On May 15, 2024
Columns

Remembering downtown pharmacists from yesteryear

When I saw the obituary for Lucian Wiskoski back in March I realized that he was the last of Rutland’s downtown pharmacists whom I had the pleasure of knowing from childhood into adulthood.

Back in the ‘50s five pharmacies were located in downtown Rutland. They were: Shangraw’s, Carpenter’s, Carroll Cut Rate, McClallen’s, and Beauchamp & O’Rourke. My father, Jim Whalen, worked at all of them except Carroll Cut Rate during his career.

Like most children I was curious about where my parents worked. My mother was a bookkeeper and my father was a pharmacist. I was able to visit both of their places of employment but a pharmacy was much more interesting than an office. The pharmacists had a very professional appearance as they all wore white coats. I knew my father’s job was to fill prescriptions that doctors had ordered. But I was definitely more interested in the soda fountains within some of the pharmacies than the medical aspect of the stores.

I was too young to remember my dad working at Shangraw’s but I recall meeting the owner, Bill Shangraw, later on when I went into the store with my father to drop off film from our camera. Like many pharmacies they had a soda fountain that also served as a lunch counter.

My father transferred to Carpenter’s Pharmacy by 1952. He knew it would be a short stay as the owner, Bob Carpenter, had a nephew, Lucian Wiskoski, who would be joining him once he finished pharmacy school. There was also a soda fountain in this store and it was a cherished spot where my friends and I would occasionally get an ice cream soda or a sundae after school. My father would treat us, of course! Bob’s daughter, Helen, who is a few years younger than I am, told me awhile back that if she happened to be in her dad’s pharmacy when a particular medicine was not in stock she was sent to one of the other downtown pharmacies to pick it up. It was common practice for them to provide medicine for one another when needed.

By 1955 my father was working at McClallen’s Pharmacy. The owners, Charlie and Winnie, were parents to my classmate, Charles McClallen. I interviewed Winnie for an article I was writing several years ago and she told me that before they went to school her children helped to make sandwiches for the lunch counter in the store. When my dad worked there I also enjoyed treats from that soda fountain.

In 1956 my father relocated to Beauchamp & O’Rourke Pharmacy. There was no soda fountain at this store. Its focus was on pharmacy related items with an exception being the candy counter by the cash register. Even though there was no soda fountain I still had a good reason to visit the store when I attended Mount St. Joseph Academy from 1958 to 1962. I often walked from school to downtown and the pharmacy was a handy place to leave my books as I “made the rounds” of the stores nearby.

Fred Beauchamp and Bill O’Rourke, who were the founders of the pharmacy, were both working in the store when my father was there. I remember them being so nice to me and always visiting about things that were of interest to me. Bill’s daughter, Anne, was a couple of years ahead of me in school. Fred’s son, the late Bob Beauchamp, was also a pharmacist at the downtown store during that time period. In my adult life I often had conversations with Bob when I was a customer at the store’s current location on Woodstock Avenue. We reminisced about the days when my father worked in the downtown store. He remembered my father saying that Woodstock Avenue would be a good location for a pharmacy. No doubt my dad felt that way because it was only a few streets from home and there would be no parking problems! Bob also told me some stories about my father and how kind he was to everyone. Hearing that as an adult meant a lot to me as my father died when I was in college so I didn’t have any “adult time” to get to know him.

Each time I am at the cash register of Beauchamp & O’Rourke on Woodstock Avenue I get to see a picture of the pharmacists from the Merchants Row location. They are all wearing white coats and my father is on the left. Memories live on through photos…especially in printed format and in a frame!

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