A phone call from Kari Mikkelsen at the Senior Center started the research for this column.
By Rita Maisel
Langdon’s Senior Meals and Transit will be doing some remodeling and wanted to know who had built the building they have occupied since 1980. The location had been the site of the National Tea Store when residents my age or older were growing up, but there were possibilities that it had been an earlier business before that firm moved to Langdon. The clipping file includes envelopes by family name but not by business or location. Following names suggested we find some history of people associated with National Tea and various Fairmont enterprises and start from there.
Based on a story the late Bob Price often told about his father working at that location for an early implement dealer (prior to 1910), that narrowed the field a bit. The County Recorder listed the location sold by McPhail Brosnahan Co. to L. C. Hazlett in 1912. James McPhail, a former mayor of Langdon, had been in the implement and banking businesses before Langdon was settled. From 1900-1912 his partner was James Brosnahan, husband of Lillie O’Brien, a sister of Mrs. Burke at Langdon and the daughter of early Cavalier County sheriff Mike O’Brien, whose name readers will remember from stories about the Palace Hotel which eventually became the Schulke and Boyd building which burned last January. Brosnahan left Langdon about 1912 to sell International Harvester equipment at Carrington. McPhail continued to have this kind of business but under a different name. Implement dealers often had a small office type building but, because the machinery was, the items for sale were usually housed outdoors. There may not have been a store located on that lot for many years. Hazlett sold the property to the Cavalier County Implement Company, also known at times by Home Implement Company, in 1914 with other managers or owners listed on the deeds. One of those was Antoine Clermont.
Clermont, Clairmont and Claremont are all names you can find in both Cavalier and Pembina County cemeteries, but we did not find information on Antoine in those records. Hard times reached farmers and possibly implement dealers as well during the 1920s and 1930s so the property might have had liens against it. However, the County Recorder found a notation on the lots beings sold by Clermont to Edwin Kjorlien on April 5, 1938, and that was an important clue.
Edwin Kjorlien was a Devils Lake businessman, and his 1976 obituary tells us that he was associated with the Fairmont Foods Company in that community and elsewhere. Kjorlien acquired the site to build a cream and egg buying station for the Fairmont Company. The ice cream store was added the next year, and the building enlarged to accommodate the National Supermarket which opened in Langdon in November 1938. What may initially have been storage space was utilized when it had lockers installed after World War II.
In November 1968, thirty years later, newsman Ed Franta, long-time check-out clerk Mary Cummings and employees down through the years combined their efforts to compile the history of National Food Stores in Langdon. They served coffee and donuts to patrons for two days of celebration and shared their memories. The store had provided a lot of groceries to local families, and the story lists workers trained there who went on to own or manage their own stores. The celebration in 1968 commemorated both the initial opening on November 4, 1938, at the building on Eighth Avenue as well as the later move on November 18, 1961, to a new and more modern building on Highway 1. The 1961 building is currently the hardware store with a few added features to keep up with the times.
At the Eighth Avenue National Tea location, the first manager was Robert Knudson, a native of the Loma community. He was followed by Ludvig Grose who was succeeded in 1941 by Harold Cassidy. Bernard “Bud” Kerper followed Cassidy from 1942 to 1944 when he left to take over an independent grocery store in Langdon. The name of that store was not listed. Kerper had hired Mary Cummings, and she remained with the National store for more than forty years according to her obituary in 2002.
Meanwhile T. R. “Toby” Pehkonen, who had been in the wholesale grocery business at Devils Lake, moved his wife and family to Langdon and became the manager at National Tea from January 1945 until 1956 when he left to manage the Piggly Wiggly Store which is now the location of the social services office. Some of his employees worked at both of the Langdon stores under his management. Toby was followed by William J. Storick until 1958 when Storick was called into the army. Leonard Kulas managed the store from 1958 until 1964 when he was transferred to Grand Forks. Kulas was followed by Dennis Braus who had been working in the Grand Forks store when attending UND, and he managed the store in Langdon until 1965 when he left to operate his own store which apparently was in the original National Tea building. At the National Tea on the highway, the new manager was James Kartes. There are additional names for the business remembered, but up until 1968 they were still under the National name.
However, in 1957, there had been a change in ownership of the property. Fairmont Foods Company sold to Alphonse Zettle and Milton Griswold who operated the creamery, a meat market, a locker plant and the ice cream store. Around this time Zettle’s nephew and his wife, Jerome and LaRue Dosmann, ran the little coffee shop and ice cream store for five years. In 1961 Zettle and Griswold sold the property back to Edwin Kjorlien, who retained ownership until selling it to the L.B. Hartz Wholesale Inc. in 1970. The Hartz Company employed various managers for their company, one of whom was Dennis Braus, who had begun working in that building as a teenager. When Dennis moved to Bismarck other managers came to Langdon, and I did not find their names.
In 1979 L.B. Hartz Wholesale Inc. sold the lot and building to the Langdon Area Senior Citizen Inc. There were numerous community fundraisers to help the group establish the senior meal program with home-delivered meals as well as activities at the Center. Readers will remember the many projects that have followed including the Transit service for groceries and appointments, wellness service and taking patients for chemo and dialysis on a regular basis.
Visiting with others about the history of the original grocery store and the many people who worked there brought up the names of other stores that existed in Langdon and information on most is incomplete. One mentioned was the Kopriva Bee Hive Store. I did not find its location, but Kopriva, another mayor of Langdon, had begun in a grocery store as a boy of 14 and in Langdon had a dry good store which generally means clothing and maybe linens. He closed the store in 1907 and devoted his time to his farming interests.
Other stores were the original grocery departments at both the J. B. Boyd Store (later Penney’s) and the Schulke/Golden Rule Boyd’s store on the west side of the street. John and Theresa Forrest (not known to be part of the Forest family here today) came from Cando in 1919 and had a grocery store for some time. All five of their children graduated from high school in Langdon, some from LHS and some from St. Alphonsus. Mrs. Forrest bought a large house on 7th Street and 11th Avenue in 1927 and rented out apartments and rooms. Her husband had moved to Washington state, possibly during the depression years, where he died in 1950. Their store could have been in the far end of either of the larger department stores. J. B. Boyd died in 1924, and Fred Kyle became the J. C. Penney manager in 1925. The grocery department was discontinued early in the Penney years. Penney’s did not sell groceries. Across the street a series of grocery stores occupied the west end of the Golden Rule Store and later the Skogmo’s store. In the same era Red Owl was about where the Bakery is today, and the Kertz Store was a block north on Main Street. Kertz’s is remembered as a family story with the parents and sons all pitching in to help over the years. That was probably true of most of the grocery stores down through the years.