Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

 Aug. 11, 2003

History is endlessly frustrating and fascinating

The remarkable Montrose history booklet compiled for the Montrose Centennial in 1981 is still available by sending a check for $10.44 to Wendy Manson, Deputy Clerk, at Montrose City Offices, 311 Buffalo Ave. S., Montrose, MN 55363.

As a proof that we liberals do not control the media, I have to report that my loud praise of this history book a few weeks back didn't sell a single copy.

The book only costs $8.00. If you want to save yourself the shipping and handling charges you can stop in at the city offices and buy it over the counter. First, you must have a cup of coffee at Red's Cafe nearby. Half of the people in Montrose have worked at Red's Cafe over the years and the other half always ate there. This Red's is not to be confused with the Red's in Howard Lake.

In a state famous for its friendly small towns and even friendlier roadside restaurants in those same small towns, Red's in Montrose is outstanding, probably because it has outlived so many other farmer friendly diners and probably because Montrose is, well, so different.

My friend Margie Wright Onstatt, who sent me the book, also worked at Red's Cafe for over 20 years. She told me "There are lots of changes in this little burg, but it's still Montrose!"

And Red's Cafe is still there. I remember when it was "Red's Bus." Like the City Diner in downtown St. Paul, it started out as a real bus, then put up on blocks and turned into a restaurant.

Here is the history of Red's Cafe as told by one of the anonymous authors of "Montrose Minnesota" in the "Going Concerns" section, which refers to the surviving businesses in Montrose as of 1981.

"In 1931, Elmo (Red) Redmond bought land on Hwy. 12 from Charlie Johnson, owner of the filling station on the corner. He then brought the body of an old Greyhound bus from Minneapolis and set up Red's Coffee Bus.

He hired his first waitress for $5 a week, plus board. She worked seven days a week. Gertrude (Birdie) Locke came as a waitress in 1932 and is still with Red, now as a partner in marriage. Margaret Salonek also worked for Red for years. He had many compliments about the people who worked for them over the years.

"Red would go to fairs with a popcorn wagon and later he put the wagon on the back of the bus for a kitchen.

"In the early days of the business they had to carry water from the service station in the winter and then use a garden hose for water in the summer.

"Red's Coffee Bus was open 24 hours a day for 18 years. Red would sleep with his head on the counter. That dedication paid off because Red's 5 cent coffee and delicious American fries are still known throughout the state.

He remembers that when Willmar played in the state basketball tournament, about 200 fans swarmed the bus waiting to be served.

"In the 1930s a sandwich was 10 cents and a T-bone steak 60 cents. A dinner in 1981 was $3.

"In 1947 the bus was replaced by a brand new building. Since that time each new owner would do some renovating. Red's Coffee Bus and Cafe was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Sipe in 1966. Sipes then sold the cafe to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Johnson (Mrs. Jack Johnson was Waverly's very own Mary Kay Fitzpatrick Herbst Johnson). Larry and Diane Miller are the present owners.

"Larry has continued the excellent service and delicious food. He isn't open 24 hours a day, but it must seem like it when the crowds come on weekends for breakfast after Leo and Clive's close."

Now is the summer of 2003. Larry and Diane Miller are still the owners and have now expanded into catering.

The history of Red's Cafe is the history of Montrose, at least from 1931 on. People like Mr. and Mrs. Redmond were also pioneers. They were brave enough to keep a business going through the Great Depression.

They never quit. "Red" died on March 16, 1998 in Aberdeen, S.D. and is buried in Delano, where his son still lives. His grandson, Steve, who is a physician, saw to it that "Red" had an easy passage by getting him into a hospice where he could be surrounded by love at the time of his death in Aberdeen.

Why Montrose was named "Montrose" is lost to history except for the speculation that it was named for a town in George M. Wright's home county in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Wright was the first settler in Montrose. I am guessing that Wright County is named after him.

Elmo Redmond was called "Elmo" because he was born in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.

There are different versions of how Waverly got its name and I don't believe any of them. History is endlessly frustrating and fascinating.

The names of the authors of this Montrose history are themselves lost to history. Darlene Hardie, although a relative newcomer to Montrose (1974) probably wrote the preface because she had worked on the project and was both a librarian and a journalist, but there is no named author, not even for the most interesting preface.

"In 1881, when the people of the Montrose area decided to transform their community into a legal entity, these are some of the conditions which were part of their lives:

"President Garfield had been assassinated. An inexperienced politician, Chester Arthur, was head of state.

"The people of Minnesota were recovering from a winter of exceedingly heavy snowfalls.

"A diet that depended on the vagaries of the climate and their own knowledge and skill at growing and preserving available foodstuffs.

"A communication system that was quite rudimentary. The mail was still carried on horseback.

"A populace that had a 'grade school' education.

"A people of diverse backgrounds, religions, and cultures that must meld together for the common good.

"An inherent optimism that is a part of those who are willing to make a drastic change in their lives.

"A state and federal government that would encourage and promote individualism and the opportunities to succeed.

"A faith in a kind and benevolent Supreme Being, which was a source of guidance and strength.

"Since those days, many material advances have been made. Even the most affluent of that time could not live with the opulence that is within the everyday life of the present generation:

"Electricity, telephones, televisions, motor vehicles, instant communication and access to multiple alternatives in acquiring an education, including now, the computer."

The preface ends with this thought from Abraham Lincoln:

"I like to see people proud of the place in which they live. I like to see people live so that their place can be proud of them."

And then the author of this Preface to the History of Montrose ends with these two words:

"Are you?"

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