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January 30, 2001

This will be a story about a thousand dollar ham, but first, some background.

In the early 1940s, just before America became an active participant in World War II, Perry had grocery stores galore. Nineteen were listed in the Perry city directory at the start of the decade, and all of them were downtown, around the square. The east side and its adjoining blocks had a large share -- five of them -- and all but the Safeway store on the west side of the square were home-owned and operated. They were “Ma and Pa” stores in the true sense of the word, and each of them had a substantial coterie of followers. Most offered free delivery service twice a day for phone-in orders of any size.

One of the east side stores was the Stanislav Grocery at 308 Sixth street, operated by the late Louis Stanislav and his wife, Iva. Their store was well patronized and they enjoyed a steady flow of customers. Some neighbors of the Stanislavs were H.L. Johnson’s Grocery at 314 Sixth street, C.T. Talliaferro’s at 404 Sixth, Walkling’s Market at 409 Sixth, and H.L. Winger’s store at 322 Sixth.

Although he was married and had two young children, Louie was called to Army service in 1944. He was assigned to the Infantry Replacement Training Center at Camp Joseph Robinson, Arkansas, and that’s where he was serving on a day in mid-June, 1944, when he received this friendly note from H.C. Donahue, back home in Perry. Here’s what the message contained:

“Dear Louie: Just thought you would be interested in knowing that your grocery store really has good hams. Your wife recently sold one for $1,000. This was at the War Bond auction sale in the Perry Theatre. We happened to bid it in and, by the way, I want to tell you it sure is fine; in fact I think it was one of the best prizes offered. I told your wife the same thing…. Things are not changed much around here. Nearly everyone is buying War Bonds. Harvest will soon be on; in fact, combining already has started. George Dufek delivered the first wheat here in Perry yesterday…. It tested 64.”

Mr. Donahue was a partner with John Mugler in the Donahue and Mugler agency, dealing in abstracts, insurance, loans and oil and gas leases. World War II was in a critical stage in Europe and the Pacific, and the U.S. was promoting War Bond sales to help finance the enormous cost. Promotional events like the “auction” at the Perry Theatre, referred to in Mr. Donahue’s letter, were held all over the country to help finance the enormous cost of warfare.

This strikes me as a charming little slice of life from the 1940s, and it might stir a bit of nostalgia for some of you. Today the Stanislavs and Mr. Donahue are gone, as are all of those downtown grocery stores, but Louie’s son, Jerry, found this letter recently in some of his Dad’s things. Jerry has a welding supply business in Oklahoma City and his sister, Frieda DeChant, is a school teacher in Moore. Jerry’s wife is the former Binnie Eppler, sister of Anna Lou Randall of Perry.