Quite a bit has changed in O’Fallon since the first naming of the O’Fallon Station in 1854 for a depot built by the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad.
Clearly, the entire country has. In that time, the nation endured the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the introduction of the personal computer and so much more.
It would be difficult enough to believe that anything could have survived through all of those periods of tremendous change, but somehow, O’Fallon has more than survived it; it’s flourished to now include an increasing population and its necessary diversification of the economy.
Of great note, are not just the new changes in O’Fallon made to adjust to shifting times, but perhaps more importantly, the businesses that weathered the trials of time to remain in today’s landscape of O’Fallon’s economy.
Not unlike several long-time residents of O’Fallon, the story of Mathias Schwarz, original owner of Schwarz furniture, began across the Atlantic in Germany. Born in Wuertemberg, Germany, Mathias Schwarz eventually moved to the United States and purchased the furniture business from Charles Ruedlin in 1894. From then on, the business remained a family-owned and operated one, now approaching the fifth generation within the business. Mary Zotz, daughter of Clyde and LaDoris Glenn and a fixture of Schwarz Furniture since 1977, recalls much change since she began working there.
“I remember when you used to cross Highway 50 and there was nothing but farms and country, so it’s grown quite a bit since then,” says Zotz. “As far as the business, we see a lot more people that move. It used to be that families settled some place and stayed. Families are moving around a lot more.” Though much has altered in the way customers appear to Mary, her approach to them hearkens back to an older tradition. “Honesty and integrity” are the main focus for Zotz, “and your customer is not just a customer, they’re a friend, too.”
Another business that reminds one of an older way of doing things is Wood Bakery, an establishment that has continued since 1967, and James Schmitt has been there since the very beginning. “We’re a local bakery. There’s not many small bakeries left,” says Schmitt. “Most of the bakeries are in the supermarkets. A lot of the stuff that comes in at the supermarket is all frozen, and everything we make, we make fresh. That’s the big difference.” Wood Bakery relies on a fairly simple principle for its business, but nonetheless a principle difficult to find when big-box retailers have dominated so much of the economic landscape.
Still, there are some businesses, like Schildknecht Funeral Home, not yet likely to be taken over by large corporations. Phillip W. Schildknecht, Sr., and his wife, Frances K. Schildknecht, opened the family business in 1949 using a house originally built in 1904 for a local physician. However, the family presence in O’Fallon goes back even further to 1854, when the family first moved into town.
Only later did Phillip Schildknecht, Sr. open the funeral home after graduating mortuary college. His grandson Curtis currently operates the funeral home, and has watched the city grow dramatically.
“As a young man when I grew up in town,” says Curtis, it “was a town of 3,500 people, and now we’re over 25,000 and growing, so the town has changed multiple times over, even in my lifetime.” Despite the change, he also attributes the city’s remaining ambiance for keeping him and the business around. “It’s a close-knit community where everybody knows one another,” says Curtis.
“Even though we continue to grow and have a lot of new residents in town, we’re very friendly.”
It seems that some of the stalwart businesses in O’Fallon have in common fairly parallel themes of friendliness and quality service. Perhaps the simplicity of those sentiments should come as little surprise. After all, though much has changed since the naming of the O’Fallon depot a century and a half ago, the successful businesses that remain rely on simple, time-tested, and enduring mottos, something new residents and businesses can both learn from for the future.