On Facebook, I accidentally found an open group that anyone can join called Has Anyone Actually Heard of Wapakoneta.
Now, since I’ve not only actually heard of it but am actually from that little town in
So I joined the group and this was my first contribution to historical fact about the town my heart never really left:
“Well now, I'd just like to set the record straight here, Bruce Hamrick, because you're messing with a piece of my family history. The Teddy Bear Restaurant in Wapakoneta was started by my dad and his brothers shortly after the Second World War: namely, Bob, Norm, Chuck and Don Newland. Not long after the place opened, Don decided he had a calling and was off to seminary school to become a Methodist minister. (He's the only brother still living).
My dad, Norm, was better known as Whitie and his older brother, Bob, as Red. Charles was, of course, called Chuck. The three of them ran the place together until the early '60s when Bob went to work as a teller (he later became Vice President) at the People's National Bank (later Fifth-Third), and Chuck went to work for Western and Southern Life Insurance (where my grandfather, Murel Newland, worked for 20 years). My dad and mom (Reba Mae) owned and ran the Teddy Bear until it closed in 1969.
In that time, the Teddy Bear went from being a soda fountain and hamburger shop (for great burgers the TB's only competiion was Stub Wilson's Kewpee in Lima, Ohio – the one on Elizabeth St., the orginal and one and only as far as I'm concerned) to being a self-service breakfast and luncheon eatery, to being a full-fledged, table service family restaurant.
Others of us in the family worked there too: Mom's sister Marilyn, my sister Darla, and I myself off and on at different times. There were a lot of pretty original things on the menu. For instance, the ol' man and I both had a sweet tooth and used to compete making each other outlandish ice cream desserts and some of them ended up staying on the menu: my Orange Freeze, for instance which was a creamy rainbow-bar type of a shake that combined orange sherbet, vanilla ice-cream, vanilla syrup, orange syrup, cream and carbonated water in a nice icy, whipped drink; or my dad's very own TB Pink & Black Cow, a to-die-for sundae that was made with rich Swift chocolate ice cream and peppermint candy cane ice cream (in a soup bowl, not a sundae dish) topped with both marshmallow and hot fudge "dope" (as we called it back then).
Then there were our grilled pork tenderloins (as well as fried) and the Tummy-Buster steak sandwich and the Big Bear Burger and our own style of potato salad and chili soup and homemade vegetable soup and ham and bean soup and hand-cut fries and our own breaded onion rings, and Dad got his meat from Kay's meat market and butchered and ground it himself and the cole slaw was Mom's recipe, and so on...
But Bruce, if you ever ate deep fried pickles at the Teddy Bear you did it in a dream, because we never, ever served them, nor did we invent them.
Now, Bruce, you may be thinking about Ralph Meinerding, whose bar was right across the back alley from the TB. Ralph was the king of fry and I have to admit his deep fried pork tenderloins beat the hell out of ours. Ralph fried mushrooms and fried onions and fried beefsteak potatoes and just about anything else you could fry. Hell, if a fight broke out and the bouncer, Sam Fullencamp, knocked somebody's ear off the side of their head, you had to get it off the counter quick before Ralph breaded it and tossed it into the fryer. But I can't say for certain he ever had fried pickles on the menu. I'm just guessing.
As for the demise of the Teddy Bear, that came with the advent of Interstate-75 which had all the North-South state traffic that had once moved through town on the
Mitch later sold out to a former pro soccer player from the UK called Victor Peachy, who opened Le Grande Pizza. (His mom had the other Le Grande, up the road a piece in Saint Marys). Vic was a rough and tumble sort who liked my ol' man from the first moment Dad visited him and Dad by then was a route saleman for Fisher Cheese - another Wapakoneta institution of those days - and ended up selling Vic all of the mozzarella and romano cheese he used for over a decade until the ol' man retired and traded sliding around on Ohio's back roads in a truck loaded with 16 tons of cheese all winter for hanging out in his Florida condo every year from December to April.
Those are the facts, Bruce, and another piece of the rich tapestry of Wapakoneta Americana.”