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Tell It Like It Was - Shirley Toedebusch

Adapted from the original email-letter by Paul Ovaitt.

Shirley Toedebusch – Mother of Giants, Inspiration for St Louis Bread Co.

Hello gentle readers. On February 27, 2021, I telephone interviewed Shirley Toedebusch, a longtime resident of Augusta, the mother of two Texas Giants and the inspiration for St. Louis Bread Co., aka Panera, but that story can wait a minute. In this account, I have tried to be accurate in transcribing her answers, but sometimes I felt it was necessary to compress an answer. Furthermore, I don’t try to fact check. I think it was Mark Twain who said that he never let the truth get in the way of a good story. If it wasn’t him…so sorry.

Her maiden name is Stelzer. She was born in 1930, in Palmer, Kansas, but at the age of 8, she, her father, mother and two brothers moved to a hill overlooking the Augusta Bottoms Road. This hill, or bluff was next to the Nadler farm, and she lived there until 1950 when she married Glenn Toedebusch. Years later this land and farmhouse witnessed the birth of Montelle Winery, the brainchild of Clayton and Nissel Byers.

Coincidentally, it was that same Little Mountain, and Clayton Byers, that drew me, Paul Ovaitt, to Augusta in 1976. I was responding to an ad calling for an assistant, and I consequently lived with the Byers for nearly a year. But I digress; this is an interview with Shirley.

Photos: Shirley and Glenn, Shirley and her niece, Rachelle, with the bakery sign (made by Glenn) behind them, and the tombstone of Shirley’s great-grandmother in a peaceful place I won’t disclose.

Paul: There are other Stelzers around here. Did your parents already have roots here?

Shirley: Yes, my father, Alvin Stelzer, was born, I think, in New Melle. He was raised by Louie and Anna Vogelpohl, who lived on the bottom road in a farmhouse (P: now owned by Nate and Erin Hartung.) Louie Vogelpohl was a very successful farmer. You know that corncob pipe factory in Washington? He was one of the people who sold a lot of corn to them. My mother, Hattie, came from an orphanage in St. Louis, and at 3 months old she was adopted by Selma and Martin Wissman, and she lived by Norton’s lake, there below Klondike hill.

My dad had some kind of construction business. I know he had a drag line…he did a lot of work on the levees, and he hauled water for people…a lot of hauling…gravel, things like that. In Kansas, my parents had a restaurant.

P: So how did you like this area when you arrived at eight years old?

S: I loved it! I couldn’t believe all the trees. And I’m still in awe of the trees!

P: Where did you go for grade school?

S: At the time, Christ Lutheran Church had a one-room school. After that I went to the Augusta High School.

P: Speaking of high school, I’ve heard that you and Glenn were high school sweethearts.

S: We were! I remember when I met him…somehow at the public school, for something, I had to sit next to him for some reason…

P: (Just then our conversation was interrupted by an aid at Cedar Crest in Washington, who came in just to shower Shirley with love. It was so notable that I forgot to get her back on topic. I apologize to any romantic readers.)

P: Let’s talk some more about your youth. Did your family produce much of their own food?

S: Yeah! We had a big garden. The first thing I’d do after school was run to the garden and grab a tomato or a cucumber. I LOVE vegetables. Also, we had chickens, a few pigs and a couple cows.

P: And if that wasn’t enough fun, how did you entertain yourself?

S: We played on the bluff, in the “cave.” It was kind of dangerous, actually. But it was fun. (P: I believe she’s referring to the overhangs, up above the bottom road.) Also, I would go north to the pond on the farm. I would sing to the top of my voice. I would sing high notes that could probably be heard on the neighboring farms.

P: Did you have any jobs before marriage?

S: We had a telephone office in Augusta where I worked, in the summer and weekends. We would connect people with other people (on their telephones.)

P: So, you married William Glenn Toedebusch in 1950. Where did you live?

S: That’s another interesting thing. Do you know where I lived most recently on the bluff, just east of Mt. Pleasant Winery? (P: Corner of Webster and Main.) At first, not even a year, we lived there with his parents. They fixed the upstairs and we had our own little apartment. And then we moved to the winery in 1951. Do you know where Mt. Pleasant Winery tasting room used to be in the brick building? We rented there. Eventually we bought the house at Chestnut and Webster, (P: where Art and Laura Miller live now) which was across from my bakery (P: current home of Scott and Sandy Toedebusch.) And many years later we moved back to the home on the bluff.

S: But about Glenn…do you know he broke horses for people? He broke one for Chub Bade and anybody who couldn’t do it…he got that horse. One time he showed up extremely late for his parents’ anniversary party. When he showed up, he had a black eye, and his face was all cut up. Turns out his horse knocked him off by running under a tree limb up on Schindler Road.

P: Can you tell me about your children?

S: Yes, I had four sons: Jeff, Tim, Scott and Brian. Tim is no longer living.

P: I remember once talking to Glenn right in the middle of Chestnut Street, and he was pleasantly laughing as he reminisced about raising four boys.

S: Oh yeah…he was so proud of his boys.

P: (And now I should mention that Jeff and Brian play in the popular Texas Giants band. Hence the mother of giants title. The Giants have also performed for Shirley and friends at Homestead and Cedar Crest in Washington.)

P: You told me how you loved to sing to the top of your lungs by the family pond. Do you think those two sons were musically inspired by you?

S: I kind of think maybe, because Glenn and I just loved music. There was always music. And it didn’t matter what kind. Some of the Stelzers actually wrote music.

P: Scott told me once that even though he likes music, he didn’t have any urge to play it.

S: No, Scott was never interested in that way; he’d rather go hunting or fishing.

P: What inspired you to start the Ivy Dene Bakery?

S: Lucian Dressel. I would bake bread and sometimes give some to Eva and Lucian. Well, they were crazy about it, and he would order some when he had a big to do up there at Mt. Pleasant Winery. He’d say make as much as you can. So, Carolyn Kemner helped me. We’d serve the bread and wine. And then I got letters, and letters, and phone calls. People would have parties and anniversaries, and they wanted a lot of bread. So, I made it. One day…it was in the winter and it was snowing, and Lucian came down. He had a sign and he put it in my yard. It said Bakery Here. I said, “I can’t do that.” He said, “yes, you can.” So, it was just kind of born like that.

P: What years did you operate and how did you pick that name?

S: We were open from the late 60’s to 1989. And I always figured that if I had a daughter, I would name her Ivy Dene.

I want to tell you one more thing about the bakery. A frequent customer…his name was Ken Rosenthal…wanted to talk with me. So, we sat out on the porch… he wanted to franchise my business, especially the sour dough bread. But I just didn’t want to mess with it. Then I heard from him again (1987), and he said, “you know, I’m starting a bakery in Kirkwood, called St. Louis Bread Company.” And you know, he copied almost everything. But he didn’t get my recipes.

P: Great story! It has been a true pleasure talking with you. Would you mind summing up your feelings about living in Augusta?

S: It was nice. I mean it was a good, safe place…a friendly place…that I miss.

P: Well said. Thank you.

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