ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
When Don Greenhaw took a part-time job at Persinger Drug in Canton, during his junior year of high school back in 1942, little did he know that he was setting a life direction not only for himself, but also the next generation of his future family.
“I think I got hooked when I was in high school, working there for a couple of years,” he said.
In 1952, with a pharmacy degree in hand, Greenhaw would return to Canton to buy the store-which by then known as Keller Drug-rename it “Greenhaw Pharmacy.”
Fifty years and one generation later-daughter-in-law Lou Greenhaw took over the business in 1993-Greenhaw Pharmacy will celebrate a half-century of serving the public with a celebration and drawing July 1 at its Hillsboro location.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that it has continued,” said Don, now retired and living with his wife, Pauline, in Hillsboro’s Park Village.
Added Lou: “I’m really proud of it, especially when you see independent pharmacies going under. I’m really glad to be part of a family-owned operation, and I’m glad it was reputable-there was something there to be proud of.”
Don set his career direction early. After graduating from Canton High School in 1944, he enlisted in the Navy. Two years later, he was in pharmacy school at the University of Kansas and received his degree there in 1950.
By then he had married Pauline, who had been “a speaking acquaintance” during their high-school days. The two moved to Anthony for two years, where Don worked in the local pharmacy.
“About that time, we decided we wanted to go home,” he said. “We came back and bought the store in Canton in 1952. It was Keller Drug then.”
A few years later, the Greenhaws remodeled the store, which carried an assortment of items from pharmaceuticals to greeting cards to gifts to veterinary supplies.
In 1969, the Greenhaws decided to move the business to Main Street in Hillsboro.
“We’d lost our doctor in Canton, and I didn’t spend all that time in pharmacy school to run a sundries store, which basically is what it was at that time,” Don said. “Someone from the Chamber (of Commerce) was getting in touch with me to put the store in over here.”
The new location was tough going at first, Greenhaw said, but the business eventually took root at its South Main location. In 1983, when Richard and Darla Klassen built the Hillsboro Family Practice Clinic on South Ash, they invited Greenhaw Pharmacy to move in with them.
“I hesitated about 30 seconds and then said yes,” Don said with a chuckle. “It was right where the doctors were, and it was just an ideal location for the pharmacy-with less space than what we had downtown.
“All in all it worked out very well for us,” he added.
Meanwhile, the thought of becoming a pharmacist was almost unimaginable to Lou Greenhaw during her high-school years.
“I was a healthy kid,” she said. “I didn’t even know what a pharmacist was until I married Steve.”
After earning a degree in journalism from Mississippi State College for Women, she first worked as the family-page editor of a newspaper.
“I decided maybe that wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” she said.
Told once by her college advisor at Kansas State that “girls didn’t major in science,” Greenhaw explored the pharmacy field anyway by volunteering at the veterans hospital in Tacoma, Wash., while Steve was stationed there in the Air Force.
“I wanted to make sure before I went back to school that this was what I wanted to do,” she said.
Not long afterward, Steve left the Air Force and was hired as a pilot by Braniff Airlines out of Kansas City. Lou used the occasion to enroll at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and received her pharmacy degree there in 1980.
Even so, the idea of someday taking over her father-in-law’s business never entered mind.
“We didn’t want to live in a small town,” Lou said. “We wanted to live where there’s lots of things to do and lots of places to go.”
Then they had children.
“In the town we were in, we didn’t think the school system portrayed the values that we had,” she said. “The town’s leading industries were tobacco and a distillery. And it was so close to the city that the influence of the city seemed to pervade the community and the school.”
When Braniff went bankrupt a second time, the Greenhaws knew it was time for a change. At almost the same time, a potential buyer for Greenhaw Pharmacy in Hillsboro had backed out.
“We just felt it was the Lord’s leading that we move,” Lou said. “We decided to move to Hillsboro and that I would have the family income and (Steve) would do aviation as a hobby. Fortunately, though, he’s always been able to keep a job in aviation since then.”
Don, who was looking to retire soon, said he couldn’t have been more pleased by the turn of events.
“When Lou took over, we didn’t have to change the sign out in front or change the stationery,” he said with a chuckle. “She was sharp enough that she just took over-and has done a wonderful job.”
Lou said Don made the transition relatively easy after she joined the business as an assistant in 1991- even though the two are wired a little differently.
“He was a very good businessman-very meticulous and very organized-where I’m more of a people person,” she said. “So I had all of that to learn. But he had a lot of things set up that were really smart.”
Both of them said the nature of the business has changed a lot during the years, particularly in the way a pharmacy deals with the government-assistance system and with insurance companies.
“When (Don) was doing it, most of (the revenue) was cash sales,” Lou said. “Now, most of it is insurance sales. You make a whole lot less per prescription on the insurance, plus there’s all the hassles and everything that goes along with it.”
That has necessitated some creativity to keep the business profitable.
During Lou’s time as owner-manager, the business has entered into value-added servicing-customized packaging for people in their own homes-and Lou has done consulting for pharmacies in other communities.
More recently, the business launched a Wellness Center, which focuses on preventive health prescriptions and habits-and it’s proving to be a successful and satisfying enterprise.
“I think we’re on the cutting edge with some of the things we’re doing with the wellness emphasis,” she said.
To compete with the spread of mail-order centers, Greenhaw Pharmacy has linked with a new “central-fill facility” in Kansas that offers most of the advantages of mail order for consumers while eliminating the drawbacks.
Her latest venture, though technically not connected to Greenhaw Pharmacy, is the Health Post, a local fitness center that offers exercise apparatus, professional supervision and health-related testing. The Greenhaws and their staff celebrated an open house for the new business this past Sunday.
Another significant difference at the pharmacy is the size of the staff. When Don retired in 1993, he was assisted only by a second pharmacist (Lou) and an office assistant (Raye Dirks).
Today, Greenhaw Pharmacy employs two fill-time pharmacists, one part-time pharmacist, two certified technicians, one non-certified technician, a full-time office manager and a nurse-director for the new Wellness Center-and it’s possible more staff may be needed down the road.
What hasn’t changed, though, is how important those staff members have been to the success of the business-from the very beginning.
“Through the years, I had wonderful help,” Don said. “I had excellent help in Canton and then over here. Pauline and I basically ran the store for a while, then I hired Raye Dirks. She was absolutely super.
“I never had to fire anybody,” he added with a smile. “I just had good people. It wasn’t because I was that smart. It just worked out.”
The other thing that hasn’t changed in 50 years is the motivation for being-and staying-in business:
Serving the public.
“It’s the people,” Don said about his lifelong commitment to pharmacy. “That’s what I missed most when I retired, was the people. I liked being around the customers and visiting with them and joking with them.”
“I like people, and I like feeling like I’m helping people,” she said. “I was more interested in that aspect of (the business) than necessarily the chemistry aspect, though I like chemistry.
“I think pharmacy is a lot more about problem-solving than anything else, and trying to help people be better,” she added.
“I think the more they know about their medicine and their disease, the more likely they are to take it correctly.”
Lou said the family connection with the business will likely end with her. With the Greenhaws’ two sons heading in different career directions, she said she has made arrangements to sell the business in the next few years to Gina Edwards, who currently works there as the other full-time pharmacist.
“Steve has mandatory retirement at the airline in about seven years,” Lou said. “So in about seven years we would like to have the reins passed over.”
Lou said she has no regrets about the path her career has taken.
“I’m still enthused about it, and I’m always looking for something new and different to try.”