BREMEN — A well-known Bremenite shared his memories of bygone days with members of the community. For the 35 present for the monthly meeting hosted by Historic Bremen, Inc., special guest and speaker Dean Kimble reflected on the past with humor and fondness recollecting anecdotes and scenes throughout his life. He brought with him a collection of toys most children of today would find too simple such as a wooden rubber-band gun, a slingshot made from a stick and rubber tubing, and small metal gyroscope. Kimble described the rules of playing marbles (if a shooter hit a glass marble with his rolled clay ball he got to keep the glass one) and a game called “spongeball” during which children tossed a rubber ball over the peak of a barn roof and once it was caught, the catcher had to run to the other side and attempt to hit one of the opposing team’s players with it. If the catcher couldn’t, the ball was returned to the opposing team and the game continued. Kimble explained to his enthralled audience how to make and operate a toy boat with a windup udder, kites made from yardsticks and parachutes made from handkerchiefs of which the neighborhood children launched from their kitestrings and then ran off to catch after its fall. Kimble recalled how margarine, when it first was sold, was white and explained how retailers use a coloring capsule to mix it in-store for his customers, and he told how during the Great Depression, proud men would choose to work for $1 a day rather than ask for “relief” from the government.
“You would buy a kit with an adhesive and rubber soles and to preserve your shoes, you put the adhesive on the bottom of the torn up shoe, remove the paper backing from the rubber and then glue that sole on there,” Kimble explained. “Then you had a shoe that lasted for quite awhile after.”
Kimble spoke about a booming Bremen, one of which people could take one of two buses each day to work in Chicago, and of dating, when high schoolers would take “strolls” around town. “We’d spend hours just walking around town,” he said. “Or they would get groups of boys and girls together for socials and Bunco parties.”
Which led to speaking about how he and his love (and wife) of 72 years Gretchen met — she a trumpet player and he a trombone player. Kimble told how she had gone on to play in an all-girl orchestra touring the United States and Canada and how he played trombone in such popular venues as the Palace Theater in South Bend and for famous comics such as the Olson and Johnson team who Kimble said originated the “Who’s on first?” routine. After his graduation in 1935 Kimble told how he joined his father, Walter E. Kimble, (who served two years in the Navy and who was also the town marshal), in the furrier business.
And that was what the crowd gathered at the senior center was waiting for. Kimble explained how his father had had a background in taxidermy as a sportsman and had later taken a correspondence course to learn the fur craft. “He learned that people had to take their furs out of their closets and store them to protect them from the moths,” he explained, “so he built a 12 by 20 vault adjacent to our home.” After learning pattern making and then how to create fur coats (which at the time were affordable and more practical than a coat made of cloth — as they lasted for many years) he advertised by going door to door in the area cities explaining they were opening for business.
“You see, the edges of the sleeves would get frayed but fur could be refreshed and patched,” Kimble explained. ... “At the time Australia was overrun by rabbits. The furriers discovered that their hides were the most firm and so they became the most popular.” He explained how the brown rabbit fur was referred to as “northern seal” and the black muskrat’s as “hudson seal.” He said that most popular for the wealthy clientele was “of course the mink.”
Also during that time, polio was rampant, leaving many people with misshapen backs and bent hips and they needed special fitting of their coats. When they would bring their coat to be patched, the Kimbles made sure to give the customers quality service that included making alterations that resulted in a better fit.
“You see, other shops were saying, ‘you can buy what we’ve got’ where we were saying, ‘tell us what you need,’” he said. “…And we had items on hand so if they liked a coat but didn’t like the sleeve or collar, we could make it exactly how they wanted it. We would start with taking their measurements, then make a paper pattern, then make a garment from it made of felt. We’d slip it on them to double-check and then make one from the fur, and then make the final adjustments and that’s what made them happy. The customer would come in and she would put it on her shoulders and say, ‘I love it!’”
He said that that feeling of satisfaction was enough compensation for him for his hard work, explaining with a laugh, “If it wasn’t for Gretchen (who had accumlated business and accounting experience) we wouldn’t have made any money.”
That personal service is what Kimble said kept Kimble’s Fur Shop (located at 416 W. North St. in Bremen) busy with orders from all over the Midwest. At one time the business had a return customer mailing list of more than 5,000. The business was sold in 1987 and it officially closed about 10 years later, taking with it a rare form of customer service and a trade primarily lost, but when Kimble’s presentation was over, various attendees shared their stories and remembered details of visiting the shop with loved ones, proving “gone” doesn’t necessarily mean “forgotten.”