2017-09-13 / Community View

Kruth’s creme sticks legendary

BY JOYCE BONESTEEL
Contributing Writer


Back in the early days of Kruth’s Bakery, Albert Kruth, left, and his brother Arnold delivered groceries in the company truck. Their brother Bill, who took over the family business, packed loaves of bread in wooden boxes and shipped them by train to Columbiaville, North Branch, Oxford and other small towns. Back in the early days of Kruth’s Bakery, Albert Kruth, left, and his brother Arnold delivered groceries in the company truck. Their brother Bill, who took over the family business, packed loaves of bread in wooden boxes and shipped them by train to Columbiaville, North Branch, Oxford and other small towns. Editor’s note: This is second of a two-part series about Kruth’s Bakery of downtown Lapeer. It opened in 1913 and the doors closed forever in 1971.

LAPEER — Bill Kruth was a staunch German Lutheran who owned and ran Kruth’s Bakery at the corner of Nepessing and Fox. Three things meant more to him than the rest of the world put together. His family, his church and the Lapeer Rotary Club.

Bill never swore. He never drank, other than the communion wine. He was a good citizen, a hard worker and honest as the day was long. The salt of the earth. And those were only a few of the nice things his granddaughter Cerise Petrie Dixon had to say. She and the others in her family took great pride in Grandpa Bill.

The oldest of four children, Cerise has memories of her great-grandmother, Sophia Kruth, who let her pump water in the porcelain kitchen sink at the elderly woman’s home on Saginaw Street. For each strong pump that resulted in water gushing out, the little girl was given a Ritz cracker.

Sophia was the widow of Heinrick (Henry) Kruth, who opened the bakery in 1913.

Originally it was on the north side of Nepessing Street, where Finsterwald’s clothing store was in later years, Cerise said. She isn’t sure when her great-grandfather purchased the turreted brick building on the other side of the street.

Henry and Sophia Kruth helped establish St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Lapeer in 1873. The first religious services were held in their home. The small congregation’s first church, made of wood, was built on the site where Pine and Saginaw streets converge. Later, the Kruths chaired the building committee for the large brick church at Saginaw and Oregon streets.

The couple’s three sons worked at the bakery, but William, whom the Petrie kids called Grandpa Bill, was destined to take over the business. He must have felt it was his moral duty to teach life lessons to his grandchildren.

Sydney, a sister to Cerise, said she and George Kotarski were married on her grandfather’s birthday. After the reception, they went over to George’s aunt’s house, where her grandfather asked them to count their wedding money before they left for a honeymoon in California. Then he persuaded them to let him hold part of the money so they would have some when they came back home.

“He was a business man,” Sydney said. George said when people in Florida and California found out he was from Lapeer, Michigan they always asked about two things. Kruth’s Bakery and the Gerlach brothers, Jack and Bill.

Amy, the youngest sister, shared one of her most cherished memories of Grandpa Bill.

“Every day he would make a mini-loaf of salt-rising bread and bring it home at lunch for me,” she said. “I’ve never found another type of bread that tastes as good as his and, to this day, I miss not only the bread but how much love Grandpa made me feel with that small gesture.”

Bill VanHorn was a close friend of the Petrie girls’ brother Nate, and hung out with the rest of the family. He loved being with them because they made he feel like he was one of the family, too.

“In 1969 I worked Saturday mornings at the bakery,” Bill said. “It was a hub of activity on Saturdays. Mr. Kruth would be baking away and moving all around the store, making sure all was getting done before the big rush that came. My job was to fill the creme sticks and bismarks with creme or jelly.

“One of the perks of the job was, I could fill one for myself to have when the day was done. I would fill it until it almost exploded. I have great memories of the Petrie family and Kruths. My family moved away in 1969. I’m still in contact with the girls on Facebook.”

Bill VanHorn wasn’t the only kid who overfilled the desserts. Cerise had the same job when she was 15 or 16 and the other town kids knew it. The bakery had double screen doors facing the alley to let some of the heat out. Paul Parsch, Dick Carr and John Rowden would ride their bicycles down the alley and one of the boys would holler, “A bismark and two creme sticks!”

Cerise’s grandfather always told her, “Threequarters of a pump and no more.” But when he was busy in the front of the store and she was in the back, waiting on her friends, she filled the desserts so full they likely weighed twice as much as they should. And she gave them away free.

Cerise said her grandfather knew exactly what she was doing and made her do extra tasks, like sweeping the floor. She didn’t consider it a punishment because she loved any kind of work at the store.

Helen Kruth, their grandmother, was a teacher and decorated the bakery according to the seasons, like she did with her classrooms.

“I just remember the bakery being so magical at Christmas time,” Sydney said. The Nativity scene was displayed in a loft over the front entrance. She can still see the bananas, onions, potatoes and other produce in wire baskets. All the charm of an old-fashioned store.

Looking back, she said she liked the jelly-filled bismarks the best. She favored the iced sticks, too. Jack Fitzpatrick used to come into the bakery on Saturday mornings, she said, for a batch when they were still warm from the oven.

Bob Morningstar, retired from the City of Lapeer, said his most outstanding memory of Kruth’s Bakery is the day he and three classmates ducked out of the Swingout parade on Nepessing Street. They were in the eighth or ninth grade.

“There was Mark Gibson, Ronnie Maasch, myself and Larry Bonner. We all slipped out of swingout. We all ran into the front door of Kruth’s Bakery. We knew we couldn’t go out of the front door, so we had to go out of the side door (on Fox Street). I took a step out of the door and who did I meet but my mother. She looked up. Her mouth was wide open. My eyes were as big as saucers. My mouth was wide open. She said, ‘How am I going to take your picture when you’re not in line?’”

Bob was shaking in his boots. His friends were afraid his mother would report them to the school authorities. Instead, she told the boys she was taking her camera to the other side of Nepessing Street and they had darn well better be in the parade on the way back.

“Sure enough, we got in line,” Bob said. He remembers going into Kruth’s Bakery when he was a kid and paying three cents for a big cream puff. “They were so yummy. I’ve never had another one that good. Mr. and Mrs. Kruth were always nice to everybody who walked in there.”

Cerise said when her senior class led the swingout parade, her grandparents came rushing out of the bakery with two big boxes of donuts for her and the others near her in line. Sydney remembers Kruth’s Bakery always had a float in the Lapeer Days parade. The family dressed up in old-fashioned clothing and had so much fun. Clarence Bolander drove the vehicle that pulled the float.

Beth Mowery isn’t old enough to remember when her Grandma and Grandpa Scramlin lived in the tower apartment above Kruth’s Bakery. When her family left a Fox Street apartment a block south of the bakery, her grandparents moved in.

“The smells wafting down the street every day, they were so wonderful, as were the smells from the Villa,” Beth said. “When we weren’t in school, my brother Bob and I made daily trips to Kruth’s for Grandma Scramlin. She used to put out lunch for our parents, Uncle Avery and one day a week Uncle Jay and Aunt Marge came for lunch, and occasionally long-distance cousin Winnie popped in.

“So, just in time for Grandma’s lunch spread, Bob and I walked up the street for Kruth’s salt-rising bread, bismarks, creme sticks and a long fry cake they simply called “sticks.” Mr. Kruth told me many times that when Grandpa walked up the street toward town, he never looked for trucks leaving the alley behind the bakery and he was afraid one day he would get run over.”

Cheryl Whitney loved walking down the sidewalk to Kruth’s Bakery after school because her mother, Thelma Nutt, waited on customers there and treated her daughter to a creme stick when she came in.

“To this day I love creme sticks, but there are none like Kruth’s,” Cheryl said. “None.”

Marcia Cronin’s parents, Bob and Anne, owned Cronin’s Appliances at the northeast corner of Nepessing Street and Pine. Gwinn’s owned the entire block, Marcia said. Her dad rented from Joe Gwinn. The Cronins lived near the old city hospital on Pine Street. Marcia walked there from Bishop Kelley and some days, when she thought her parents wouldn’t find out, she stopped in at Kruth’s to buy a creme stick.

“I don’t remember how much they cost,” she said. “Probably not very much because I never had much money.”

That’s not to say the family was hard up. They weren’t. The owners of an appliance store had the first dishwasher, the first color television set among their circle of friends. Marcia remembers playing with her hula hoop in front of the store one day when Soapy Williams, on the campaign circuit for governor, stopped on the sidewalk and told her she was pretty good with that hoop. Then he went inside to talk to her folks.

Cerise said many people worked at the bakery over the years.

“They were very much part of the family. They were what made the bakery work, short of grandma and grandpa who were there all the time. Carl Fischer was grandpa’s right hand man. Carl knew as much about baking as grandpa did and his wife Dawn made the cakes and pies.”

Carlton and Geraldine Vanwagner of Imlay City also were instrumental in the store’s success. Cerise listed other names, including Tony Sowinski, a former patient of the Lapeer State Home and Training School. He taught her how to fill the desserts. Tony died three days after the bakery closed in 1971. The Kruths paid tribute to him in a Lapeer County Press ad. He was a faithful employee for more than 28 years.

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