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Published: Friday, 5/12/2006

Grocer's wife kept store going during World War II rationing

Jeanette Iott, 87, whose deft management of her husband's grocery store through the shortages of World War II paved the way for Seaway Food Town, the Toledo supermarket chain he ran, died yesterday in her Sylvania Township home of apparent congestive heart failure.

She had been in declining health and had dementia, her son, Rich, said.

Her husband, Wallace D. "Wally" Iott, a co-founder and chairman of Seaway Food Town, died March 28. He was 90.

The couple owned Wally's Market at Wernert's Corners in West Toledo when her husband received his Army draft notice on a Monday in 1943. He was to report on Friday and spent the week teaching Mrs. Iott how to operate the store.

"She cried nonstop for five days," their son once told The Blade. Then her husband left, she stopped crying, and got down to business. A couple of her sisters-in-law helped out, but "basically my mom ran it," her son said last night.

In letters he wrote from the Army, her husband offered advice: Stock up on pineapple and fruit cocktail - items sure to be rationed; don't let vendors tell you to pay up in seven days when the terms are 10 days. Her husband wrote that he needed a store to return to and promised her a fur coat once he established a grocery career.

Theirs was the only grocery of seven at the intersection of Tremainsville, Laskey, and Douglas roads to survive the war. "He had a store to come back to, and he certainly was able to buy her a fur coat," their son said.

An advertising co-operative formed in 1948 among five local grocers by 1957 became Seaway Food Town, which grew into one of the largest supermarket chains in the state. Because she'd kept their store going during the war, her husband often said jokingly that she, not he, was responsible for Food Town, their son recalled.

She later stayed home to care for their children and run the household. Her husband worked long hours, and "he depended on her to do everything," their son said. "My mom became the homemaker, the handyman. If there was a problem, she had to take care of it. It worked well. She realized he had a big job. They didn't share responsibilities, but in the big picture, they did.

"The way her kids turned out, that's what she really took the most joy in," their son said.

Mrs. Iott grew up on a farm and was a graduate of Ida (Mich.) High School. Her parents weren't happy that she planned a move to the big city - Toledo - to enroll in business school. But she did, and she became a medical secretary at the former Toledo State Hospital.

"For her time, she was pretty aggressive and assertive, and she thought she could do more" than stay on the farm, her son said. Those qualities served her later in household management and child-rearing.

And those qualities helped her husband on occasion. He'd arrange a dinner with a troublesome vendor and bring his wife, who'd been briefed on the problems. Because of business protocol, he couldn't say certain things. She could, their son said.

"She was always direct, and she always said exactly what was on her mind," he said.

She and her husband married Sept. 4, 1939.

Surviving are her son, Rich; daughter, Connie Iott Holler, and three grandchildren.

The body will be in the Walker Funeral Home after 2 p.m. today. Services will be at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow in Christ the King Church, of which she was a longtime member. The family suggests tributes to Bittersweet Farms.



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