Dad was raised one of 13(?) kids in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
Poplar Bluff was a small town in the “boot heel” (southeast corner) of Missouri. His dad (my Bobo), John, brought his young wife to America from Austria, just before World War I took the lives of most of the young men of that area. If it weren’t for that decision, and Bobo’s bravery, I might not be here today.
Dad’s mom passed away within a few months of having her last child. The older sisters took active roles in taking care of the younger ones. Bobo was an enterprising man, and ran a welding shop in addition to running the farm. Dad and his twin brother Rudy were among the younger ones; I believe they had nine older siblings. Bobo’s work ethic and many talents allowed their family to be relatively well-to-do. There was a car that the kids could pile into to go to school. They usually had a little cash due to Bobo’s welding. But they all worked hard. There were chores before and after school, and summer days were sometimes sun up to sun down. They farmed, gardened, and butchered for their meals. Trips to town were for Sunday church.
I’m not sure what Dad did right out of high school, but before long, he and Rudy (they didn’t separate twins) were sent to World War II. Dad and Rudy served in the European theater, and dad was injured toward the end of the war. Both dad and Rudy headed to California shortly after the war to find their fortunes. Dad worked at an aircraft plant.
Shortly after, Dad’s older brother Dan moved to Whitewater, Kansas, to open a car dealership. Dad moved to Kansas also, to Potwin, eight miles away, and opened a gas station.
The kids had grown, and Bobo no longer needed to work long days farming, so he moved to Potwin to live with Al. According to Dad’s stories, which I believe, they hand dug the foundation to the filling station in Potwin, and people helped them lay the bricks. With Dad repairing cars and Bobo, in his Austrian accent asking the locals, “How’s your has?” (that’s Austrian for “how’s your gas?”), and not much overhead, they did well. Before long, Dad was selling appliances out of the filling station. Not long after that, they needed to build on.
Potwin, Kansas, after the war was a growing place, and everyone needed appliances. You may not have thought you needed a refrigerator until your neighbor got one. Radios were a staple, and televisions were arriving—first black and white, then color. And always bigger. Fortunately for Dad, they broke down a lot, and Lew Whiteside knew how to fix them. Lew would show up at your house with a specially-designed box of vacuum tubes and other parts, and before he left, you could watch your programs again.
As the Vickers refinery grew, Potwin needed more housing. The city built a road for “the new addition”, and Dad started building houses. He sold most of them but kept a few to rent.
He fell in love with Beth Elkins. Beth’s husband, Raymond, had died of a stroke. leaving her with two young boys. Dad adopted Bob and Bill, had a daughter Kathie, and a few years later, me.
Dad didn’t sit still much. The government needed Post Offices to better handle the mail. Dad built Post Offices in Potwin, Whitewater, and Towanda and rented them to the government. He built or bought 10-15 rental houses and maintained them. He ran a growing business and was active in the community. He made a lot of friends. He and mom traveled the world with General Electric because of all the ranges and room air conditioners he was selling.
Dad wasn’t your typical small-town business man. Potwin was 15 miles away from El Dorado, a town of around 15,000, and 40 miles away from Wichita, a city of 250,000, the largest in Kansas. Dad did his best to get folks from these bigger towns to travel to Potwin to get their appliances. As I understood from him, my siblings, and Dad’s fellow GE dealer friends, Dad would buy train car loads of appliances if he could get a good enough deal.
He was clever with his advertisements: “Al Potwin from Resnik, Kansas” and “The Little Bitty Man with the Big Deals.” He was a character when you would go see him in the store. It was an adventure. He would go through your wife’s purse. He would ask the well being of your “hoodly doodly.” He always made you feel special, and believe that you got a great deal. There really wasn’t any reason to buy appliances from anyone else. You would spend time with a great guy with a sharp sense of humor who would get you a good deal, and Lew would come to your house and fix it if it quit working.
Dad would set you up on payments, Mom would mail you a bill each month. There were “counter checks” out front in case you forgot your checkbook. And oh yeah, you need a toaster.
Dad had a lot of energy, and a huge love for people. He was extremely generous.
In one of Jayme’s favorite stories, we were at Mom and Dad’s house and the doorbell rang late one night. A young mother was there to tell Dad her husband had left her, she was headed to Oklahoma to be with family, she would have to move out of the rental house, and she couldn’t make the rent payment. Dad’s reaction was to give her the cash he had in his pocket for gas money, and grab several items out of the refrigerator to give to her kids who were waiting in the car. Others would have been angry that they didn’t get the rent. Dad emptied the fridge. I saw similar instances, too numerous to count. He was a great guy and I miss him dearly.