Tuesday, Jul 26, 2016
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Tiedtke's reunion stirs memories of yesterday

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Ethel Trimmer has a laugh with a fellow former Tiedtke employee at the department store reunion.


It wasn't a school fight song or the memories of a battle that brought together nearly 40 senior citizens for an afternoon of nostalgia.

It was a reunion to recall how things used to be in downtown Toledo when shoppers crowded the streets and local department stores were a destination.

Even as their numbers continue to dwindle, former employees of the once-thriving Tiedtke Department Store carried on their annual holiday tradition with a gathering at the Walbridge Park shelter house yesterday.

With a roaring fire and a brightly lit Christmas tree as ambiance, the former clerks, office workers, and cafeteria workers of one of Toledo's most well-known stores shared lunch, laughter, and memories.

"That was the place to go, the place to be when you were in Toledo," said Connie Carrillo, 67, of Toledo, who used to shop the department store as a girl.

She accompanied her mother, Helen Nino, to the gathering. "It was like our malls now; everything under one roof," Ms. Carrillo said.


In the 1953 photograph, a crowd of shoppers is coming and going across the intersection of Adams and Summit Streets.


Tiedtke's was a unique Toledo landmark that many believed was years ahead of its time. A cross between a supermarket and mall, with a carnival-like atmosphere, it first opened its doors in 1894.

The six-story department store at the northeast corner of Summit and Adams streets sold everything from buttermilk to men's suits.

On May 7, 1975, thousands of Toledoans were drawn into downtown by a fire that destroyed the former department store, two years after it had closed.


Alda Farber, left, talks with Virginia Gordon, another former Tiedtke employee who is assisted by her daughter, Sandie Ottney, rear, at the reunion of associates at Walbridge Park.


It was just before the building fell to flames that Ms. Nino and a fellow Tiedtke's employee decided to organize a reunion of those who worked at the department store.

Now in its 32nd year, the annual get together of "Tiedtke Old Timers" remains an event to remember the past.

"The idea came up and so Geraldine Jefferson, she worked in the cafeteria with me, we just started calling around," said Ms. Nino, 86, who worked in the Tiedtke's cafeteria more than 12 years.

"We had a good turnout," she recalled of that first reunion in 1974 at Olander Park. "But we're getting older. Most of them from the cafeteria are now gone."

Florence Chitwood and Ethel Trimmer first met "behind the scenes" at Tiedtke's, in the department store offices.

The women only worked at the store for about five years each but they have spent the past 60 years as friends.

Yesterday, the two silver-haired ladies joked over coffee while waiting for a buffet lunch and for games to begin.

They recalled the large wheel of cheese that would attract shoppers to the store every holiday season.

They spoke about the bookkeeping machines that each was trained to operate. And they remembered they shopped there as well, making it their last stop on the way home because "it had everything."

"You could stop to get a hot dog while listening to someone play the piano," said Ms. Chitwood, 75, of Toledo. " I think their motto was '99 departments under one roof.'"

Although they recognized some of their fellow Old Timers, name tags helped attendees greet each other by name.

"I'm too old to remember names," joked Ms. Trimmer, 83, of Toledo.

Stan Hunt joined the Tiedtke work force after leaving the Navy in the mid-1960s. Although only an employee for about 18 months, Mr. Hunt said he felt a connection to his fellow workers.

Knowing they were a part of Toledo's past attracts retirees to the annual gatherings, said Alda Farber, a former employee and organizer of the event.

Each has a memory of how Toledo used to be. Each has a hope for what could one day return.

"It was a different kind of place," Ms. Farber said. "You had a bond. It was a kind of family."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.

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