Blue Bell ‘Choraliers’ lead me to reveries of Jones Bakery

Hi, readers! On March 18, I sent an e-mail to Jennifer entitled “AN EARNEST REQUEST FROM THE OLD TYPE WRITER WHO ADMITS TO KNOWING NOT EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW!” My letter and genesis for this column follows here:


Hi Jennifer! Remember when you discovered one of your missing school medals around Christmastime 2012, and I entered on your Facebook page that I, too, had experienced a Back to Sanity moment simultaneously and had re-discovered a yellowing newspaper from 1967 which I had borrowed from Don York 26 years ago? Well, I returned the “Whitley County Observer” to former Blue Bell employee Don whose photograph appears there “…weighing and marking each box to send them on their way to the trucks waiting at the boarding docks”! Featured in the “Focus on Blue Bell” photo-story, I counted nearly 50 “candid camera” type black and white pictures of industrious, energetic employees crafting Wrangler jeans and dungarees and overalls from bolts of denim into spiffy, finished products ready to clothe American kids, farmers, car-washing dads, truckers, gas station attendants, golfers, teenagers on hayrides, ranchers, etc. from “sea to shining sea”…and beyond our borders! Step by loving step, fingers flying at top speed, machines well-oiled and whirring away, those pix bring a crucial part of local history back to life!

So, Friday, Mr. York, who is eternally grateful that I retrieved his treasured newspaper, swapped this terrific photograph of “The Blue Bell Choraliers”, and we both remain copacetic! However, I attempted a few months ago to investigate this topic of ladies — from the local factory– frequently garbed in choir robes or formals gathering to sing their wondrous tunes near and far and all over this community. My fact-gathering amounted to zilch, even though I consulted with “Blue Bell Family” members Bill Winters and Evelyn Zumbrun who both rate as superior sources of limitless information.

Thus, I submit this photo to you to run in my Old Type Writer spot so that we can garner some retro-information which will allow me to proceed with a column. How about running this very message itself, if you would be so kind? Former Blue Bell employee Deb Lowrance and I have discussed a Blue Bell factory reunion sometime in the future to be held in one of the lovely rooms at the Peabody Library. Blue Bell closed its doors 35 years ago in the spring of 1978 , largely due to globalization. So, a special remembrance soiree would be well-timed. The group photo is attached…I recognize Mrs. B. V. Widney, my dad’s secretary Phyllis Mattix (Back row, third from left!), Don York’s wife Marilee, and Marjorie Cullimore Freeman. Several of these women’s faces seem quite familiar to me, but I am clueless as to their names because, indeed, I am an OLD Type Writer! ;D

I would appreciate hearing from those folks who recognize a loved one — or delighted to listen to accounts from the members themselves. Wow! Thanks for all that you do to capture the past and present and to promote the future of Columbia City and Whitley County, Jennifer! (Several other pix related to this 1967 “Observer”, which I sadly parted with, can be found at the conclusion of my gallery of photographs at my website:

PART TWO — (the fun part!)

Last week, I called Don York’s wife. Marilee York, nee Heil, always characterized in my mind since childhood as the happiest, smilingest, perkiest lady alive, laughed with me as we both tried to recall those musical angels from left to right and from front row to back without skipping a beat or misspelling even one name! Between the two of us, Marilee having worked at the Blue Bell plant where she tacked belt loops during her freshman and sophomore years in high school, we agreed that choir director Mrs. B. V. Widney stands gazing at us as the first lady “front row, left”! Also an easy identification followed of Mrs. York’s sister Willadeane Holycross, nee Heil! My earlier mistake (re-read PART ONE!) got corrected because Eloise “Jones” Freeman never participated, while the lady whom I had assumed to be Marjorie “Cullimore” Freeman may indeed be Marjorie “Cullimore” ANDERS? (Sixth from left in the back row!) Wondering if the sleuthing of even Sherlock Holmes might reconstruct that moment in time when “the Choraliers” posed for a local 1950s (or possibly 1940s) photographer?

Instead, this column took a new, delectable turn. Why? Marilee, employed for 17 years at Jones Bakery on Van Buren Street, supplied me with the names of that staff who specialized in satisfying Columbia City’s collective “sweet tooth” both happily and entirely throughout MY “growing up” years: Owner Kenneth P. Jones nicknamed “Tom”; his wife Bertha; their only son and baker Dwight; Paul “Delli” Schrader; Fred Neigh; Donna Myer and Frank Prum. However, Marilee all by herself represents the essence of all that totally mattered to me at that location each Saturday morning or on “detour routes” after school. Her beaming, ever-present smile for every customer and kid who, beckoned by divine yeast-like bread-raising smells permeating the outside air, swung open the screen door setting off a tinkling bell and revealing an unforgettable feast — a vision of a vast expanse of glass cases containing pies, frosted layer cakes, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, an enticing array of cupcakes, and MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL–COOKIES… BE THEY CHOCOLATE CHIP, OATMEAL, PEANUT BUTTER OR SUGAR!!!!!


Obviously, assigning names to only five photographed female singers and neglecting to do so for twelve others (one shy of a “baker’s dozen”!) does not earn me my stripes or stars as a dogged reporter. (My apologies, Jennifer!) Also, I am rather ashamed of my fickleness and unimpressive attention span in switching from another column focusing upon Blue Bell observations to a description of our magical bakery which offered delights only matched by Willy Wonka in Britisher Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”! My detective work failed. However, a really neat lady from a person’s distant youthful past answered the telephone on an April evening in 2013 with “Hi, Honey…”! That sweet person is also associated with handing an eager little girl (me!) crisp, white paper sacks of a half-dozen sugar cookies maybe a couple days per week for several years. I daydreamed NOT about long-ago songbird-seamstresses diligently manufacturing blue jeans but rather remembered how frequently I succumbed to temptation and “spoiled my supper” as I walked home to watch “Howdy Doody”, “Buffalo Bob”, “Pinky Lee”, or “Carol and Corky”!

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