Century Tribute on Main honors longtime businesses

Using old black and white photos to bills of sales with elegant cursive handwriting to contemporary television advertising, four Marshalltown businesses told of their rich and extensive history to an audience at the Orpheum Theater Center Monday night.

Apgar Photography, Hellberg’s Jewelers, McGregor’s Furniture and Willard’s Furs and Fashions were saluted by the Iowa Valley Community College District for their contributions to the Marshalltown area over the years.

And a list of the community service performed by the generations of owners and employees of the four might run the length of Main Street.

The Main Street businesses, within a stone’s throw of each other, have a combined 483 years in business and none are showing any sign of slowing down soon.

All started as family-owned, operated business and remain so, with third, fourth and fifth generations actively involved in the businesses.

Pat and Tom Apgar represented Apgar Photography, Vic Hellberg, Hellberg’s Jewelers, Bob McGregor, McGregor’s Furniture and Jonathan Hull, Willards.

The program’s concept was borrowed from a highly successful Marshall Rotary Club program.

Hellberg and Kay Beach were program chairs for the month of July and invited four family-owned business that had operated in Marshalltown. They were the Apgars, Hellberg, Hull and McGregor.

“We realized there were a few businesses over 100 years old, all within blocks of each other,” Hellberg said. “I thought that was pretty unique so I talked to my old high school classmate, Bob McGregor about putting something together.”

McGregor led off the Orpheum program describing how the family business was established in 1896.

It is Iowa’s oldest family-owned furniture store and headquartered in Marshalltown, with stores in Coralville, Fort Dodge, Mason City, Ottumwa, Waterloo and West Burlington.

The original business was called Stull & McGregor and in Oskaloosa. It carried furniture and carpet as well as “couch caskets.” At the time, McGregor remarked humorously, it was common for the deceased to be shown at the funeral reclining on their side, similar to lying on a couch.

Hellberg Jewelers was founded in 1898 by William Hellberg who immigrated from Sweden.

It is Marshalltown’s only locally owned family jewelry store. Vic Hellberg and wife Gayle Hellberg, are fourth generation owners.

The present store has operated on Main Street since 1957.

Vic Hellberg said his late father, Hjalmar, had, other than World War II duty, had worked at the store most of his life until his health failed him at the end. Hjalmar had entertained generations of Marshalltonians by handing out his “last red cent,” including former Iowa Governor Chet Culver and President Barack Obama as recipients.

Hellberg said there was much information and archives to research.

“What we found put to bed a lot of the mystery that had surrounded certain details of the family business. It was a lot of fun.”

Hull had the honor of representing the oldest of the four businesses – Willard’s Furs and Fashions, established in 1864.

Much of the company’s history has been interspersed throughout the Willard and Hull family histories. It is the oldest retail firm in Marshalltown. It began when the city was just a village, a little over a decade after Henry Anson founded the town and just after rail service had reached central Iowa.

The store now offers ready to wear fabric garments and boutique items as well as furs. They have operated from the same location for 149 years.

Tom Apgar presented an iMovie presentation consisting of over 200 photographic images of the company’s 102-year history in Marshalltown.

Ross Apgar 1911-1947, Pat Apgar 1947-1987 and Tom Apgar 1987 to present.

One of the remarkable technical changes he has experienced in his career is the impact of computers and software to make corrections and alterations.

His father, Pat, before retirement, had a distinguished career, being awarded the “Master of Photography” distinction by the national association in 1956.