9 07 2012

Image“No person was ever honored for what he received, but for what he gave” Calvin Coolidge

I would imagine nearly every town and city across the U.S. has historical landmarks.  In my town it’s a monument to Thaddeus Kosciusko, an army general from Poland who fought in the American Revolution for the colonies and settled our fair community (Hence, from we where get the name of our town; Warsaw and our county Kosciusko).  In the small hamlet of Winona Lake, that sits right next to Warsaw, is the preserved home of Billy Sunday, famed evangelist during the early part of the 20th Century.  Back in the hometown of my youth, Fremont, Ohio, there’s a commemoration to Colonial George Croghan who with a small unit of troops defended the fort that had been in Fremont during the War of 1812.  These are people who deserve to be recognized for their achievements, true enough.  But often, in my way of thinking, there are folks who carved their name out, maybe in not such a prolific way as fighting great battles, but still, all the same left an indelible mark on a place and a people; before you is a picture of one of those people that I feel did just that, and one of my Heroes of the Rock Road.

Bill lived and also ran a small store on the east side of Fremont.  Some called it drugstore, others a grocery, and still others a soda shop.  The actual name of the establishment was “Behren’s Confectionery” and it was a bit of all three. Bill had emigrated from Germany and opened his establishment around 1949.  He married the love of his life and together they had two wonderful children, their son being one of my childhood friends.  It’s quite easy to know the majority of the businesses when you live in a small community and Bill’s was no exception to that rule. If anything, it stood forth because nearly everyone could tell you where “Behren’s” was located, but also most could pick out its proprietor in a crowd.  In the store was a lunch counter that was always busy serving sandwiches, soda drinks and many types of ice cream creations.  Delicious food, true, but there was another reason for folks to be there, especially a certain older crowd of men, that was to visit a friend, for that is who Bill was to the special visitors of his store.  I enjoyed the way he would interact with the ones who stopped for a cup of coffee and conversation; mostly the latter.  There would be laughter and story telling as Bill never missed a beat working behind the counter, always with that natural grin that he so easily wore.  Even if you never stepped foot in the front door of the store there was a good chance you knew who Bill Behrens was, especially if you were a youngster.  Besides running a very popular store, our Hero had another talent; he could make the most incredible homemade ice cream you ever tasted!  Bill would supply his delicious treats to the schools in our community.  Whenever his car pulled up at one of the grade schools, every kid on the playground knew who it was and the excitement would flow knowing what would be in the lunch cafeteria that day! That same treat also made him a hit at the local retirement home.

But this man also had another gift that I know many would attest to, the gift of caring. During times of hardship that would befall people for different reasons, Bill would carry a credit so they would have food to feed their families and get back on their feet.  This was a side of the man I never knew until a visit back home once and a conversation I had with one individual who expressed just how much was done for him. “When no was willing to do anything, Bill was there for me and my family.  I thanked God many times for that man; this world would be a better place if there were more like him.”

I never knew much about the early days of Bill and what made him the way he was.  Perhaps it was coming out of Europe at a time when there was no many needs and needy people that he never forgot.  Possibly what he did for others, someone once did for him and he made the commitment to “pay it forward” as the catchphrase goes.  I’m not really sure why Bill was the way he was; but I can offer a good guess.  There’s some I have met in my life that possess what I refer to as the Warrior’s Heart.  That term in itself conjures up visions of gallantry and courage in the face of battle, never turning aside, never retreating, and well it should.  But I broaden the definition to include this; “always, Always, ALWAYS, do right.”  Show me a man or woman who is consistence in how they treat people, how they extend charity to ones in need and how they give up themselves in word and deed and I will show you an individual of honor, I will show you one who possesses the Warrior’s Heart, I will show you the Bill Behrens of the world!

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

Bill closed the confectionery the year I graduated high school and the following year I left Fremont and never saw the man with the Warrior’s heart, Sir William, again.  Both he and the store are now gone and I doubt if many of the present generation would know who I was speaking of if I mentioned his name; sad.

On a bicycle journey a few years back, I was passing through my old hometown and I took a moment to stop at the place where the store used to stand.  In place of it are a gas station and car wash, the irony was they were closed down with weeds growing up.  Wonder if anyone knows who even ran it, probably not in this day and age of franchise businesses.  I closed my eyes and for just a moment I saw the store again.  I saw the soda fountain with Bill and his help busying themselves serving phosphates, banana splits, cheeseburgers and that famous, delicious homemade ice cream.  I saw the usual crew of regulars who came in for coffee, conversation, a laugh with a friend, and a smile.  I could hear one getting up, heading to the door calling back, “Thanks Bill, see you later.”  I used to think folks were thanking him for the service or the food.  Later I realized they were thanking him for who he was to them, a dear friend.  Awesome!

I haven’t been back to Fremont for a while so I don’t know what’s going on or standing there at the corner of East State and Fifth, but I do have a suggestion.  Fremont, you have a giant of a man, a warrior in the purest sense of the word that used to do business here.  I feel a plaque would be in order.  Something possibly along the lines of “To Bill Behrens and Behrens Confectionary, a place where all could feel welcome, and a man who was a friend to all and a hero to many.  May his memory be a lasting legacy to our community, and may God raise up more business owners who possess the Warrior’s Heart like Bill.”  But, that’s just one man’s thoughts who was blessed by this individual.  Any others?

Side note: I know I usually wrap all my writings around my faith and love for my Lord and how He can work in your life.  Well maybe I didn’t say it in so many words, but do this will ya, check out Phil 4:8. Never, Never, Never tire of doing right.

Nuff said. 🙂







2 responses

6 10 2013
Kathleen Couch

I remember Behren’s, and Bill. I lived on Fifth Street, and was looking forward to the day, I would be allowed to go there alone. We moved to the country before that time. But, one time when my mom had a little female emergency, (I was about 7) she sent me in with a note and money for what she needed. I remember recognizing what she needed, but it was on a top shelf. I was very shy, and embarrassed about what I was buying. He saw me looking, and came over to help me. I handed him the note, and didn’t say a word. He checked me out quickly without causing me further embarrassment. It was small, but something I will always remember.

6 10 2013


He was not only a dear friend, but a man of honor. Thanks for sharing.


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