The Ottumwa Courier


October 5, 2012

Locals will transform into historical Ottumwa figures

OTTUMWA — Eight individuals from Ottumwa’s past will come back to life Saturday night.

The second annual History Walk will kick off at the Train Depot starting at 5 p.m. Saturday, with tour guides and characters taking participants back to 1950s Ottumwa.

Crystal James will entertain the crowd as a typical, gum-smacking waitress at The Diner, which used to sit at the corner of Third and Washington streets.

“They had very long hours,” James said of the waitresses.

Customers would start their day at The Diner with breakfast, and by the time they swung back after work for dinner, the same waitresses were still there, taking orders and collecting town gossip.

“They knew everyone’s business,” James said. “If you wanted to know something, you’d ask the waitress.”

She said The Diner would be filled to capacity, wall-to-wall, much like the Canteen often is today.

“I remember going in with my parents, and it was standing-room only, but like the Canteen, you didn’t mind,” James said.

Patrons would come in after movies and bowling on the weekends, and policemen could always stop by for free cups of coffee.

“And they had all sorts of pie — any kind you wanted,” James said. “But you had to get there early enough for your special piece of pie or have one of the waitresses save you a piece.”

Everyone would save their nickels to play their favorite songs on the jukeboxes, which were placed every few feet in the restaurant.

“They would play the same songs over and over and over again,” James laughed.

Main Street Ottumwa board president Fred Zesiger said at one time in the ’50s, there were as many as 35 cafes and diners in downtown Ottumwa.

The Diner was known for good, homemade food, and James said she remembers watching them continually make running orders of thick French fries.

“It was a very upbeat place,” she said.

Dr. Kent Walker, a local dermatologist, will barely have to change his appearance in his portrayal of Dr. Steven Fox at the former Medical Arts Building.

Fox was an orthopedic surgeon well-known throughout southeast Iowa, and had an office in Ottumwa through the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s.

“I’ve talked to doctors who knew him and patients he had,” Walker said. “He did a lot of hip repairs. These were the days before prosthetic hip implants, so he pinned hips.”

And Fox did not want to lease space for a waiting room, Walker said, so people would stand outside the building to wait for their appointments.

Outside of work, Walker said Fox was an aficionado of Japanese culture, traveling to Japan one month a year to collect art and other items.

Julie Schuck will portray Bessie Ullman, former director of the YWCA on the corner of Second and Washington streets.

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) was founded in London in 1855, came to the U.S. in 1858 and came to Ottumwa in the 1920s. The first YWCA sat where the First Baptist Church stands today.

YWCAs across the nation became residences and boarding houses for women working in the communities.

Ottumwa’s YWCA had office space, a club room and a kitchen on the first floor, a theater and meeting rooms on the second floor and living quarters on the third floor.

“Ottumwa was a big manufacturer of cigars, and the ladies who rolled the cigars lived at the YWCA, as did people who worked at the phone company,” Zesiger said.

The YWCA also featured the Bulldog Lounge, a popular spot for high school dances, live bands every Saturday night and the KLEE Hop.

The YWCA closed in 2007 after losing its designation as a YWCA chapter.

Text Only
  • City Council approves sale of properties OTTUMWA — On Tuesday the Ottumwa City Council met for the last regularly scheduled meeting of April. Included in the agenda for the evening were several dispositions of city owned property. Structures and land located at 519 W. Fourth St., 723 E. Mar

    April 15, 2014

  • Where to play OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa Community School District wants to discuss moving to another athletic conference. Superintendent Davis Eidahl revealed that the district has been contacted by a smaller sports league, which has extended an invitation to join the

    April 15, 2014

  • 0415 Right side up monster truck pic Nice driver --- mean machine OTTUMWA --- Drivers sat at one end of their vehicles during the "pit party," meeting fans and signing autographs before the motorsport and monster truck exhibition at Bridge View Center this weekend. Monster truck driver Orville Hill let kids --- and

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0415 OTT Composting ethical pic Recycling in a garden OTTUMWA --- Parents will tell you: They hate to see kids waste food. A gardner named Scott Koepke feels the same way. “First, let’s get our food to people who are going to eat it,” he said. “It hurts me to see kids in the schools throw away an entire

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0412 OTT Pothole color photo -T -M [Duplicate] A bumper crop of potholes OTTUMWA — The nice weather has been putting the bad roads on display. Officials say good: It gives us a chance to fix them. “Every city is going through the same thing,” said Larry Seals, Ottumwa Public Works director. “It has been an unusual winter

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Home in a tent OTTUMWA -- As people live without shelter, they become desperate finding a place to sleep. The situation impacts more than just the community's homeless. "There is nowhere to put people who are homeless," said Mary Margaret Butler. "Nowhere." Ottumwa

    April 11, 2014

  • 0412 OTT Martha Speaks color photo -T -M Ottumwa children visited by cartoon star OTTUMWA — Iowa Public Television is celebrating its 45-year anniversary this year by helping communities like Ottumwa educate young children before they get into a school setting. One of the programs they are using to help reach out to children is by

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • United Way expanding on Corporate Community Garden OTTUMWA — The United Way of Wapello County created its Corporate Community Garden last year as a way to donate locally grown food to community members in need, and after a successful first year, it's hoping to expand the garden’s impact in its second

    April 11, 2014

  • City Council to discuss several property sales OTTUMWA -- The Ottumwa City Council will meet Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall for its second and final regularly scheduled meeting of April. Included on the agenda for the evening, among various other items, are several public hearings on t

    April 11, 2014

  • Volunteers wanted for playground construction OTTUMWA — Wildwood Park in Ottumwa is going to be the recipient of some rather significant playground upgrades in the near future, but in order for the construction of the new equipment to be free for taxpayers, there has to be enough volunteer power

    April 10, 2014

AP National