Before Glenbrook and Jefferson Pointe, Northcrest or Georgetown...there was Wolf & Dessauer.
And the only one that will be remembered after its gone is W&D.
It was just a department store, but to this day Wolf & Dessauer is remembered with great affection and nostalgia in Fort Wayne.
The lighting of the big Santa and unveiling of the store’s Christmas window displays signaled the start of the holiday season in 21Country.
But more than that, this huge retail center was the epitome of the model corporate citizen that valued its customers, and its employees.
Author Jim Barron says, “It was just a part of everybody's life, not just something they did, but the real heart of Fort Wayne. I really think it was.”
Former radio personality Jim Barron has co-authored a book with his wife Kathie...'Wolf & Dessauer - An Album of Memories', that tells the story of the store that was once Fort Wayne's retail center...about its founding in 1896 and its growth through the 20th Century...about the people behind the scenes and those in front, like Phil Steigerwald, who played the store’s Santa for 35 years.
Barron says, “And Phil used to know the names of these children 'cause he knew so many different people. One of the things he did was when they would come up, he'd call their name. It would knock them back. 'How did he know my name? He must really be Santa!'”
The idea for Barron's book grew out of his daughter's collection of W&D memorabilia.
Barron says, “Here is our Wee Willy Wand collection. Wee Willy Wand, of course, of the Wee Wand Shop at Christmas time. And this was the store only children were allowed to go into...that way they could go in and buy a gift for their mom and dad and they were the only ones who'd know what it would be.”
Barron's book pays special tribute to store managers, like G. Irving Latz, who pioneered employee health insurance and paid vacations…and behaved like few corporate moguls today.
Barron says, “And then during the Depression when people’s salaries had to be cut, G. Irving Latz cut his first. And when things started to get better again, then he made up for the money they would have had for that time. He paid them those back wages.”
That is one of the many reasons Wolf & Dessauer is missed as much by its former employees as its customers, all of whom found a warm and familiar place within the store’s walls, to shop or just walk around with friends...passing the time, or creating memories to last a lifetime.
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