09-05-2019 Tri-City Area History Page

Are you one of these handsome young men posing near Paw Paw Lake? If so, please contact North Berrien Historical Museum at 269-468-3330, office@northberrienhistory.org, or stop by Tues-Friday 10am – 4pm they would love to hear your stories. From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum

The Paw Paw River Journal

Manny Oppenheim’s Quality Clothes

We had one real clothing store in Hartford’s golden past. Started by Manny Oppenheim’s dad, Jacob who was an itinerant Russian Jewish peddler. My first time in their store was with my dad and I was about 5 years old. They were sitting and talking. Although my dad’s name was Lee, Manny always called him Leo. He was always impeccably dressed, suit and tie, and smoking a cigar in a holder. That day while they talked I wandered around. There in one of the aisles I saw a beautiful dark-eyed girl. Just a little older than I, she was Regene, the oldest of Manny’s three daughters. Both of us being shy, we had little to say to each other. Regene played the violin and moved out west later. We heard she became an elementary teacher. One day Marion asked Manny about her. He said he had hoped she would become famous, but she was just teaching little kids. Marion said, “You should be proud of her… the early grades are where they get their beginning. Like the foundation of the house, it is most important!” Middle daughter Marilyn and Marion were good friends in high school. After my graduation I was waiting to go into the Air Force. We were no longer dating, and I was surprised one day to get a phone call from Marilyn. She asked me if I would like to be her guest at their senior prom. I was so surprised I said I would get back to her. I called and told her I would do it and found out what color her dress would be so I could get a corsage to match. We had a good if somewhat formal time and Marion was there double dating with a friend of hers and her cousin, Jim DeBoni and a friend of his. We studiously avoided each other, and afterwards I took Marilyn to a restaurant in Benton Harbor. I didn’t know what a traditionally Jewish girl would eat, but cheeseburgers turned out just right. I never saw her socially again after that. Marilyn came to a tragic end. She was living in an apartment in Chicago, where she fell in the bathroom and died. We never heard much more about it, but I suspect there was a story that was never told. Youngest daughter Lorraine moved to Chicago and married. She came by our house some years later with her husband to buy one of my first books. We had a good time talking and I could see she was living the good life. Hopefully she still is! Manny’s wife, Dorothy, was a beautiful woman. We used to see her out at night walking around the streets of Hartford for exercise. Otherwise than that, she mixed with the other ladies in town very little. The one time I was in their house I picked up Marilyn for the prom. It was beautifully appointed, old-fashioned furniture, and had a quiet stylish quality. Oppenheim’s store must have been quite profitable. Hartford’s young men often ran accounts there. One day Marion was in there with Marilyn. She needed some money to pay for their high school yearbook. Manny told her to look in the desk drawers and she would find enough petty cash for that. So they went on a search, and Marion said in every desk they looked there is a gun in one of the drawers. And this speaks to Manny’s increasing concern with security as he grew older. He had several locks on the front door, which he had to deal with every time he opened the store. He also had installed Hartford’s first burglar alarm! The day it was finished they tried it out, and when the door was opened without it being reset it raised a horrible racket on Main Street. The bell was installed high up on the front and certainly did its job well. That evening Edison Harley, night watchman, went along Main Street trying doors to make sure they were all locked. He finished that side and went around coming back along the alley. When he got to Manny’s store, he was shocked to find the back door slightly open. He thought there must be someone inside! What to do? Edison ran back to the pool hall on the corner, yanked open the back door and yelled, “Possible break-in at Manny’s! I need some reinforcements!” All the pool players and card players who could still walk followed him and tiptoed up on the back porch. Gun drawn, Edison cautiously pushed the door open. The alarm went off and all hell broke loose! The posse knocked each other down scrambling to get off the porch. It turned out the last time Manny checked the alarm he forgot to shut the back door when he left. And it took Hartford some little time to get over the shock of the new burglar alarm going off in the middle of the night! Manny Oppenheim’s store was a Hartford fixture for many years. He definitely wove some threads into the Golden Tapestry of Life. Part of the great story of small-town America… our lives in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.

Watervliet Library News

September is Library Card Sign-Up Month. Residents are encouraged to stop in at the library and sign up for a card. New card holders will be entered in a drawing for library newcomer’s prizes. Sensory Bin Blast Tuesday, Sept. 10, 10:30-11:30 a.m. The perfect time for a perfect mess! Great skill building for little ones while providing lots of silly fun. No registration is required. Fo