Excerpts from the book, When Normal Blew Up: The Story of the People Who Died and the People Who Lived On. Used with permission by Red Raku Press.
Bingman's Drug Store was located on iconic Main Street, about a half-block from the center of town. Dean Bingman bought the store in 1953. Charlie Schieber came along the next year and bought the drug store from Dean.
Bingman's was more than a drug store; it was stuffed to the gills with merchandise, more like a variety store with a pharmacy in the back. The biggest draw for folks, as I have said, was the soda fountain and lunch counter. Bingman's was a hangout for young and old, where you could find the Mayor, local businessmen, and high school teenagers alike sitting at the counter on red vinyl stools or in wooden booths, ordering milkshakes and cheeseburgers. Many people came just to hang out at Bingman's, to browse the store and "be seen."
Bingman's must have been a great place to work. At the beginning of 1967, the store employed twenty-one people, including three pharmacists. Many of the staff had worked there forever. I know this because every New Year's Eve, Bingman's took out a three-quarter page ad in the local paper thanking the community for its patronage and listing all the employees. It was part of the advertising that made Bingman's personal. Everyone in town knew the employees by their first names. That and the fact that Bingman's was a proud sponsor of a consistently strong Little League team in a town that loved baseball.
The store was staffed with at least five people at any one time: one at the front register, either Mrs. Lagore or Mrs. Holbrook at the cosmetic counter, at least one of the three druggists in the pharmacy area; at least one but sometimes up to seven women working in the popular soda fountain and lunch counter, and a stock boy or two who could fill in when and where needed.
Of the four employees who would eventually die in the store, my dad was the last to come on board, at the end of 1960. So, for at least seven years, the main characters of this story were long-time friends and colleagues.
* * *
My dad, Teddy L. Foster, was so happy to move to Circleville in 1960. After he graduated from college, he had dragged his growing family to small towns all over Ohio ? Williamsburg, Minerva and Somerset ? chasing better opportunities to be a pharmacist.
He was known as a "good-guy druggist" who went above and beyond. For instance, former co-workers said, he was known to "brown bag" the little old ladies, meaning he would ask elderly customers to bring all their prescriptions in so he could check for unintended drug interactions. He was also known as a family man. Employees said that when my mom would come into the store, dad would drop everything. "Your mom would come in like a whirlwind, always joking and speaking to everyone. She would often have her kids in tow and her kids' friends in tow." No one was quite sure how many kids they had, but the consensus was that they could field a small baseball team, at least.
My dad was a good citizen of Circleville, active in his church, a member of the Rotary Club and American Legion, and a Mason, the centuries-old men's secret society where members swear an oath to not disclose their rituals. It had something to do with pledging to be of good character and concerned with morality and ethics, so I don't know why they were so secretive. Many of the prominent men in town were Masons, including my dad's boss, Charlie Schieber.
* * *
Charlie Schieber, grew up on a farm in Bucyrus, in northern Ohio. He left to study at Ohio Northern University, graduated from the College of Pharmacy, and passed the pharmacy boards in 1949. In 1954, he moved to Circleville, and, at age thirty-five, purchased his own drug store from Dean Bingman, the store's namesake. Once Charlie was settled in, he went home, married his sweetheart, and brought her back to Circleville.
Charlie did work a lot and was an active and important community leader. The newspaper noted his extensive involvements: "?member of the Circleville First Methodist Church, the Kiwanis Club, past president of the Circleville Area Chamber of Commerce, the local Masonic Chapter Council, Commander and Shrine, member of the board of directors of the Circleville Parking Lot Corporation, the Pickaway Country Club and the Ohio State Pharmacists Association.
Karen, his daughter, shared with me a few fond memories of her dad. "I remember standing on his feet as he walked me to bed at night and he let me sit with him on the riding mower when he mowed the lawn," she said. Her dad also smoked a pipe, a smell she loves to this day.
"We would go on Sunday drives, often to Bucyrus to visit grandmother. It was the time before seat belts and my dad made a wooden platform to go over the hump in the back seat of the car so Larry [her brother] could stretch out and sleep; and I would stretch out above him on the seat. I also remember that we would go over hills on our trips where, if you went fast enough, you could almost feel like you were airborne. Larry and I would chant together, 'Daddy go fast!' and we would fly over the hills, leaving our stomachs in the air, much to our delight." Karen recalled that her dad was funny, a practical joker, and had a great sense of humor.
* * *
Francis Willison, soon-to-be wife (of Chuck Willison), lived on the other side of Akron and went to a different high school. The two met after graduation.
They dated for the next year and started talking about marriage, but that was 1950, going on 1951, and the Chinese were starting trouble in Korea. Chuck knew he was going to be drafted. He got it into his head that it wasn't right to get married and then get drafted. So, they waited. It wasn't until August (1951) that he received orders to go overseas. "In September, I came home and, in a surprising twist, we got married."
When Chuck came home [after serving overseas], his brother and dad were living in Circleville. They offered to help him find a job there. Chuck got a job at Wardell's Carpet and Rugs, which was downtown, right next to Bingman's. Francis got a job right away at the telephone company, as an office girl, not an operator. Not too much later, she started working for Dean and Grace Bingman at Bingman's Drug Store. She was educated enough to take care of the books. When Charlie Schieber bought the drug store, she stayed on, working for him as a bookkeeper.
Francis and Chuck's oldest son was born in 1955, followed by two more boys, one right after the other. Francis cut back to part time once she had her hands full with the three boys. "She always worked on Saturdays, and maybe two nights during the week, she'd be gone after supper," said Chuck. "She'd go in and do the bookkeeping and might not get home until ten or eleven o'clock."
"We were in love," Chuck remembered of this time in their life. "We both worked to make a good living for the kids. We never fought. We had few disagreements. She might want something one way and I would want it different, but we didn't fight over it. She was just a good-hearted girl."
* * *
Martha Lagore, or "Mart," as she was known by family and friends, was the perfect saleswoman for the cosmetic counter. Customers asked for her by name to help them look and smell as well-put-together as she appeared. It was thought that she came from a well-heeled family because she was always dressed like a million dollars, with never a hair out of place, makeup expertly applied, and wearing stockings that had a seam up the back. Truth be told, she was a local girl who had grown up on the south side of town and who had eloped at seventeen to marry her sweetheart, much to the dismay of her devoted family.
She started working at the drug store when her youngest child married, had babies of her own and moved away. The order that those things happened is not important, except to say Mart worked mainly to earn a little money to send to her daughter and grandchildren.
For many years afterward, on the anniversary of her death, Mart Lagore's family published a special tribute to her in the local paper's In Memoriam section at the beginning of the Classifieds. Here is one of the many poems I found:
The month of April again is here
To us the saddest of the year.
A bitter grief, a shock severe,
To part with one we loved so dear.
God gave us strength to face it,
And courage to bear the blow,
But what it meant to lose you,
No one will ever know.
Sadly, missed by Mother, Father, Sister, Niece and Nephew