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Store’s candy case… Grandchildren’s delight

By CAROL SONES SHETLER - Reporter | Oct 12, 2020

Larry Steinruck of Williamsport stands at the store of grandparents Milton and Nettie Feister they’d operated in Unityville from 1919 - 1956. Steinruck, now 76, recalls the people, places and events from 1942 until departing the village for further education and a stint in the Marine Corps. CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary

UNITYVILLE – For 25 years at the Unityville store of Milton and Nettie (Long) Feister, the smudged finger prints from hands of numerous children showed where they’d pressed against the glass covered candy case. It was a time consuming decision for some youngsters, but for grandchildren Larry Steinruck and JoAnn (Gordner) Mausteller, it was an easy choice. These many years later, both named their favorite as Peanut Butter Bolsters. “They were like the 5th Avenue Candy Bars of today,” Larry said.

As the first and only child of Glen and Leona (Feister) Steinruck, Larry’s up close and personal experience was gained from his first year spent in the residence adjoining the store of his Feister grandparents. A year later, his parents purchased a farm on the outskirts of the village. Until Larry left for higher education and the Marine Corps, he’d remained in the vicinity.

During the late nineteen forties and early fifties, Larry recalls Unityville as the hub of rural Jordan Township. At that time, the village included three stores, two hotels, a print shop, an Odd Fellows Hall, a Grange Hall and residences.

For JoAnn and her late sister Arlene, their mother Mae Feister wed Ralph Gordner and resided in Millville where the parents would own and operate a grocery store. “Often I spent a week in Unityville where my grandmother allowed me to choose one candy each day,” JoAnn said.

In late 1942, the village within the site of North Mountain seemed peaceful even as World War II raged across the globe. Due to the need for every person to do their part in the war effort, Glen Steinruck car-pooled daily to Williamsport to assemble airplane motors at Avco-Lycoming.

An outing enjoyed in the 1919 Metz automobile owned by Vernon Feister, was the family of his brother Milton Feister, wife Nettie and baby Leona. Seated in the back seat are daughter Mae Feister and Lulu Burlingame of Briar Creek, a cousin in the Long family. PHOTO SUBMITTED

During the days of his youth there, Larry knew residents on both sides of the one and only roadway through the village, Talmar Road, State Route #2019. “Its now gone, but there once was an alley dotted with barns and sheds that ran behind buildings on the lower side of the street,” Larry said.

As for occupied buildings on the North side immediately off Route 42, Larry first identified Joe McClintock’s barn, then the house of McClintock and wife Laura. Next door, the home and store of Gladys and Norman Sherwood. Onward to the hotel of Mrs. Stella Robbins, and her husband Freeman Robbins, Senior, depicted by artist David Armstrong as ‘The Furniture Maker’.

After passing the Robbins Hotel, an ice house sat next to the Feister store filled each winter with ice from the pond of the nearby farm he’d inherited from his parents. Then an alley separated the store from the Odd Fellows Hall. “That place rocked with live bands such as Bob and Dean McNett playing for wedding receptions, anniversaries and other events,” Larry said.

As the fire hall and social area at Salem Church was yet to be built, church suppers too were held in the Odd Fellows building. Larry said that, “Owen Long fried the fish, the steam from the frier rolling up around his head. I was a willing volunteer, helping in the kitchen for most events, my favorite part was opening and separating bricks of ice cream. Sometimes I’d step outside and eat one,” he admitted.

Other events in the hall included ‘Sample Fairs’ sponsored by the church’s Ladies Aid Society. “For an admission fee, you could choose from ad stamped items such as hair combs, sewing thimbles, miniature boxes of soap powder, bubble gum packets of four, small packages of Chiclets and more,” Larry said.

Nettie and Milton Feister inside the Unityville General Store they had purchased in 1919. PHOTO SUBMITTED

The conversation returned again to the row of buildings by naming the home of John and Joanne Sherwood. Then the Grange Hall, “Every community had one and here as most were farmers, everyone belonged to it. Later it became the residence of Howard and Dorothy Ryder then Dick and Yvonne (Lyons) Ryder who operated as an ice cream parlor and tire shop. There was even a couple of pool tables where I lost a lot of quarters,” Larry said.

Lastly on the lower side of the road was the Edward Kitzmiller store and barn behind the farmhouse. The store is now the Post Office.

Going back to Route 42 and starting on the opposite side of the roadway was an open area with a chicken coop on Joe McClintock’s property he later donated to the fire company. Next, the old hotel and a barn behind it served as a blacksmith shop and livery stable for hotel guests. The building later became a two apartment residence but has since been abandoned.

Moving on, was the home and print shop of Lee Kitzmiller. “The operation of his overhead printer could be heard outside the shop. The thud of the pedal and the drawing back of its overhead carriage caused a rhythm. I was allowed to watch only if I promised to keep my hands behind my back avoiding the temptation to play with, and possibly mixup, the individual letter blocks used as type. Kitzmiller produced all types of paper from store invoices to political ads on matchbook covers,” said Larry. The print shop serves now as a garage.

Next, a stone foundation within an open area embankment is proof of the former residence of Yvonne and Gratz Bigger, Jr., followed by a final residence belonging to Edith and ‘Biddy’ Stackhouse

Milton Moyer Feister served during the Philippine Insurrection with the U.S. Army in Company K of the 27th Infantry. PHOTO SUBMITTED

When JoAnn visited her grandparents, playmates included Mary Duncan, Grace Ryder, Arlene Stackhouse and Janice Sherwood. JoAnn recalled that, “Each year, the family made large numbers of Easter Eggs with decorations on the chocolate coverings. They brought them to sell at our Millville store. For a time, my dad worked at the Luther Baker corner grocery, as did Grandpa Feister as butcher, as I recall.”

MILTON MOYER FIESTER

Milton Moyer Feister (1879-1956) served in the 27th Infantry, Company K, during the Philippine Insurrection. His experience in the mercantile business was gained as manager of the Company Store at Masten, a Sullivan County lumber town. In that position, Feister took the train to Williamsport to bring back and restock the store with such supplies as Griggs coffee and roasted peanuts.

Saturday night entertainment for residents of the lumber camp was taking the train from Masten to Ralston to attend dances.

In 1919, the Feisters’ purchased the Unityville store moving there with daughters, E. Leona, born in 1918; and P. Mae, born in 1909. The latter would wed Ralph Gordner and become proprietors of a grocery store in Millville. In the early years, Millville was Feisters destination in obtaining store supplies. Items were delivered by train then transported back to Unityville on the merchant’s half-ton truck.

In 1956, Milton, the son of Thomas and Emma (Stackhouse) Feister, died and was interred at Salem Cemetery at Unityville. The store was sold to Grace and Stanley Lore with the surviving wife resided alternately with daughters, Mae Gordner and Leona Steinruck. Surviving grandchildren included Arlene Gordner (Russell) Hernenko of Berwick; JoAnn Gordner (Robert) Mausteller of Millville; and Larry Steinruck of Williamsport. Also surviving at the time was a brother Vernon Feister of Hughesville.

STORE INTERIOR DESCRIBED

An interior photo of the Feister store, beginning front left, shows a rounded ice filled cooler to chill soft drink. A glass covered case protects small items such as needles and buttons, beneath and in front are where boxes of cookies are displayed. Lining the wall, shelves hold socks, underwear, t-shirts, a collar rack and such. The upper shelf holds large boxes of overalls. Bags of animal feed are conveniently located on the floor.

On the back wall was the shoe and boot department, behind a potbelly stove its width was narrow yet held long lengths of firewood due to the stove’s depth. The hardware department having ammunition, shingles, horseshoes and such. Coming around the right rear side is canned good and the minimal choice of cereal being corn flakes and oatmeal, followed by tobacco products.

The high cases were filled with bread from Stroehmann’s bakery, while on floor are nail kegs

sometimes used as extra seating. Now we return to Larry’s most remembered spot, the candy counter.

“The candies came loose in boxes which my grandmother placed in matching square shaped cut glass dishes for display,” he said. Among memorabilia Larry retained are several of the candy dishes, now empty, yet filled with memories of his grandparent’s general store in Unityville.