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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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A little business that keeps poppin' along

By Barry Schrader.................................June 1, 2010

Despite the demise of many small family-run businesses around the country, there is still one in DeKalb County that has survived more than 100 years.
It soon will be turned over to another generation of the same family that has operated it the past 28 years.
Jody (Lee) Mattison plans to turn over the Sycamore Popcorn Stand to her daughter, Cassie Oltman, next year. When Jody first owned the stand, her mother helped out on occasion but her mother-in-law, the late Eleanor Mattison, was a regular for several years.
The stand started out as a popper on wheels pulled around town by a horse when it was first purchased from the Kingery Company of Cincinnati in the 1890s. The owner, James Elliott, ran it until he had to move to California because of failing health. Walter Lovell sold popcorn from it between 1915 and 1925 before it was put into storage.

Three generations work together operating the Sycamore Popcorn Stand at State and Maple streets – grandson Colin Mattison (from left), Jody Mattison and daughter Cassie Oltman. (Schrader photo)

Edward Lobaugh, who was blind, was selling popcorn with his wife, Mattie, out of a portable popping machine at the corner of State and Maple and became the next owner. Two local bankers, George Valentine and Roy Waterman, knew Lobaugh and arranged to buy it from Elliott for their friend. The red wagon had its wheels removed and was refurbished as a free-standing little building. The Lobaughs operated the stand in its permanent location until 1944, when the husband died. Next it was passed to Irving and Gertrude Fothergill, who were related to Lobaugh’s son-in-law. Next, Cecile (Blake) Kartchner bought it and ran the business for some 20 years until 1983.
Jody said they rented a home from Kartchner, and it was just by chance she was offered the business. She and her family keep it open six days a week from 4-9 p.m. beginning in April until late fall. The annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival is always the busiest period. She chose to be closed on Saturdays for a break each week. Prices have remained reasonable over the years. A century ago, Elliott was charging 5 cents a bag, and now the smallest bag goes for $1. The large size is $2, and a specialty corn is $2.25. She found a supplier who provides white (nearly) hull-less corn, which she thinks customers like the best.
Jody holds the record as the longest owner-operator of the stand, and with the next generation taking over in 2011, that record should remain intact. Even her two grandchildren, Colin Mattison and Leah Stevens, work there. When she goes to her 50th Sycamore High School class reunion this July, she can boast that more classmates have done business with her over the years than anyone else from the Class of 1960.

Last week, I wrote a second column about the May 1970 campus unrest but forgot to mention another side to the story. One returning student, Mrs. Alice Paulson, was upset enough by the closure of the university twice that May that she picketed in front of Lowden Hall and had an exchange with then-President Rhoten Smith.
I saw her photo in both the Rockford paper and DeKalb County Journal carrying a large sign that stated: “I came to learn … not burn.” As the mother of three and a graduating senior that year she let Smith know she did not appreciate him shutting down classes in her final semester. And 40 years later, Alice hasn’t changed a bit. I bet if there were a protest she strongly supported today, she would be back out there with a sign!

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115