A Small Town Is Its Soda Jerk
By Tina Antolini
What is the essence of a small town community? Maybe it’s the hello you get on Main Street, the automatic recognition of teenager and octogenarian alike, the knowing what your order is before you open your mouth at the corner store or diner. This is not just a figment of my imagination, an apple pie American dream of community. It existed for decades in Greensburg, Kansas, in the form of Dick Huckriede.
For more than 50 years, Huckriede was the soda jerk at Hunter Drug Store, mixing up malteds and cherry vanilla cokes with the flair of the best barista. But to hear Greensburg residents tell it, what Huckriede offered the population was far more than a quality milkshake: he provided that sense of small town closeness that made the place what it was. He watched kids become adults, and when those that moved away came back after years away, he always remembered just how they liked their root beer float, without a word being said. He presided over the gleaming silver soda fountain and bright red counter stools at Hunter Drug like a combination grandfather and counselor.
That was before May 4, 2007.
On that night in May, a tornado whipped through Greensburg, virtually flattening the town and leaving Hunter Drug a pile of rubble. Like many elderly Greensburg residents, Dick Huckriede was unable to rebuild his home and life. According to the Greensburg Rebirth Project, he now lives in a retirement home in the nearby town of Pratt. The loss of Greensburg’s soda jerk is symbolic of what some in town see as a larger shift in identity. After the tornado, the town decided to rebuild itself as a model green community.
But, will it retain the essence that Dick Huckriede embodied, as impressive LEED-certified buildings go up and outsiders come in, attracted by the town’s new vision?
State of the Re:Union will explore that question and more when we go to Greensburg next month… stay tuned for updates.
In the meantime, listen to Huckriede describe his soda fountain to the folks with the Greensburg Rebirth Project here. You can check out images of what it used to look like– from the cherry red counter stools to the fountain in action– here.