Aunt Minnie, proprietor of Coffman's Grocery in the little building by Sam Houston School, where the original sign, Wiest Grocery still hung over the door, is flanked here in January 1947 by Peggy Coffman Stutts, now of Mount Vernon, and Violet Coffman. Aunt Minnie died in 1972 and Violet died in 1986. Photo Courtesy Tom Kellough
Last week’s column about Durham’s Hamburger Store that was located across the street from Central Ward School, jogged a few memories of people who didn’t attend Central, but who remember the little neighborhood groceries that catered to children near other elementary schools.
These little stores were stopping off places for kids for snacks and sodas on their way to and from school. Many of these kids no doubt spent their lunch money on snacks instead of eating in the cafeteria as their parents had intended for them to do.
Thomas Kellough, who remembered Kay Durham, the pre-teen who sometimes cooked at Durham’s place, said that elementary age kids who went to Sam Houston School had their hamburger place too. It was across Tone Avenue, on the alley behind Paul Ashburn’s home at 1030 West Morgan. The Blankenships lived next to the store on Nelson, he said.
John Hoover remembers the small neighborhood grocery store was run by Mrs. Minnie Coffman despite the fact that the sign in front said Wiest Grocery. The store’s owner was known as Aunt Minnie to Tom. She was the sister of Christine Blankenship who lived next door on Nelson. Christine was Jake and Rosemary’s mother.
Tom said there were several other sisters and all were the daughters of Papa Wiest, who he faintly remembers when he was a child and Papa Wiest was up in years.
John said the kids could order hamburgers in the morning on the way to school and pick them up at lunchtime and they cost 15 cents. "They were big, juicy burgers and really good," he remembers.
This was during World War II and there was a shortage of bubble gum – Fleers was the only brand, he said. Mrs. Coffman was like H.C. McRight at North Side Grocery, she let the kids know when some would be available and would take their names, allowing one piece per person. They picked the delicacy up when it came in for a penny a piece.
Evidently Tom, who now lives in Canon City, CO, attended Central and Sam Houston as well since John said Tom moved over to his side of town and went to Sam Houston. John lived at the corner of Tone and Shepherd, across the street from Mrs. E.G. Johnson, who taught typing in high school.
He said the Coffman’s store was where his family bought a lot of their groceries between Saturdays when they went downtown to Schaffer’s.
Tom, who knew the Coffman family well as he was growing up in Denison, said Jacob and Christina Wiest were German immigrants who left their home in Odessa, Russia, on the Black Sea, to come to America, where their children could have better lives.
They were descendants of the German subjects of Catherine the Great of Prussia, who were taken to Russia 100 years earlier and were given land in the rich Ukraine when Catherine married the Czar of Russia.
They were part of a group of families who immigrated together. Christine’s parents remained in Odessa with other children.
They left from the Port of Bremen, Germany on the ship, Saale, and landed in New York on Nov. 14, 1889, then came by train to Texas. Jacobs sold his farming equipment and team to buy the tickets for the trip for himself, his wife and baby. Just before they left he discovered that a pickpocket had stolen his money and only his tickets were left, according to information by Emma Wiest Blankenship in the History of Grayson County, Volume 1 that was published in 1979 by Frontier Village.
The group didn’t realize that meals were furnished on board the ship and ate nothing but bread, which they had taken with them. Just before they got off the ship someone took them some hot tea. They had been very seasick on the crossing.
Jacob opened his neighborhood grocery store and market after the Katy strike of 1922. Aunt Minnie was his daughter. He had been a teacher and wheat farmer in Russia.
Christine made Hop yeast for light bread and sold some of it. She also packaged the bread in paper bags marked "Mrs. Wiest’s Hop Yeast".
Tom recalled that Violet Coffman, daughter of Aunt Minnie, worked for his dad at Piggly Wiggly Grocery on Main in the late 1930s and early 1940s, then went with him to Kellough’s Grocery on South Austin Avenue when he purchased his store from the Dowdy’s.
He said his dad did not serve hamburgers to the kids, but he made his own brick chili and sold it at the meat counter. He also was a specialty butcher and but all his own meats. His dad, he said, came to Denison with Jack Barrett to operate the Piggly Wiggly store on Main Street.
He and his sister, Theda, had fun in the back end of the store, sliding down where they slid cases of inventory down from the top floor warehouse to the store floor. He said some may remember the donut-making machine at the front of the old Piggly Wiggly. It was quite a contraption, he said, as it automatically dropped the dough into the hot oil and you could watch the donuts cook and buy them fresh with whatever topping you wanted on them.
He said the Coffmans were an integral part of their family for many years, although not related. "We celebrated Christmas and other holidays at our home from the time I was born," he said.
Tom said he had good memories of the hamburgers, the store and school days and also remembered Arabell, Aunt Minnie’s assistant in the store. He said she was a permanent fixture there.
John wondered why it was Central "Ward" School. Sam Houston was named for the Texas hero by the same name and Peabody, Lamar and Raynal also were named for real people. Golden Rule was better known as the Cotton Mill school in its earliest days, but where did the "Ward" come from.
We didn’t find an answer but a piece written by Walter T. Brown on Sept. 7, 1921, said that Central Ward was a model grammar school building built by a Denison firm of contractors, Behley and Thorn at a cost of $53,000. If anyone is interested, it’s for sale, but you can be sure the building price has been exceeded.
By Donna Hunt