After last week’s blog about my memories of Ft. Loramie businesses back in the 50’s and 60’s, my wife who grew up in Russia, and her mother, who still lives there, shared some of their stories of Russia’s businesses. During Prohibition and the Great Depression, four cafes existed in town, one of which was ran by my wife’s great grandfather Felix Francis, pictured below circa 1950 with his wife Anna and their nine children.
Top Row L-R: Delbert (DJ), Glen, Leo (Legs), Wilmer, Tom, Earl (Alfie)
Bottom Row L-R: Gertrude (Armstrong), Jeanette (Scofield), Felix, Anna, Freda (Daugherty)
One might ask how 4 cafes survived in a small town like Russia. Well, legend has it that the cafes offered more than food and a cup of coffee. The railroad line running through town not only brought in customers who were riding the train, but also provided ready access to illegal booze that was being discreetly served by the cafes. Apparently, the federal “revenuers”, government agents responsible for enforcing laws against illegal distilling or bootlegging of alcohol, tended to concentrate their efforts on communities larger than Russia.
And during this period, Felix and Anna’s children also worked in the cafe, with daughter Gertrude even meeting her eventual husband, Ora Armstrong, who was a regular train passenger. With the tough economic times and the very competitive cafe environment in town, the family members quickly learned the basics of business, which eventually lead each to successful careers owning their own businesses. For example, this article tells the story about the two youngest brothers, Tom and my uncle Leo, who married my dad’s sister Mary. My favorite part of the article is where the brothers flipped a coin during tough times to determine who kept Francis Mfg. the joint business they had started. My uncle lost so he was left to start up another, Francis Products, making garage doors, a very successful enterprise pictured below before being sold to Clopay Corporation in 1969. Meanwhile, Glen Francis and sister Jeanette’s husband Bob Scofield, partnered in the furniture business while Wilmer and Alfie owned the local Chevrolet dealership in Russia.
One of the other cafes in town was Shep’s Place, owned by Alfred Simon and his son Harold, both pictured below. Harold also established Shep’s Golden Lantern, a top notch restaurant in Russia, that was later sold to Hogenkamp Funeral Home which held Harold’s viewing after his death on Christmas day, 2011 at age 86.
Russia is a thriving town with many privately owned businesses that actively support a wonderful community pictured below having great schools, outstanding parks & recreational facilities, splendid library, senior center housed in Wilmer and Alfie’s old Chevy dealership and magnificent St. Remy church. ROO-shee is a true gem. And to top it off, it’s home to the Fish Report!