John, Betty Grube to retire

—After 50 years in business, they plan to slow down. Or do they?
CRESCO - Grube Lawn and Garden has been a fixture in Cresco for almost 50 years. John and Betty Grube bought it from the previous owners in 1973, but John’s been working at the same location since 1959 (That’s 63 years!). 
At first, it was mostly roofing and insulation, but the business has changed over time. Throughout the years, he’s mowed lawns and shoveled snow manually. Now it is more selling and servicing lawn mowers, snow blowers, chainsaws and other small engines. But they also sell bulk garden seed and lots of bird seed. There’s even citrus fruit and sweet onions on occasion.
And time has moved on for the owners as well. After all these years, the two of them plan to close the doors and retire on Dec. 31, 2022.
It’s a time of big change after many years of smaller changes. As Betty put it, “It’s been an interesting transition, from one thing to another thing to another thing. It’s really going to be a transition to go home and not have to come to work.”
The building itself will stay for possible sale at a later date, but the rest of the business is already on the move. “I got a guy from Shell Rock who bought all the inventory and whole goods,” John said. 
“He’s taking that to Shell Rock because he’s building a brand new building right on Highway 3.” Betty added.
“It’s something of a new idea,” John went on. “It’s more like an automotive store. It’s going to be a small engine store and parts. He does have two mechanics. He’s going to do repair there.”
Repair is a fading art in John’s view. For example, he’s the only one around who takes care of Nipco tube heaters. “I’ve tried to help anybody,” he said. “That’s my primary reason for staying this long is helping people.”
“And he’s a good two-cycle man, on lawn mowers,” Betty added. “He’s really good. And this guy who bought all our inventory is also good at that, so it’s nice to see those Lawn-Boy parts go to someone who’s going to utilize them.”
“The old Lawn-Boys, and the two-strokes like your chainsaws … there’s no place that I know of where you can go to school to learn any of that,” John said. “Not any more.”
While it’s obvious there is a sense of closure to the idea of their work being carried on by another in a new location, the Grubes’ plans for the future focus on family and travel.
“We no more than announced we were going to retire, and the first week of February, the kids are sending us on a cruise. They’re sending us out to sea.” Betty said with a laugh. The cruise is to the Caribbean, and then the plans include a trip to Tampa to watch one of their sons race at East Bay. And there are other trips on the agenda in the coming year, too. An aunt in Nevada. Visiting family in Missouri and Texas. Fishing in Minnesota.
“You can see we’ve got plenty to do for awhile, without being in here every day.” John smiled.
But it’s not all gadding about, either. Betty, in particular, is looking forward to being at home. Amongst other things, she’s looking forward to making bread again. “I’d like to get back to making my own bread at home and doing that stuff,” she said. “Because I always used to do that. But when you get older, you don’t have the energy to come home at night and bake bread any more. The oomf is gone.”
All this leisure time activity will be a strange, new world for the hard-working couple. “I don’t take any time off,” John said about his work habits for the past decades. “I’ve done that all my life. I’ve only taken half a day for being sick in 60 years.”
He attributes that work ethic to the reality of raising a family in sometimes difficult economic times. 
“Well, we got married, and we had five kids,” Betty noted practically. “Back in the day, you didn’t get help. You did your own thing.”
“Five kids, and I got $65 a week,” John added. “You think about it, and they won’t work for $65 a day now. It’s a changing world.”
And not always changes for the better, according to Betty.  One of the biggest changes she’s seen in business terms is finding people who want to work at all. “They don’t want to work any more,” she said. “It’s just crazy.”
In younger days, John said, “I came to work at 7 a.m. and worked until 8 or 9 at night.”
And the work ethic is generational. Betty’s mother immigrated from Denmark at 18 years of age and worked as a maid for a doctor for seven dollars a month. 
“We were taught to accept the responsibility of a family,” Betty said, and she and her husband are both rightfully proud of the hard work they put into raising theirs.
There have been many other changes in the world around them as well. One of the harder ones to accept has been the dwindling of familiar faces in the business community.
“All the businesses that used to be owned by people I knew are gone,” John said quietly.
“When you’d go uptown on a Thursday or Friday night,” Betty added, “or Saturday night, main street was full of cars. We had jewelry stores, Maid-rite restaurants and bars.”
“We had a lot of stores on main street,” John agreed. “Hardware stores. Eating places. We had grocery stores on main street and everything. There was a lot there. The only ones really left are Holstrom’s and Billmyer. They’re all gone.”
Another big change is right across the street from them. “Where Fareway is now was all a park,” Betty said. “It was a beautiful spot in the middle of town. But that’s progress.” She paused a beat, then added, “They call it progress. I’d rather see the green grass.”
And she remembers the train depot, too. “The depot and all that was right over there on the northeast corner of where Fareway is. That’s where the depot was. I can remember that VERY well back in the 40s. And it’s all gone now.”
Mixed with all this reminiscing is a sense of melancholy for both the past and the future. “The hardest thing for me to hear right now,” Betty said, “is ‘you’re really going to be missed.’ Because we’re old school. We’re not into big fancy, and all that.”
“I’m still gonna do a little,” John said. “I got a few people … you gotta do it. So I’m gonna.”
When asked what made them decide to retire, the mood immediately lightens. “Kids prodding,” Betty said with a laugh. 
“The kids have been after me for two years,” John said. “And my hands can’t take the cold. And I figure it’s time to enjoy five years.”
“Five?” Betty questioned. “We’re aiming for 110 [years old], just remember.”
“I used to go by 10 years,” John said, smiling. “Now I go by five. Once I get to five years, then I can see what I can still do.”
“I’ve got a honey-do list that’s 63 years old.” Betty said.
“Yeah,” John acknowledged. “I’ve gotta make her a raised garden. That’s one of the first things I’ve got to do this spring.”
Listening to such exchanges, it’s not hard to see that people, and their relationships with those people, are the central fixture in John and Betty Grube’s lives. That trend features prominently in both their plans for retirement and their fondest memories of decades of business in Cresco.
“Our customers,” both responded immediately to a question about their favorite part of so many years in the business. “The customers – the good friends we made,” Betty said. 
“Yeah,” John agreed. “Yeah. And in all the years, I only told one guy to never come back. He was here from Austin, Minn.; and I could see why, after. That was the only guy, in all those years.”
“I had one I told not to come back, too,” Betty said. “He complained about the bill, so I gave him all his money back. He said, oh, no, I don’t expect that; and I said well, if I don’t give you all your money back, you’re going to go down the road and say that John Grube cheated you. And, I said, if I give you all your money back, you can’t say that. But just don’t come back.”
Both also reminisce about customers and neighbors dropping by for coffee and a chat, gathering around the old wood-burning stove in the corner. “A lot of people like to come in and talk to him,” Betty said. “A lot of visiting gets done in this place. Oh, my Lord.
“We want to thank everybody who supported us,” she went on. “And the good friends we made. I always tell them, you know where we live, the coffee pot will still be on down there.”
But with so much already planned for their retirement, don’t be worried if you don’t find them at home. “The kids are going to keep us busy,” Betty said. “I can see that.”
“Well, they have been after me for two years to quit.” John noted. “I kinda wanted to make that 80. She’s 80 and I’m 81. So … that’s enough.”

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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