Hanging Out in Rockford: Old friends: Remembering John Schroeder

The first time I met John, he was 12 years old. I met him at Jim Hughes’ grocery on Broadway, across the street from Vince the Tailor’s. Jim had married one of Vince’s daughters and started a grocery store. I was working for Rockford Nehi RC Cola. I was working for Bud Longanecker, who was sales manager for Fred Adamany. Bud was an expert at developing business. He had paneled Jim’s little grocery store in his spare time.

Bud taught me how to do this. He taught me how to put the customer first. We would reset shelves, and Bud would wind up with most of the space. I asked him one day how he did it, and he told me to take care of everybody first, and then to take everything that was left. I followed that advice my whole career in the soft drink business, and it served me well.

But in those days, I was just on the truck. I had just turned 21. I had been working at National Can Co. on Industrial Avenue in Loves Park. I was looking for new employment. After a turn at the Traxel Compact Agency in Loves Park (where the Suzuki dealership is now) selling vacuum cleaners, I decided to get a real job. I saw a job in the paper delivering for Coca-Cola. They didn’t hire me. I saw another ad at the Rockford Nehi company, and I had an interview with Fred Adamany. He hired me on the spot. Pretty soon, I was training with a guy they called Beetle Bailey on the Broadway route. Before long, it was my route, and I was delivering to Jim Hughes at his Hughes’ Grocery, and that is where I met John for the first time.

I was ambitious, and I built up the route. On Mondays, I would have more pop to deliver than a normal person was capable of delivering. We weren’t supposed to hire helpers, but we all did. We were paid a flat salary of $70 a week and a commission on each case of 13 cents. On returnable cases, we received 2 cents for each one we picked up. On a really good Monday, with a lot of sales going on, I could line up 700 to 1,000 cases. The only problem was getting these all off the truck.

That’s where John came in. He was only 12 when I first met him, but he was a workhorse. He would meet me early in the morning, and work with me until 7 at night. He would sort my empties and get them ready for me to haul out. He would stack countless cartons on displays. He was inexhaustible. He made me a lot of money, and while I don’t know what I actually gave him, because try as hard as I can, I can’t remember, it wasn’t that much.

When Jimmy Loring, Jim Hughes and I started a concession business at Freeport Raceway, John was there; so was his brother. I remember one night when Jimmy Loring drove the water truck from Rockford to Freeport with no lights. Then later, we all laid down on the cold, hard plywood floor in the Tower to try to get some sleep. John worked for us; so did his younger brother (whose name I cannot now remember, but who will probably remind me when he reads this and sees me) selling popcorn.

Years later, I ran into John again. He bought a little bar across from the MetroCentre. It was called Tom’s Tap; John changed the name to J Bears. I got him involved in some downtown bar promos. He was eager to be involved. When Jim Hughes had his retirement party from the County Board, I convinced the new mayor to show up. I was always glad I did. John never forgot it.

Only a week ago, I stopped in there, and Judy was bartending. She told me John had been diagnosed with cancer and that he had less than a week to live. A couple of days later, Jim Hughes called to say he had passed away. I still remember him as the 12-year-old kid who helped me on the RC truck. I will miss my friend, John Schroeder.

Editor’s note: The location of the property owned by Jon Bystrom and Doug Bruno was incorrect in the Oct. 25-31, 2006, “Hanging Out in Rockford: The hottest block in town.” The property is at the corner of Market and Second streets.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Nov. 1-7, 2006, issue

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