HUMPHREY—The building came down, but the memories still stand.
Last week, the buildings that once housed Schmid’s Bakery, Avenue Bar and Sharon’s Antiques and more were torn down by Bygland Dirt Contracting of Albion.
People gathered along Third Street, across from the structure, watching the buildings crumble to the ground in a heap of dirt and dust.
Wiping away a few tears in between taking pictures and video was Michelle Wemhoff, who grew up in the bar, that also was her home.
Avenue Bar, which by all accounts was just as much a gathering spot for families and friends than a watering hole, was owned by her parents, Larry and Norma Gilmore.
“It was definitely bittersweet,” Wemhoff said as she watched the building come down.
Wemhoff’s son, Eric, who spent time in the bar watching the card players, and daughter Jenaya, were there watching and taking pictures and video.
Before the Gilmores operated the bar, Ernie Schmid operated a bakery, cafe and bar in the same location.
His daughter, Stella (Rasmussen) Landauer of Albion, said she was the youngest in her family when her father was in business, operating Schmid’s Bakery.
She remembers why he needed to add a bar and cafe.
“The reason he quit baking was because the bread trucks started coming into town, so that’s when he turned it over to a liquor store on the right side of the building, and he had the only liquor by the drink until he retired. Inside he had a restaurant and a cafe,” she said.
There was a green door on the right side of the building, which led into the liquor store, and the restaurant/cafe was on the left.
Landauer said there was also a bus stop in front of the building where people could hop on the bus for a trip.
After Schmid retired, three people owned the bar until the Gilmores bought it in 1968 and operated it until May 26, 2006.
In between it became one of “the” places to be in Humphrey. Wemhoff described it as a place where families hung out.
“It was a family bar,” she said. “Since I was there, it was always a kids’ bar. My kids grew up there, my mom babysat my kids and my kids never saw a babysitter.
“My son, Eric, became a social person because of the bar. In fact, the card players loved Eric, and he loved the ace of spades. I don’t know why, but he would walk around and say, ‘You got the ace of (s)pades,’ and finally my mom told him you cannot say that. He’s probably 3 … so then he would find it and he’d go stand by whoever had it, he wouldn’t say anything, he’d just stand by them,” Wemhoff said.
Card players flocked to the bar, making it their home until it closed.
“Our place became the card-playing place. Mom gave keys to the older guys because she said, ‘I’m not getting up that dang early,’ or if they’d go on vacation, she’d give the key to someone, tell them to lock up when you’re done, put some coffee in a Thermos. She’d have a little cup and tell them to put their money in it (to pay for the coffee),” Wemhoff said.
“It was just a very family bar, in fact Phyllis Heinen came straight from the hospital to the bar because she had to show Tori to grandma Norma, and it was like that with all young families. If they got engaged or had a baby, they’d stop by. That’s one of the reasons everyone called her Mom.”
Larry and Norman were “Dad” and “Mom” to just about everyone who knew them. They were big supporters of schools, and after games the kids were welcomed to stop in for free soda and rehash the game.
The Avenue Bar had a steady stream of customers. Wemhoff said there was a group that came in the morning to play cards, an older group that came in around 3 in the afternoon while their sons were on the farms, an evening crowd and Sunday after-church people heading to the Avenue.
“Sunday, after church, the younger adults would come in, and they’d call it Benediction, and Benediction started the time Father said amen, and they came straight down to the bar, and it lasted until evening,” Wemhoff said.
She said the idea to buy the bar was her dad’s, but her mother spent most of the time in it.
The bar was also the Gilmores’ home. They made a home above and to the back of the bar.
“Mom said if I’m going to run a bar, it’s going to be a house because I’m not going to try and maintain both and have someone else raise their child,” Wemhoff said.
When she was born, her parents were still in the process of buying the bar, but after she was born and dismissed from the hospital in Omaha, Wemhoff said her first stop was the bar.
“I’ve had people tell me they remember my mom walking in with the bassinet,” she said.
“I moved there when I was 2 weeks old,” she said. “The bedrooms were upstairs, there were two bedrooms and a bathroom — at first — we remodeled the sun porch to a third bedroom, and that became my bedroom. The kitchen and living room was right behind the bar.”
After her daughter moved out, Norma had a toy box for children to enjoy near the men’s bathroom, while their parents enjoyed a night out.
Norma made sure the bar had a family atmosphere.
If the language got too strong, she wasn’t afraid to tell people to clean it up, and fights were a rarity.
The Avenue Bar was a place people felt comfortable in — so comfortable in fact, that three people once rode their horses into the bar.
Dick Preister, Sonny Herink and Rita (Eisenmenger) Herink, who later became Sonny’s bride, rode into the bar.
On their way out, Jim Wessel slapped the back end of Preister’s horse, and one of his back legs kicked the bar stool Wessel was sitting on, knocking him off the stool.
On the way out of the bar, the horse’s saddle got stuck on the door knob and broke it off.
Wemhoff said her mom told them to get those…horses out of the bar, but everyone had a good laugh.
They closed the bar because Norma was ready to retire, and selling it never materialized, and they kept it as storage for the treasures they found while collecting antiques. Larry continued to work for John Deere.
A couple of those antiques were salvaged during the tear-down. Wemhoff said a tub with the pedestal legs was saved, as was the beautiful green door from Schmid’s Bakery and cafe.
When the buildings came down, Bygland filled the hole with dirt once the debris was removed. The remains were hauled to dumps in Newman Grove and Clarkson.
As for the future of this space, Wemhoff said she would plant grass for now on her property and has no plans for its use.