Opal Vandenburg turning 90

Published 5:17pm Monday, June 10, 2013


Opal Vandenburg

Opal Vandenburg with a forest of cards from well-wishers for her 90th birthday.


 Santa always came second on Christmas morning.


Opal Vandenburg insisted on mopping and waxing the floor of Opal’s Food Mart before her children could open presents.


She drove a wrecker to work at Heddon Bait Co. in Dowagiac after the car went for a down payment on the property.


Though only 4-foot-11, she is known for the work ethic of a redwood and the feistiness of a pit bull.


The oldest and only survivor of seven children, Opal, born July 11, 1923, celebrated her 90th birthday Saturday at Pokagon United Methodist Church.


“I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said. “A lot of my customers are here.”


“I never realized what she meant to them,” daughter Mrs. Ken (Marcia) Reed said after harvesting the sagging card tree, which overflowed into a box.


Her family also includes: daughter Linda (Dave) Kramb; son, Roy (Sue) Vandenburg; seven grandsons; three great-granddaughters; and one great-grandson.


Opal’s Food Mart existed from July 1, 1950, to Jan. 1, 1987, when today’s Mantke’s Mini-Mart, 60893 M-51 South, in Pokagon between Dowagiac and Niles, sold to David and Betty Yoder and become D&B Food Mart.


The Vandenburgs had been retired less than a year when Leonard died in December 1987.


Born in Bridgman in Berrien County, Opal went through eighth grade at Hill School and lived seven miles north of Dowagiac when she and first husband Russell Aldrich had to move because the state wanted their property to put a road through.


Russ had a garage and used car lot at home he called Parkview Motor Sales.


Though blind, he was known as an excellent mechanic.


They saw an ad in the paper in 1948 for Pokagon property owned by Harold (“Babe”) and Thelma Huston.


Russ died in January 1960, leaving Opal to raise two young girls while working 14 to 17 hours, seven days a week, in the grocery store.


She married Russ’s best friend, Leonard, who was her husband for 27 years and the father of her son.


Opal and Leonard operated a Leonard gas station, selling fuel distributed by Acme Oil Co. in Dowagiac.


Hustons started a food store, but decided they weren’t cut out for it and would rather be fishing.


During the 1978 blizzard, Opal’s doubled as a motel for snowbound travelers who couldn’t reach home.


“I was fixing meals,” she said.


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