Christmas Talk With Morton and Helfrich

December 16, 2019

The Morton Hardware Co.’s building as it appeared in 1948. Today this site is home to Layline.
This is a 1953 postcard showing three prominent businesses, l to r, White’s Grocery, Van’s Drugs and The Marion Press. Today, Meal Site, Friends Thrift Store and Dynamic Physical Therapy.

By Julie Traynor

IN December 1989, Marion, Michigan’s year of Centennial celebration was ending. The Marion Press spoke with life-long Marionites Irene White Helfrich and Carleton Morton, children of early Marion business owners. Each literally grew-up in family businesses on Main Street. Their tales are of Christmas on the banks of the Middle Branch, now one hundred years ago.

Irene White Helfrich was the only daughter of Frank and Emma Johnston White, owners of White’s Grocery, northeast corner of Main and Mill. The White’s came here from Rosebush in 1905 and invested in the rebirth of Marion, after the sweeping 1904 fire. Irene was born here in 1907, and grew-up in the family business, even learning to walk by pushing a shoe stool about the store. Irene White was a fixture in the family business until she graduated with the MHS Class of 1923.

Mrs. Helfrich fondly recalled the holiday season when the store was filled with shoppers. All Christmas treats arrived in barrels or tins and was packaged per order. The aroma of nuts, dried fruits, colorful ribbon candies, honeycomb and other such holiday fare filled the store with their aromas and added to the holiday atmosphere, as did her father’s efforts at Christmas décor.

Christmas morning the White’s climbed on the Ann Arbor motor car and, leaving Marion behind, spent the holiday with family and friends in Rosebush. The early morning trip was a highly anticipated family time and greatly enjoyed by the Whites. This was still a vivid and happy memory for Irene White Helfrich in 1989.

The White family sold the business to Ellis and Naomi Borders in the 1950’s. Today White’s Grocery is the site of the Osceola County Council on Aging Meal Site.

Carleton ‘Cart’ Morton was one of the sons of A.J. and Jennie Morton, and the owner of Marion Hardware Co. They arrived in Marion in 1907 and were proprietors of their business for 40 years, selling to Cart and his wife Alice, in 1948.

The two-story, double building was located between the Ann Arbor Depot and the Marion Bowl, at the northwest corner of Main and Pickard. The Morton’s raised their large family in a comfortable and large home on the northeast corner of Pickard and Fifth, a short walk for the Morton boys to work in their father’s store.

Morton recalled, “We’d buy a solid truckload of toys in June. They’d arrive from Grand Rapids or Chicago in time for Christmas and sold out.” During Morton’s time in Marion retail, most shopping was done locally and the business offered a huge variety of items from dinnerware to appliances.

Gifts from Morton’s Hardware found their way under many Marion Christmas trees through the years. Morton related a story of which he was fond. It seems that Herb Orvis purchased a new coal/wood burning range for his wife as a Christmas gift. His one condition was that the stove be delivered to her on Christmas Day. Always valuing his customers, Morton managed to round-up enough young men to fulfill Herb’s wish.

Morton, who spent his life in retail sales, and Helfrich, both long retired, shared tales of their childhoods and an “old fashioned Christmas” as a finale to the Marion Centennial Celebration.

Photo line 1: Cart Morton and Irene Helfrich shared their memories of “working in Marion retail stores in an day and agew when life was simpler and Christmas was a very special time for small town merchants”.

Next week we’ll share more of Morton’s life in local retail with The Village Shoppe.

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