Help­ing fam­i­lies sur­vive tough times

The Drumheller Mail - - NEWS - O.R. Sheddy The Drumheller Mail

“If John Forgo didn’t give our fam­ily credit for gro­ceries, we’d have starved!”

So said Drumheller res­i­dent Bill Schaf­fer about his mother buy­ing gro­ceries from John Forgo at North Drum Gro­cery over the years.

John gave credit to dozens, if not hun­dreds of cus­tomers, mainly fam­i­lies who ei­ther had lit­tle or no money dur­ing the late 1940s and 50s, or if the coal mines weren’t work­ing, the bread­win­ner, usu­ally the fa­ther, couldn’t pay.

John’s wife Irene, now in her early 90s, re­mem­bers those days, and how tough they were for her and John, just start­ing out.

“John was just out of the Army af­ter 4 1/2 years in 1946, and work­ing at Cal­gary Brew­ing and Malt­ing, when one Sun­day, be­fore we were mar­ried, we drove out to visit my par­ents in Drumheller. Out for a drive, I re­mem­ber my mother say­ing this gro­cery store was for sale, and would be a good op­por­tu­nity for you”, Irene told this re­porter.

The store had fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles, a full meat counter, and was open 6 days a week. It was lo­cated on the north side of what is now the Gor­don Tay­lor Bridge, in the build­ing cur­rently owned by the Bridge Greek Restau­rant.

We had some won­der­ful staff over the years, Ruth Soper, Angie Butt, and Anna McLean worked the front counter and Louis Len­gel, who al­ways had a twin­kle in his eye, would come in and cut meat when John needed a break”, Irene con­tin­ued.

Schaf­fer couldn’t say enough about how gen­er­ous Forgo was to their fam­ily. “I re­mem­ber one time my mom was em­bar­rassed to go in for gro­ceries, I think we owed $90, couldn’t pay, but John told her to come in and get what­ever she wanted, that he knew he would get paid when my dad had some money”

And so fam­i­lies.

Barb and Bud Campbell lived in North Drumheller and al­ways had an ac­count at the store.

“When­ever we would go in and pay the gro­cery bill, John would al­low the kids to each take a penny candy. We al­ways had an ac­count there”, she told the Mail. She re­called that when the weather turned cold, John would al­ways open up the store early so the kids could keep warm while wait­ing for the school bus that stopped out­side his front door. it was for a lot of

It wasn’t long af­ter they bought the store that it was flooded out in 1948.

“We lost ev­ery­thing in the base­ment, and the wa­ter was up to the win­dows on the main floor”, Irene said, “and no­body had any in­sur­ance”.

Irene was the ac­coun­tant, and was also busy rais­ing three boys, Jim, Steve and Mike. She took a dim view of John’s credit prac­tices, but blamed John’s en­gag­ing per­son­al­ity to make the busi­ness grow. “I called him the “lucky jack­ass”, be­cause he was a good man and took peo­ple at their word they would even­tu­ally pay, and most did.”

Ossie Sheddy Sr. tried for years to get John to ad­ver­tise his spe­cials in er Mail, and John re­fused, mainly be­cause he didn’t think he could af­ford to pay for the ad. Ossie fi­nally con­vinced John to put bologna on sale for 25c a pound, and if he didn’t sell enough to pay for the ad, it was free. Turned out that John sold out of bologna that week, and he be­came a reg­u­lar ad­ver­tiser af­ter that with a weekly ad.

Long­time Drumheller busi­ness­man John Ko­hut Sr. re­mem­bers Forgo as a very gen­er­ous man to his cus­tomers, and started de­liv­er­ing freight there when Hi-Way 9 Ex­press started in 1969. But John’s rec­ol­lec­tion went back even fur­ther. John’s fa­ther, also named John, helped Forgo in the gro­cery busi­ness, as Ko­hut Sr. ran an­other gro­cery store in Mid­land.

“My dad and John butchered and cut beef to­gether,” John said, “and those guys in those days gave a lot of peo­ple credit on their gro­ceries, car­ried fam­i­lies all sum­mer long when the mines were not work­ing, and then when the men went back to work in the fall and win­ter, they would even­tu­ally get paid”.

John en­joyed curl­ing in the win­ter, but fam­ily va­ca­tions were out of the ques­tion be­cause the store needed so much at­ten­tion. Be­cause the gro­cery whole­saler they used was As­so­ci­ated Gro­cers, the only hol­i­day John and Irene had for many years was at the com­pany gen­eral meet­ing held every spring in Radium, BC.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, John would en­ter­tain friends and fam­ily by play­ing the cim­balon, a large, trape­zoidal box with metal strings stretched across the top. It was a dif­fi­cult in­stru­ment to play, but when he did, it brought back mem­o­ries of his younger days, grow­ing up in a Hun­gar­ian fam­ily.

North Drum Gro­cery, or, af­fec­tion­ately some­times called John­nie’s Gro­cery, was sold in the mid-1980s, and John passed away in 1992, at age 70. Irene is still ac­tive, en­joys play­ing bridge, still drives, reg­u­larly at­tends St. An­thony’s Church, and has a host of good friends.

“Peo­ple still come up to me and love to tell sto­ries about the gro­cery, and re­mem­ber­ing the kind­nesses John gave to them.”

Couldn’t write a his­tory of North Drum Gro­cery with­out men­tion­ing Wayne Jewell, the no­to­ri­ous de­liv­ery boy. He had the big­gest smile, the best duck tail hair­cut and drove the de­liv­ery van so fast, he had them de­liv­ered be­fore the ice cream got soft.

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