with McKinnis after many years with him. She worked at Mr. T's into her 90s, Triplet says.
During her years at Mr. T's, Jean Triplet suffered deep loss in the form of her husband. Many in Culver will remember the late Alvin Triplet, who passed away in 1987. That's because Culver's Little League diamonds -- something which was a major part of Alvin's life as a coach and supporter of the sport -- were dedicated to him prior to his passing, a tribute Jean says she's grateful he was able to enjoy before his death.
A few years later, Jean remembers the end of T's popular soda fountain. One reason for the change was the difficulty Tusing had in obtaining the chocolate for use in the home-made syrup recipe passed down to him from the Culver City Drugs days. The fountain was also just not as busy, she adds, possibly in part due to the shift away from the store's former downtown locale, where scores of youngsters filled the counter after school daily.
Triplet remembers vividly -- and emotionally -- the day Tusing passed away. She was a passenger as he drove them towards the airport in South Bend, from which they would fly to Wisconsin to buy merchandise for the store. Tusing had a heart attack at the wheel, passing away at age 59. Eventually it became apparent to his family that Mr. T's would have to close its doors.
"He passed in January, 1998, and it was end of July when I moved over to CVS," she says. She had spent 26 years working with Tusing.
"I enjoyed it," she says. "He loved the people, and he had such a great memory. If somebody said they were going on vacation for two months, he would say, 'How was your vacation?' when they got back. He was always interested in the people -- he liked to hold the babies. That's the type of person he was. I think that's the difference: a pharmacy like that was a hometown pharmacy. (Chain pharmacies) are not (necessarily staffed by) local people who work there."
Mr. T's customer base officially transitioned to what was by then the only pharmacy in town.
"By moving all his computers to CVS, nobody knew how to run the system," Triplet explains. "I was the only one. We had to take it over to the new system. We had to keep that computer there a year before we cleaned up everything...there were hundreds of people (in the Mr. T's database). Some of the customers (at CVS) today are still Mr. T's customers."
The move to computers, in fact, is one of Triplet's vivid memories of the modernization of the pharmacy world.
"I remember going from filling prescriptions with a typewriter, to using computers. It took me a while to learn the computer. About the third or fourth day, I went in the bathroom and cried!"
Triplet says she's been at CVS now for 13 years. It had acquired the CVS moniker in 1997, following Revco’s buying out the Hook's chain in 1994.
"I went there in 1998, and the following year, 1999, their 25-year lease was up. The manager said they were scheduled to close -- they were not filling enough prescriptions. But since (Ron Tusing) passed away and they bought him out, (they have) kept it open."
While at CVS, Jean Triplet became a licensed pharmacist, something she didn't have to be in order to help out at Mr. T's.
"I really didn't have to get it until I went to CVS," she notes. "The state mandated you had to have it. Basically I just had to pay my dues and I got my license, but I think in 2004 I took the national certified board and became...nationally certified. That's not required, but I decided to do it."
One vivid CVS memory of Triplet's is the day after Christmas, 2007.
"Ken (Ray, fellow pharmacist) and I were the ones working the pharmacy," she says, on the otherwise quiet day when a man entered the store and pointed a gun at them.
"He came in the side door and ducked down and pointed a gun at us. He wanted the Oxycotton. So Ken opened the door and asked if he wanted the generic too. He said no, just the name brand. One of the other employees started talking to me at that time, and I turned my head sideways and said, 'Get out of here -- we're being robbed!' I knew I'd have to i.d. him, so I was watching him. But they never did find him. When he left, he told us to lay on the floor for five minutes. I didn't get nervous `til he left. And I didn't stay down for five minutes!"
It was the only robbery she was involved in, in 54 years of working with the public. The thief asked for no money -- only the drugs.
So what's changed in the pharmacy world over the years?
That computer system was major, Triplet says. Today, drug interactions are spotted automatically by the machine. Computers can tell pharmacists instantly whether insurance claims will go through.
"Before," she says, "you filled out a piece of paper and mailed it in. It would take a month to find out."
People often don't realize how difficult it can be to process a prescription, she notes. Many come to the counter and assume that the absence of another customer means a quick filling of their order, though in fact there may be seven or eight people ahead of them. Many, however, are understanding, she adds.
Further, pharmacists try to avoid rushing the work, which can lead to a mistake, which she notes is "serious business."
"We tried to get everybody out as soon as we could," she explains.
Now that she's retired, Triplet plans to do more yard work and visit her daughter in Massachusetts by train. She also hopes to attend more of her eldest granddaughter's volleyball games.
She enjoys not having to get up and go to work, though she's been called back to CVS to work a few hours here and there to fill in.
"I get to ease my way out!" she smiles.
In addition to full-time pharmacists Ken Ray and Denny Grant, there are three pharmacists working at Culver’s CVS, not counting Triplet herself.
"I really enjoyed it," she says, reflecting on her years behind Culver's various pharmacy counters, "I really did. I loved doing it.
"It can be hard for doctors to keep up with cold remedies, and what's in a pharmacy, so the pharmacists get lots of questions. You just can't walk into the doctor's office and ask questions. Pharmacists give out lot of advice -- they're usually pretty good at it."

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