Businesswoman, nurse, mother shares lifetime of memories

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Many local residents and visitors to the area stop and compliment Betty Evers, 91, who continues to care for her lovely expansive flower garden. (Press photo by Austin Greve)

By Caroline Rosacker

Betty Evers was born and raised on a farm just south of Guttenberg. Her family was comprised of her parents, Joseph and Clara Nieland, an older brother by four years, and a younger sister by four years, placing Betty in the middle of the pack. "My brother and I were always close because we worked together outdoors helping with chores, while my sister stayed inside helping with the housework," she began. "We milked about 30 cows, which was a lot back then, and did the many jobs that farm kids  learned about such as using a wringer wash machine, canning, gardening, baking, sewing and  shocking oats. I was a member of the first 4-H group in Guttenberg, The Jefferson Stars."

Jolly Ridge Gang

The ninety-one-year-old remembered being part of the Jolly Ridge Gang. "We neighbors worked together and helped one another out when it came time to butcher, cut wood or other bigger jobs that required many hands," she fondly remembered. "I always called myself my father's hired hand, because when I went away to nurses school he purchased a milk machine and a combine." 

School days

Betty received her primary and secondary education at St. Mary School in Guttenberg.  "My father would take us to town on Sunday night and we would stay with our grandparents until Friday night," she noted. "I started to walk back and forth in the fifth grade and then drove when I was in high school."

Betty was an excellent student and played the violin for eight years. She appreciated the education she received at St. Mary School. "We were there to learn and all did well. Students that were not interested in learning were sent to public school," she remembered. 

Choosing a career

Growing up in an era where women had few career opportunities, Betty was inspired to become a nurse after a carpenter working on the farm fell and split his head open.  "Everyone panicked and I remained calm. I washed his wound off with well water and a cloth and rode into town with he and my father to the doctor's office," she commented. "I was also inspired by my grandfather's live-in nurse that cared for him when he was bedridden. I thought it would be grand to be a nurse and care for people."

Betty experienced teaching while she was a student herself. "One of the nuns died and Corrine Kregel and I took turns teaching the fourth grade. I distinctly remember Tom Kuempel and John Hartman in that class.  I knew I wasn't cut out for teaching after that. I did go on to teach nurses, but that was a different kind of instruction," she said with a smile. 

Betty and Don

Betty attended Mercy School of Nursing and graduated from Loras College, Dubuque. After earning her degree she was employed as a nurse at Mercy Hospital. She eventually relocated to Milwaukee, Wis., accepting a position at a children's hospital. At that time she took a post- graduate course in surgery and furthered her education while working at Marquette University for one year. "I met Don after graduation. He managed a gas station in Dyersville. He played baseball for the Dyersville White Hawks. They played a lot of games, so I spent a lot of time at the ball park," she laughed. "I left for Milwaukee when Don got drafted in the Army." The young nurse returned to Guttenberg, got married and began work at the Guttenberg Hospital located on River Park Drive. "Don was shipped out to Korea for 18 months shortly after we were married," she said. "I worked with Dr. Palmer. He thought he could teach you anything and he did!"

Evers Royal Blue

When Don returned from Korea he was eager to become a businessman. "As the story goes – Don went to Paul Meyer's grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread for my mother and bought a grocery store," she laughed. "Paul wanted out and the bank wouldn't loan us the money so he left his money in the business until we got up and running. He even left money in the cash register the first day. That evening he found out how much we made and took his cash out. We renamed the grocery store Evers Royal Blue."

Don had an opportunity to take officer training while in the service and often wished he had during the couples' first few years in business. "It was tough. We did more advertising and self-promotion than you could ever imagine.   We even placed flyers on cars." 

As part of their self-promotion campaign the couple rented a helicopter and hired a driver to drop helium balloons filled with discount coupons across Clayton County. "The whole family helped out putting the coupons inside the balloons and blowing them up. The boys had a lot of fun filling those balloons with laughing gas. The whole event was very successful!" she exclaimed.

Doug's Steakhouse

The Evers business grew and so did their ambition. They purchased the Kann building with the intention of relocating their grocery store to a bigger building. "Tommy Thompson owned the building, which now houses the Dam Bar. He had a car dealership and wanted to relocate to where Joe's Pizza is," she explained. "So we purchased that building and eventually moved the grocery store there, and set up Doug Geuder, who had returned from the service and was looking for work, in the Kann building. He and Don ran the tavern. Neither one of them knew what they were doing. There were a lot of headaches with that one, but it all ended up good."

The Evers business was booming, but they questioned the building’s stability located so close to the river. “Every time a barge went up the river it would knock everything off the wall. The building’s exterior wall facing the shoreline was also eroding, which made us nervous,” she told The Press. “In 1965, the year of the flood – along came government money to build a new wall, so we didn’t have to worry about the wall crumbling.”

Bowling alley

The building that housed the Oddfellow Hall and Post Office, located across the street, became available and the Evers jumped on the opportunity. “The post office was supposed to relocate, but the contractors defaulted. We couldn’t move our store in there, but we had a vacant upstairs. Well, we couldn’t have anything vacant so Don put in a four-lane bowling alley! It was very successful, a smooth operation. It was a clean establishment and a great place for the kids to hang out,” she proudly shared. 

A couple from Forest City would later purchase the bowling alley and move out the equipment and lanes in the middle of the night, leaving the community without a key source of entertainment. 

Growing family

The Evers eight children, seven boys and one girl, grew up helping out with the business. “We had some really good carry out boys through the years, and our own kids worked in the store as soon as they knew how to count,” she laughed. “Gil always loved to work with the produce, but Jeff was fired three times before he was seven-years-old. He didn’t like the grocery store, but he loved the Ben Franklin!” 

The large family lived above Doug’s Bar and Grill, but eventually moved to an acreage out on Miners Creek Road. “The kids dearly loved living out in the country — they played football, baseball and basketball. They loved it!” she shared.

Loyal employees

Dale Kramer, who also managed the local egg plant, convinced Don to add meat to his store offerings. “Dale was a great meat cutter and a wonderful asset. We considered him part of our family and both our families are still very close,” she said with gratitude. “Bill Wolters came as a carry-out boy while in high school. He stayed until he enlisted in the Navy. When he returned he moved in with us, and learned the business, and accounting, and became the store manager until he bought a store of his own in Illinois.”

She added, “When Bill left we hired Don Scheffert. He was also a wonderful, longtime employee and store manager. We were grateful for his dedication. Our families were also very close.” 

Betty recalled the day Mueters speaker factory closed. “The women working in the factory wanted a union and the owners moved the operation overseas. I could show you on the books the day Muters pulled out. Those women spent their money in Guttenberg,” she noted.

The Evers were asked to move their grocery store off of River Park Drive. “The mayor asked us to move our business because it was causing too much traffic congestion. Downtown Guttenberg was the place to shop. Don bought land where the pharmacy and River Living Center currently set, built a building to house a grocery store and sold it,” Betty explained. 

Ben Franklin Variety 

Don and Betty eventually opened up a variety store once the post office moved to its current location. Their desire was to open a Ben Franklin store in the beginning. The popular chain felt they wouldn’t do enough business, so they created a variety store of their own.  “In 1975, we contacted Ben Franklin again, and they were glad to have us,” said Betty 

That would become the first of nine Ben Franklin stores the ambitious couple would own. Other locations were Elkader, Dyersville, Waukon, Caledonia Minn., Osage, Maquoketa, Cresco and DeWitt. “Everybody had a job and Don was the CEO of the business. We always tried to stay within an hour and a half of Guttenberg,” she said. 

Betty was grateful for her daughter-in-law, Linda Evers and her contribution to the franchise.  “Linda was in charge of the craft departments and was a big help when we went to market. She had great taste and knew what younger people wanted, and I shopped for people of my generation. We really worked well together!” she said with admiration.  

Return to nursing

Throughout the years Betty kept her nursing license up to date. Her education came in handy while caring for her large family.  “When Don had his first heart attack in 1986, there was always nursing that had to be done. In 1993, he suffered a devastating stroke. We sold out completely in 1995, and I always told him if you get rid of these stores, I am going back to nursing.” 

Betty was away from nursing for 40 years and had to convince an interviewer, whom was a bit condescending, that she was quite capable for the position. “I told her, ‘If I were you I would hire me, and see what I can do.’ I added,  ‘Common sense doesn’t leave you. What I don’t know I can look up.’” Betty’s self-assurance secured her a job at the Guttenberg Care Center. She continued to work as a nurse for six years. 

Betty is grateful for her children, who all went on to college and became business owners themselves. Her oldest son Jay enlisted in the Navy and served his country for four years and went on to study engineering at the University of Alabama. The remaining boys graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, and Beth earned her nursing degree at NICC, Peosta, continued her education at Clarke College, Dubuque and eventually earned her Nurse Practitioner at Graceland University, Lamoni. “Beth was one of the first nurse practitioners in the area,” she said with pride.

Betty has 22 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. “Two of my grandchildren are doctors – one medical, and the other earned a PhD. in education. Others work with computers, are engineers, teachers, electricians, beauticians, journalists,  work in sales and are self-employed,” she shared. “The grandkids always went with us to work. They all loved to go to the store!”

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