Jeff Schaffer

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Building Manchester

Jeff Schaffer was still in his twenties in 1976 when Manchester's village president, David Little, recruited him to join the village council.

"He knew a lot about construction," recalls Little. "He was a young guy, but so was I."

At the time, Manchester was building two bridges and overhauling its sewer and water systems. Schaffer worked at Wolverine Pipe Line, a company that pipes gas from Texas, and Little wanted the benefit of his experience.

At the next election. Little stepped down as village president. Schaffer succeeded him, staying two terms. During Schaffer's time in Manchester government, the village separated its storm and sanitary sewers, upgraded its sewage treatment plant, built a water tower, and added new fire hydrants.

Last March Schaffer was again elected village president, twenty years after his first stint. Today Manchester's main issue is growth—another good project for a man who takes pride, as Little puts it, in "physical acheivements."

Schaffer has lived in the Manchester area all his life, except for a brief stay in Ypsilanti while he attended Cleary College. His grandfather owned a dairy farm west of town at Austin and Sharon Hollow roads, and also co-owned a lumber yard where the Manchester Township Hall now stands. Schaffer says he grew up to value community service after seeing how his grandfather was always willing to help his neighbors.

"He'd say to someone who lost a barn and couldn't afford a new one, 'Don't worry, we'll give you the lumber,'" Schaffer recalls.

In the years between his two stints as village president, Schaffer served on Manchester's school board, and he and his wife, Connie, raised two children, Dawn and William. After twenty-seven years at Wolverine Pipe Line, he is now in charge of above-ground maintenance on Wolverine's systems from Kalamazoo to Detroit to Toledo.

Although Schaffer is a grandfather, he's still slender and still blond. He wears jeans, a T-shirt, and cowboy boots to work and treats colleagues and customers with small-town politeness—he addresses people as "ma'am" and "sir." His style, both as a boss and as a village leader, is to work as part of a team. "I encourage people on council to talk," he says.

In the last twenty years, Manchester has changed in many ways. There is no longer any active farming within the village limits. A few new industries have moved in. A village manager, Jeff Wallace, now runs day-to-day operations.

But Manchester is still a small town, and Schaffer says he appreciates the values that come with that—"the closeness, the willingness to be a good neighbor."

Still, he says, growth is a fact of life. Two housing projects are being built in the village, the homes and condos of Manchester Woods and the River Ridge apartments. Several other housing and light industry projects are in the discussion stage. "I'm not adverse to growth," explains Schaffer, "but we need to control growth, shape it so it's a good deal."

Appropriately, Schaffer uses a construction metaphor to describe his work as village president. "I keep laying the bricks in the foundation," he says. "It'll be here when we're long gone."

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

A tale of two funeral homes

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Spite spurred a rivalry that still benefits Chelsea

Chelsea is fortunate that an undertaker's twenty-one-year-old son beat Frank Glazier in the 1893 vote for village president. Otherwise, the town wouldn't have its two respected family-owned funeral homes, Cole and Staffan-Mitchell. Glazier, who later become Michigan state treasurer and Chelsea's most famous business and civic leader, was so enraged at losing to George P. Staffan that he convinced Samuel Mapes, a relative, to give up a successful steam laundry and start an undertaking firm to compete with the Staffan family's.

In the nineteenth century, caskets were made by local carpenters—a number of whom, including Frank Staffan, ended up in the funeral business. Staffan arrived in Michigan in 1847 at age fifteen from Alsace-Lorraine and built many of Chelsea's important buildings, including the township hall, two churches, and many of the downtown shops, using skilled stonemasons from the Eisele and Eder families, whom he had summoned from his native land.

Staffan and his wife, Lena, and their six children lived at 705 South Main and ran their contracting and funeral businesses from their home, as was the custom in those days. Their house still stands, although the stables, a storage building for the carriages and hearses, and the workshop are long gone.

A Democrat, Staffan served on the village council and the township highway and drain commissions. His political involvement, successful businesses, and relationship by marriage to prominent local families such as the McKunes and Keusches made him and his family a threat to Glazier, a Republican businessman with lofty political ambitions. By 1898, at Glazier's urging, Mapes had set up his rival undertaking business right behind Glazier's drugstore at the northwest corner of Main and Middle.

In 1906, however. Glazier undermined his own desire to drive the Staffans out of business when he donated land and money for a Methodist old age home. From that time on, there was plenty of business for both funeral homes, and their rivalry was gradually replaced by mutual respect.

When Frank Staffan died in 1915, the business passed to his son, George P. Staffan—the man who'd beaten Frank Glazier for village president more than twenty years earlier. George P. moved the funeral business to a second-floor spot above a tavern on Main Street, using the space to display caskets and to store equipment for funerals. He made his own embalming fluid, which he sold to other undertakers.

George P.'s son, George L. Staffan, is still active in community affairs at ninety-two. George L. remembers the days when funerals were held in the deceased's home. People usually hung a wreath, called a "door badge," to let people know there was a death in the family. His father would bring a folding couch to the home to embalm the body. The family would pick out a casket, and the Staffans would deliver it to the home. Mourners often put potted palms and a screen around the casket. The Staffans would bring a portable organ and folding chairs for the funeral service.

In the early 1920s the Staffan family moved to a big house at 124 Park that had belonged to a doctor. The former examining room on the side of the house was turned into the funeral office. In 1930 the office was torn down and replaced with a chapel, since by then many people wanted funerals outside the home.

For a time the Staffans also ran an ambulance service, using a converted sedan and their hearses. They often had runs out to the three-lane highway between Jackson and Ann Arbor, where the shared passing lane caused frequent accidents.

George L. Staffan took over the business in 1950 after his father's death. In 1981 he sold it to John and Gloria Mitchell, who had run funeral homes in East Lansing and Rochester. Staffan offered to buy it back if the new owners didn't click with Chelsea, but his generosity proved unnecessary—Gloria Mitchell became so involved in local service projects that she was named the village's citizen of the year in 1997.

The funeral business Frank Glazier instigated also flourished. In 1906 the Mapeses moved to a house at 214 East Middle, using the downstairs for offices and the upstairs for living quarters. A succession of owners sold the funeral business to younger partners—Bruce Plankell, Martin Miller, and Lou Burghardt. In 1977 Burghardt sold it to Don Cole. Cole's son, Alan, and Alan's wife, Wendy, have operated the Cole Funeral Home since 1999. They still run the business out of the house on Middle, although they don't live upstairs.

Recently the Mitchells agreed to a village request that their place be torn down for parking. Gloria Mitchell says the decision was hard, "but now we look back and wonder why the struggle." The new Staffan-Mitchell Funeral Home, less than a mile north of town, has all the latest conveniences, including sound and video systems and a children's play area. Like the founders of the business, the Mitchells live in an attached apartment. Many artifacts from earlier days were moved to the new location. A display cabinet contains such accoutrements of mourning as a vial used to catch a widow's tears, black-bordered handkerchiefs and calling cards, dull black mourning jewelry, and bottles that held George P. Staffan's embalming fluid. And in the garage is an old Staffan horse-drawn hearse. It's occasionally pressed into service, with rented horses, when customers request it.

—Grace Shackman

PHOTOS: FAMILY & HEARSE, CARINE LUTZ; STREET VIEW, COURTESY U-M BENTLEY HISTORICAL LIBRARY

Caption:The Mitchells (above) still have a horse-drawn hearse that can be used for burials, if families request. At one point the Staffan Funeral Home was in a storefront above a tavern on Main Street.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Manchester Township Library

Author: 
Grace Shackman

The state's oldest

Manchester has the oldest township library in continuous use in the state of Michigan. Established in 1838, just two years after the township was organized, it has been located for the last sixty-four years in an 1860s-era house on the village square.

During the first years of the library, township clerk Marcus Carter Jr. kept the collection at his house. On Saturdays, from 2 to 4 p.m., people could borrow books stored in a case that sat on a black walnut table. (The library still has the table, now used as a computer stand.) The library continued under the care of succeeding township clerks for the rest of the century.

Manchester thrived as a commercial center in the nineteenth century, assuring a living standard that gave women time to organize literary societies. By the turn of the century, they included the History, Saturday, Shakespeare, and 20th Century clubs. (The last two still meet.) The club ladies—whom Manchester historian Howard Parr describes as "a combo of high caliber, literary, educated-minded people"—decided Manchester should have an independent library with a trained librarian; they began organizing to make it happen.

In 1906 the first librarian was hired: a Miss B. M. Brighton. In 1909 the library moved to the second floor of the Conklin building, near the comer of M-52 and Main Street. It later moved downstairs in the same building, and then to the Mahrle building (now the Whistle Stop restaurant), on Adrian Street. "I remember that library," recalls ninety-one-year-old Glenn Lehr. "I'd read every book in it by the time I was fourteen. It was a long building and dark inside. There was a pot-bellied stove in the back."

When the rent on the Mahrle building was raised in 1934, the ladies of the literary societies decided it was time to buy permanent quarters. They bought the Lynch house, a handsome cube-style Italianate in a perfect location on the town square. It had been built around 1867 for James Lynch, doctor and druggist, by his father-in-law Junius Short. Descendants of the family sold the house for the reasonable price of $1,200 because they believed the library was a worthwhile project. The $15 monthly mortgage payments were less than the rent the library had been paying.

The whole community pitched in to clean, paint, build shelves, and put in a chimney so central heat could be added. The federal Works Progress Administration paid for some of the materials and labor, the Boy Scouts moved the books to the new location, and local churches put on a benefit play.

Shortly after the move, Jane Palmer, who had been librarian from 1909 to 1918, returned to her old job. She stayed on until she retired in 1958 at the age of seventy-eight. "She was gingham as well as satin," says Parr. "She was a farm woman, helped with the threshing, but was practical and erudite." Palmer converted the upstairs of the library into an apartment and moved in. Many of the perennial flowers she planted on the grounds still bloom today.

When the library opened, only the west side of the downstairs was used. Today the whole building is filled with the library's 14,000 books, plus magazines and videos. Palmer's old kitchen upstairs is now the office of the library director, Dorothy Davies. "It's reached the point," says Davies, "that every time we get something new, we have to get rid of something." Eventually, citizens will have to decide whether to add onto the building or erect a new one.


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Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Choice Of Orange Risdon

Author: 
Grace Shackman

A surveyor found his own town site on the Chicago Road

In the mid-nineteenth century, surveyor Orange Risdon mapped thousands of square miles of Michigan wilderness for the federal government. He picked the site of Saline to start his own town.

Risdon first saw his future town site in 1824, while surveying for the road that would link Detroit and Chicago. In addition to its location on the Chicago Road—today US-12—the spot was surrounded by prime agricultural land and had the Saline River to provide water power.

Risdon bought 160 acres the same year the road survey came through. In 1829, he built a house on a hill overlooking the river. Now converted to apartments, the house still stands on Henry Street, where it was moved in 1948 to make room for an expansion of the Oakwood Cemetery.

Risdon was appointed Saline's first postmaster and the first justice of the peace. In the early years, his home served not only as the town's post office but also as its polling place, a hotel for passing travelers, and even a general store—Risdon rented his parlor to storekeeper Silas Finch until Finch was able to complete his own building at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Ann Arbor Street.

Risdon continued to develop Saline until his death in 1876 at age eighty-nine. For the most part, the town's economy in his day was based on supplying and servicing the surrounding farm community. When a spur of the Detroit, Hillsdale, and Indiana railroad reached town in 1870, Saline became an important shipping point for grain and livestock. The original 1870 railroad station, recently restored by the Saline Area Historical Society, is now being used as a museum and meeting place. When the town began to thrive, thanks to the railroad, William Davenport, who owned the general store, organized the Citizens Bank of Saline. In 1876, the prosperous banker bought an entire block in the center of town and built a mansion that still stands at 300 E. Michigan.

Saline's pioneer era ended in about 1880, according to local historian Wayne Clements. For the next eighty years, the town hardly grew at all, he says. "There were infrastructure problems, and although Saline had a railroad, so did Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti." The hiatus helped preserve Saline's small-town character.

Saline's economic resurgence began in 1937, when Henry Ford bought and restored the old Schuyler Mill and started a soybean processing plant there. (Today the old mill is Weller's banquet facility.) In the 1940's, R & B Machine Tool and Universal Die Casting built factories, and in 1966 Ford Motor Company returned to Saline, building a huge instrument and plastics plant.

Surrounded by fast-growing residential areas. Saline today is no longer the self-sufficient small town of a few decades ago. Many residents now commute to jobs outside the community. And though 1-94 has replaced it as the main route to Chicago, US-12 still generates a lot of traffic. Downtown Saline, which once catered exclusively to local farmers, now draws customers from around the region with its antiques stores, gift shops, and destination restaurants.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Wayne Clements

Author: 
Grace Shackman

A hands-on historian

Wayne Clements, president of the Saline Area Historical Society, has mobilized the community to save Orange Risdon's livery barn, open the Depot Museum and acquire a caboose for it, and buy and restore the Rentschler farm. It's quite a series of accomplishments for a quiet, unassuming man who in his younger years did not even seem interested in history.

Recently, at Clements's fifty-year high school reunion, his old homeroom teacher pointed out that irony. But for Clements, history comes alive when it's about the community around him instead of the faraway and long ago. "I didn't know King George, but I know Alberta Rogers and the Brassows," he says.

Clements still lives in the Textile Road farmhouse where he grew up. He attended the Lodi Plains one-room school and graduated as salutatorian from Saline Union School. He went to Michigan State University, where he majored in agricultural engineering. Saline Township supervisor Bob Cook was his roommate.

"Even his family kept old things," Cook recalls. "Wayne had a little old twenty-two [rifle] that went back to his grandfather."

At MSU Clements met his wife, Jane, from Grosse Pointe Woods. (They have one grown daughter, Penny.) For nineteen years, he was away from Saline. He served a stint in the army, including a year in Korea; worked as a research engineer in Ford's agricultural division in Birmingham; and later moved to South Bend, Indiana, to work for Wheelabrator. He returned to Saline twenty-five years ago to be nearer his aging parents. He found work with an industrial cleaning franchise, Captain Clean, which he now owns.

In 1987 Alberta Rogers, then president of the historical society, recruited Clements to join. "He was involved from the word go," she recalls. He started out with mechanical work, putting a donated, Saline-made windmill back together. More hands-on jobs followed: two showcase homes that needed considerable work. He also found and mapped all the former one-room school sites in the Saline school district. He became the historical society's president in 1990.

When a livery barn that had been owned by Saline founder Orange Risdon was about to be torn down, Clements organized the society to save the structure. He launched an ongoing partnership between historic preservationists and the city government, getting permission to relocate the livery near the old railroad depot. That led to the project of turning the depot into a museum. The partnership with the city continues today with the purchase and historic restoration of the Rentschler farm.

Clements has worked to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved in the historical society's projects. He cut back on boring business meetings, replaced the traditional slate of officers with a team, and doesn't insist that volunteers join the society. He says he has no patience with groups that just sit around and talk. "It attracts people when we have things to do," he says.

Clements's leadership style impresses former mayor Rick Kuss.

"He listens," Kuss says. "He takes everybody's ideas and tries to bring his ideas and everyone else's together so we can move forward. And he doesn't get involved in politics.

"Saline is a mixture of new, been-here-awhile, and old-timers," says Kuss. "Wayne bridges that gap." •

That seems to be one of Clements's main goals. History is "a common thread that keeps us together," he says, adding that a hands-on project "gets people interested who do not have roots in Saline."

Clements is excited about his current project: he and Saline High history teacher Jim Cameron are developing a curriculum of local history classes that will be held at the Depot Museum and the Rentschler Farm Museum.

"I like to tell the kids, 'Someday you'll take my place, or be mayor or superintendent of schools, and you need to understand how we got there.'"

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Meredith Bixby

Author: 
Grace Shackman

"The puppeteers looked like giants"

During Meredith Bixby's career as a puppeteer, which lasted from the 1930s to the 1980s, up to a quarter million children a year saw his shows. The Saline resident wrote the scripts, created the puppets, sets, and props, trained other puppeteers, and booked his shows. His wife, Thyra, made the costumes.

Before taking his productions on the road, Bixby would put on annual preview shows for Saline kids at his studio in the Saline Opera House on South Ann Arbor Street.

"We'd come into the room and sit facing the black curtain," laughs Lisa Laramee. "The lights would go off, and I'd watch entranced as marionettes performed The Wizard of Oz, or The Magic Fish.

"When it was over, the lights would go on and the puppeteers would emerge to take a bow. So real was the experience that the puppeteers looked like giants"

Schools all over the country booked Bixby year after year. "They didn't worry," says Bixby. "They knew they would get classic stories with carefully chosen classical music."

Now in his late eighties, Bixby has been spending his time repairing his puppets, which will go on permanent display soon at the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce office at 141 East Michigan Avenue. He lives in a modest ranch in Saline, a house filled with art and books. His enthusiasm for his life's work is apparent in his conversation.

He still has a booming voice, which he would modify in performances so that it "could be the youngest boy, or the biggest, or the meanest, and reach to the last aisle."

In the early days, Bixby traveled all over the country to put on live performances. But as requests grew, he limited his bookings to nearby states. Life also got easier after he began taping his shows because then others could put them on. He enlisted family members, as well as local notables such as WAAM's Ted Heusel, to do the voices.

"You just followed the tape," remembers Bob Zorn, who took a break from college in the 1960s to work as a puppeteer and put on a Bixby show for a season. "But you had to be coordinated. The set was complicated and weighed about half a ton." Zorn traveled with one other puppeteer, towing a minivan with the equipment, and putting on two or three shows a day. Bixby showed up now and then to make repairs or just to see how things were going.

Creating the shows took both artistic and engineering skill—Bixby had both. He started college at Wayne State University studying engineering, but liked drawing better, so he switched to art. While attending the Art Students League in New York, he worked at the public library. One day, while perusing the shelves, he came across a book of plays for puppet shows. For fun, he made the puppets for Dr. Faustus. During a month's vacation, he gave a few performances. "People were just fascinated," Bixby recalls. "I decided to become a professional."

After World War II, Bixby moved to Saline, where his grandfather had lived, and where his dad, a dentist, had practiced for fifteen years. He read widely—classic children's literature, fairy tales, folk tales — to get ideas. While the crews were on the road, he created the next season's show. He designed posters and scenery and created incredible puppets: jugglers who really juggled, cossack dancers who lifted their feet in unison, fish that swam in and out of coral reefs, and a puppet who smoked.

Bixby retired in 1982 with a farewell show in his studio. In the final years of his career he filmed his shows, and videos of them will be included in the permanent exhibit of his work.

People often told Bixby that given his success at promoting his shows, he could have made more money as a salesman. But he wasn't interested. "I was one of the few people who made a living [at puppetry], and I loved doing it," he says.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

The Calico Cat

Author: 
Grace Shackman

From Methodist church to Saline gift shop

A gift shop and a place of worship may seem to be totally opposite functions for a building. Yet the Calico Cat, located in Saline's former Methodist church, manages to an amazing extent to incorporate the church's atmosphere into a retail establishment. Light streams in through the stained glass windows, the original woodwork and sconces are found throughout, display shelves are made from the wood of old pocket doors and railings, and owner Marcia Duncan's office is in the mezzanine that once held the organ pipes.

The Calico Cat building was actually the fourth church built by the Saline Methodists, who trace their roots back to 1833. Their first two churches did not fare well. The original log structure on the corner of Henry and Lewis, built on land donated by Saline's founder, Orange Risdon, was hit by lightning during a service. Two parishioners were killed, and the church burned to the ground. The second church was built with ill-fired bricks that crumbled so badly it was called the "old mud church." After nine years, the members decided it was unsafe and had it torn down. Finally, in 1858, local carpenter Edwin Ford, who also built churches in Mooreville and Dixboro, built the Methodists a church on Ann Arbor Street just south of Michigan Avenue. This church, a white New England-style edifice with a tall spire, served the congregation until they outgrew it at the end of the century.

On June 13,1899, the Methodists laid the cornerstone for their fourth church on the same site. The congregation met in the opera house next door while the new building, designed by dark and Munger of Bay City, was under construction. The church was completed in November. Not even standing room remained for the first service.

William Davenport, the Saline banker who headed the building committee, lured organist Fannie Unterkircher from the Presbyterian church by offering to buy a new organ. The two went into Detroit, where Davenport bought a Vocalion for $1,200. Unterkircher served as the church's organist and choir director for the next thirty-four years.

Hollis Carr, in a paper presented to the church in 1988, remembered the organ, which had to be pumped by hand: "There was a large screen to the right of the organ behind which the man sat who did the pumping. During his idle moments he would peek around the edge of the screen, and other children and I in the pews would squirm to the outer end of the pews to get a glimpse of him." In 1929 the organ was replaced with a more modem, electric-powered one.

Carr's wife, Virginia, who joined the church in 1938 as a young bride and later became the church secretary, fondly remembered the study group she and Hollis were in with other young married couples. The group held monthly potlucks, she recalled in the paper, and one time there were six pots of baked beans and one cake. "We always closed the gathering by forming a circle, joining hands and singing 'Blest Be the Tie That Binds,'" she wrote. "To this day whenever I hear the hymn, I can close my eyes and see the group standing in a circle, most of whom are no longer with us except in memory."

When Virginia Carr joined the congregation, the church "was less than forty years old, but it appeared like an old church to me, and quite small." The congregation fought the space problem for the next fifty-some years, digging out more of the basement in 1949 and adding an education-fellowship hall in 1975. In the mid-1980s, the space crisis was again debated. Although some argued that the old church could be modernized and the overcrowding problem solved by holding two worship services, the majority opted to move. In 1990 the congregation took the church's 1,500-pound bell and two of the stained glass windows—the most religious ones, which wouldn't be appropriate in a building with a secular use—to a new building on the corner of Ann Arbor Street and Woodland Drive.

The city of Saline purchased the old church, planning to use it as a court facility. But the voters turned down a bond issue, and the city had to sell the building. Marcia Duncan, who had been in the gift shop business for fifteen years, saw the possibilities in the building and moved the Calico Cat there from its previous location on Michigan Avenue. Her family teases her about saying in the beginning that the place "just needs a little touch-up." Instead, renovation took nine months: solving a water problem in the basement, bracing the walls, tuck-pointing the brick, putting new floors in the basement and first level (where the floor slanted down to the altar), and installing new furnaces, wiring, air conditioning, and drywall.

"She kept the best parts," church historian Jack Livingstone says. "Someone familiar with the old church can walk in and recognize it."

—Grace Shackman

Photo Caption: The 1899 church served Saline's Methodists well for ninety-one years.

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Hubert Beach

Author: 
Grace Shackman

Saline's eccentric ex-mayor

Hubert Beach, mayor of Saline from 1971 to 1974, lives in a house on McKay Street that has also been the home of three other mayors. But among all the mayors Saline has elected in its years as a city, Beach may well qualify as the most eccentric. For instance. Beach takes periodic trips to solar eclipse sites, from Acapulco to Nova Scotia, to "slay the cosmic dragon." He wears a mask, brandishes a sword, and beats a drum—his way, he says, of making sure the sun returns.

Beach also qualifies as the most hands-on mayor Saline has ever seen. While he was in office, the city and the state fought over whether to close Michigan Avenue, a U.S. highway, for the Memorial Day parade. Beach got in front of traffic and closed the street himself.

Beach was for years the city's one-man volunteer public works office. People remember Beach driving around town in "The Beast," an old school bus he converted into a mobile workshop. He was often pictured in the Saline Reporter scaling heights to do upper-story work, such as moving the bell from the old Methodist church to its new location and painting the flagpole in front of the post office. His motto: "If it's out of reach, call Beach."

"I've always loved climbing," he explains. "As a kid I climbed every tree I could, up to the tiniest branches."

He installed a sound system at the cemetery for the Memorial Day program, strung Christmas lights across the main intersection, and put in the finishing line banners for races. He designed and built a panel that lit up Yes or No to show how council members voted. When there was a blockage in the storm sewer, he looked down a manhole to see what was wrong, and discovered that a contractor had thrown old boards down the hole to get rid of them.

Mary Hess, who served her first term on city council when Beach was mayor, recalls that his expertise on TV systems, which he acquired from putting up antennas, came in handy when the city negotiated its first cable TV contract. And his knowledge of construction was very useful when the building code was amended.

Beach also worked as a tax preparer, and he used his accounting skills to develop clear budgets. "He wanted to make sure that the people we served understood where their money went," explains Hess. Bob Harrison, a friend of Beach's, remembers that Beach caught a major error while discussing adding sewage capacity with representatives of Ford Motor and a civil engineering firm. "Hubert's mind was sharper with numbers than if he was standing there with a calculator," says Harrison.

Growing up on a farm near Clinton, Beach learned to be practical and thrifty. He was born in 1923 and attended a one-room school. His dad died when he was nine, and he helped his mother run the farm. At age fifteen he started hauling milk from area farms. He moved to Saline in 1948, after marrying Catherine (Katie) Sliker.

Never one to sit still, he started his contracting business because he finished his milk route in midafternoon. He did almost anything—electrical work, carpentry, servicing fire extinguishers, installing security and sound systems. His specialty was height work: aerials, eaves troughs, flagpoles, lightning rods, church towers. To keep busy in the winter, he ran a tax business out of his house.

Beach first ran for public office because he was concerned about the fate of the dam at Wellers' that had washed out in the 1968 flood. The narrowing of the millpond had created a wetland, and there was talk of putting a trailer park there. After one term on city council, Beach ran for mayor. During his two terms, he saw the dam restored and the millpond dredged and restocked with fish.

Beach went through a period of political eclipse when he ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner twice in the 1970s and for mayor three times in the 1980s. In 1987, he won a seat on city council. He kept it until 1996; he resigned after an automobile accident and has still not totally recovered from his injuries.

Beach warned colleagues, "If you don't want the truth, don't ask me." His straightforward style and eccentric behavior earned him both admirers and enemies— which may explain why he lost elections despite his popularity.

"People either loved or hated him," says his daughter, April Pronk.

"Sometimes it's hard to change a first impression," explains Hess. "There was never any question where he was coming from. Compromise was not one of his strong points; he was firm in his convictions."

Beach describes his politics as populist, motivated by a concern for the underdog. "I always said garbagemen should make as much as administrators," he says. In his first race for county commission, he ran as a Democrat. In the next race, he ran as a Republican, since the Republicans are the dominant party in the Saline area. Although he counted both liberals and conservatives as political allies, he says he's a Democrat at heart "Republicans are too stuffy," he explains.

People appreciated Beach's accessibility. A regular for years among the friendly crowd at Benny's Bakery, Beach enjoyed debating and listening to others' opinions.

"He loved the city as no one I know," says Hess. Saline plans to honor him by naming a street in the new industrial park Beach Drive.

—Grace Shackman

Rights Held By: 
Grace Shackman

Christmas Past: Holiday Displays Downtown

Author: 
Grace Shackman

As recently as the 1950s, the imposing line of storefronts along South Main Street was relieved by a peaceful patch of lawn and a handsome Greek Revival house. It was the home of shopkeeper Bertha Muehlig, and the site of a fondly remembered holiday display. Every year, Muehlig, owner of Muehlig's dry goods, worked with the Chamber of Commerce to set up a Nativity scene in her front yard.

Muehlig's home and creche are often mentioned when longtime Ann Arborites recall Christmas shopping downtown in the pre-mall era. Fay Muehlig, Bertha Muehlig's niece by marriage, remembers "a baby in a little crib with Mary and Joseph, two or three feet high." After Bertha died in 1955, the Nativity scene was put up in front of the courthouse on the comer of Huron and Main for a few years—until concerns about the separation of church and state ended religious displays on public property.

For most of this century. Main Street was lined with department stores that mounted special window displays to entertain holiday shoppers. Old-timers recall being especially enthralled by the moving displays: a revolving tree in Mack and Company's window, a Shirley Temple doll playing the organ at Goody ear's, and an electric train going around and around in the window of Muehlig and Lanphear's hardware store (co-owner Edward Muehlig was Bertha Muehlig's brother).

Mack and Company, on the comer of Liberty and Main, was the premier department store in Ann Arbor before the Depression. Former employee Mabel Sager remembers that the store's buyers would "go to New York and Chicago and buy real nice stuff for Christmas." The late Edith Staebler Kempft remembered in a 1982 interview that the store always had a live Christmas tree. 'They had a large music box imported from Germany," she said. "They put the tree in the middle. When the music was on, the tree moved. You could see it from the Liberty Street entrance." Helen Schmid remembers a Santa who roamed around the store, talking to children about what they wanted for Christmas.

On the other side of Main Street, Muehlig and Lanphear's hardware store would set up its electric train. "Kids would have their noses up to the window," Marian Zwinch remembers. "Trains were out of the range of most people's pocketbooks." Fay Muehlig agrees, remembering that it wasn't unusual to get "an engine one Christmas and a passenger car or freight car the next."

Goodyear's, located in the next block of Main between Washington and Huron, eventually replaced Mack and Company as the most prominent downtown department store. In the 1950s, it was the first store to introduce free gift wrapping at
Christmas. "We hired young girls who sang carols as they wrapped," former Goodyear's manager Donna Moran recalls. "They were from the high school a cappella choir and wore cute little outfits." Their performance was a big hit, with long
lines, but after a few years they discontinued the singing because "it interfered with the wrapping," Moran recalls. "It was hard to sing and listen to what kind of paper the customer wanted."

On Kids Night, former Goodyear's employee Jean Brumley remembers, "We set up the cafeteria with different items, all low prices that the kids could buy for their parents. The mothers would bring them in and then go off."

For years, a highlight of the holiday season was seeing and hearing the doll in Goodyear's window "play" Christmas music on a pipe organ. "We always watched to see when they would put it in," Fay Muehlig remembers. "It was a fixture of Christmas." Speakers piped the music outside for passersby.

—Grace Shackman

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Grace Shackman

Landmarks: Space Pod Replaced

"It always reminded me of the space pod from The Jetsons," says Carol Uhal, who handles public relations for Great Lakes Bank.

Uhal was referring to the Great Lakes branch on the corner of Stadium and Pauline, built in 1962 and torn down in April. A hexagonal structure with giant umbrella-like wings forming a six-pointed star, it did have a definite space-age flavor.

The architect, Walter Anika, was a member of the board of directors of the bank, then known as Ann Arbor Federal Savings and Loan, and "was free to do what he wanted," recalls retired vice-president Robert Reiff. Many believe that he was inspired by the space race, which had started in 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.

Architect Denis Schmiedeke calls the branch "a fun-type building for the time." Others are less complimentary. "A Chinese Dairy Queen," is how one former employee describes it. "A few good friends suggested, 'Why not open a hamburger shop?' " recalls Reiff, while retired bank secretary Gertrude Wenger opines, "It was unusual, let's say that."

Raised in New York State, Anika rode the rails to Ann Arbor during the Great Depression and somehow managed to get enough money to attend architecture school. "Anika started at Gill Lumber drawing up house plans for people for twenty-five dollars," recalls U-M architecture dean emeritus Bob Metcalf. He also sold house plans to magazines and newspapers.

Anika's fortunes improved after World War II, when he began designing schools. The onset of the baby boom "left the schools short. There [had been] no building taking place for a long time," explains architect Wes Lane, who worked for Anika. Starting with an elementary school in Milan, Anika received more than 100 commissions all over the state, including Carpenter and Stone schools in Ann Arbor.

The Stadium-Pauline area was just beginning to be developed when the bank chose the corner for its first branch. "It was filled with customers immediately," Reiff recalls. But while the west side flourished, the growth was not good for the building. The hexagonal shape left no convenient way to put on an addition. After tearing down the "space pod," Great Lakes is now building a bigger, much more conventional bank, which should be finished by late summer.

By the time Anika designed the bank, he was living in Connecticut, though he still flew into Ann Arbor for board meetings. In the late 1960s he changed careers, moving to Japan to make movies. Anika didn't live to see his Jetsonesque flight of fancy demolished: retired to Florida, he died in 1992 at age eighty.

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