A Time To Remember: Henry Straub

Serr, Bonnie. "A Time To Remember: Henry Straub." Northwest Blade, 12 January 2012, 9.

Werner Straub

Henry Straub is a walking reference encyclopedia of Eureka’s history. He can recall facts, figures, and events dating back to the origin of this community. If you have any questions about Eureka, ask Henry.

Henry is named after his great-grandfather, Henry Straub, who was a cabinet maker from Odessa, Russia. In the year 1918, the flu epidemic took many lives in Eureka and the surrounding community. It was impossible to supply so many caskets, so Henry [the elder] returned to his profession as a cabinet maker and made caskets to supply the need. Young Henry recalls his grandfather saving everything from string and tape taken off packages to straightening bent nails. This could all be used again in days ahead.

Straub Furniture started in 1894. Before electricity was widespread, popular items on the busy Saturday night shopping spree included wicks, mantels, and chimneys for lanterns. Putty (called keet in German) was used for window repair. The scale, with residue from past purchases of keet, is still used at the store today. 25 years ago, plush thick carpeting was the trend in floor covering. This was also the time queen size beds became popular. So popular in fact, that Henry sold one bedroom set a week for three months in 1987. At the time, a complete bedroom set cost $1,800. Today, a comparable set would be $3,000.

Throughout all the years of business, Straub’s relied on salesmen representing all their companies to stop at the store. Due to the country’s changing economy, Straub’s lost franchises to several big names including Lee Carpeting, Tell City, Maytag and MasterCraft. Around 2000, when this happened, the salesmen quit coming, as well. This had a ripple effect on the community. The salesmen would utilize the community’s services (motel, meals, gas, etc.). This was lost revenue for the city. However, Straub’s does have an 86 year of recognition from the Spring Air Mattress Company. They are the only firm in the U.S. that has been with them from their beginning of 1926 to 2012.

Over the years, Henry has enjoyed selling grandfather clocks. However, as with so much in the furniture business, the craftsmanship has been lost. Plastic has replaced the brass movements in the clocks sold today.

Henry also remembers much about the funeral business. Werner M. Straub, Henry’s father, holds the oldest license in funeral service both in S.D. and N.D. Straub’s Funeral Home provided 3,423 services from 1910-2007. Only two cremations were done. Straub’s purchased a horse drawn coach in 1911. A team of black horses pulled the hearse that carried an adult, while white horses pulled the hearse that carried a child. These teams were owned and kept at the local livery stables.
Death records started to be officially recorded in 1926. Straub’s took care of funerals all around the area. Three 19-year- old young women drowned in a stock dam by Zeeland on July 1, 1930. Werner directed all the services. In February 1937, Werner took the train to Hosmer to prepare a body. He took a casket and all the supplies needed to do an in-home preparation. He was stranded in Hosmer due to a blizzard. During that time, there was another death in Hosmer. He tended to that family and returned back on the rail three days later.

Henry remembers that 1943 was a difficult winter to travel. On February 10, 1943, Werner needed to drive to Mound City to Selby to Bowdle and then north to Hosmer, in order to get to Hosmer on an east road to retrieve a body. Werner was called on February 24, 1943 because Christina Schumacher had passed away at her home, 18 miles from Eureka. Werner needed to hire a bobsled and a good team of horses to make the trip. As the trip progressed, the snow became so deep that the horses were up to their bellies in snow. It was necessary to dig out the horses, unhitch them from the sled, turn the sled around, and re-hitch the team.

From 1940 to 1971, the Straubs also operated an ambulance service. It was equipped with a cot and an oxygen tank. Most times, the driver was the only person in the ambulance.

Keep in mind, communication was minimal. Telephone lines were not reliable. There was limited communication between the hospital and ambulance service, if any. There was no life support equipment or the option of air transportation. All entities needed to be prepared for anything at anytime.

If the call was at an accident scene, the sheriff helped load the victim. The funeral and ambulance service was a 24/7 job. They were reimbursed $5.00 for an ambulance transfer from the Lutheran Home to the Hospital. At times, Henry would be called out of class in high school to make an ambulance run. He recalls, "Nothing moved fast."

If someone needed an ambulance, they would dial 154 for Straub’s Furniture, 155 for the home, or 156 for Ted Straub’s home. When the Straub’s left their residence, they needed to call the telephone operator and tell her where they would be. She then could locate the ambulance in case of an emergency. That was the 911 system in "the good old days." There was no such thing as sharing call or a night off.

Henry states that 60% of all their clients had prepaid funeral trust accounts. People made sure there would be enough money for a proper burial. Straub’s had very few county paid funerals.

Scott and Gale Lien from Bowdle purchased Straub Funeral Home on January 1, 2007. The business is known as Lien-Straub.

To date, Henry is operating the furniture business. Werner is a resident at the Avera Eureka Health Care Center. Henry is dedicating many hours to the Quasi event. He foresees a promising future for Eureka. Henry believes in the resiliency of the German-Russian people.

Reprinted with permission of the Northwest Blade

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller