ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Family business. The concept seems almost to be an anachronism anymore, given the mobility and myriad employment options of this modern age.
But for the Vogt family of Hillsboro, the concept has never been more modern.
Vogt’s HomeTown Market, now in the middle of a two-week celebration for the official grand opening of its state-of-the art, bigger-than-ever store, has withstood the push and pull of societal change for nearly three-quarters of a century.
If Frank D. Vogt, the long-deceased patriarch who started Vogt’s Cash Grocery along Grand Street in Hillsboro in 1932, could visit the new store for a day, he no doubt would be amazed how the nature of the grocery business has changed since those early days.
But he’d likely be pleased to see who’s running it, according Jerold Vogt, Frank’s grandson who has assumed the role of patriarch for the modern generation of owners that includes Jerold’s two sons, Todd and John.
“Back then, they were pretty conservative,” Jerold said of the generations now departed. “He would be surprised…. But times have changed. He’d probably think it was all right.”
Jerold said he has no memories of his grandfather, who died before Jerold was old enough to form any.
“I never did know him-but I knew Grandma,” he said. “I think my sister, who is three years older than I am, still remembers him. But he was gone by the time I came along.”
Long before Jerold was even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes, Frank D. Vogt moved his family to the Lehigh area from Nebraska. They eventually moved to Hillsboro.
According to Raymond Wiebe’s history of Hillsboro, Vogt was listed in local business directories as a carpenter in 1894 and 1900. In the 1905 city census, he was described as a creamery operator.
The Frank D. Vogt family had six sons-Albert, Sam, Frank Jr., Jake, Arnold and John.
In 1925, the father and his grown sons opened a retail business that specialized in purchasing and shipping sweet cream. Using new electrically powered refrigeration equipment, the Vogts were able to cool down the product soon after it was delivered to them by area farmers.
In 1932, father Frank and his six sons opened Vogts Cash Grocery with a complete stock of groceries, fresh fruits and vegetables. Through the years, the business continued to expand at its West Grand location.
Jerold said three of the brothers-Sam, Jake and Frank Jr.-left the business. In fact, Frank Jr. briefly opened a store in competition with his brothers. Located across the street from the Hillcrest Motel on what is now D Street, the store specialized in selling fruit-but it did not last long, Jerold said.
The three remaining brothers, Arnold, Albert and John took over the business when Frank Sr. died suddenly from a heart attack. They changed the name of the store to Vogt Brothers Grocery.
Each brother had his area of oversight, Jerold recalled. His dad, John, ran the egg business, Arnold ran the produce section and Albert “was kind of the overseer of the whole operation.”
Jerold said he was probably around 10 years old when he started helping his father in the egg business.
“I helped stock shelves when I was a little guy,” he said. “And I packed eggs. I stood on milk crates and packed eggs.”
Jerold said he doesn’t have a lot of memories of his uncles, but he did recall they seemed to work together well.
“I got along with them all, but I didn’t have that much to do with them in the business,” he said.
Ownership of the store continued to evolve as the brothers met with heart-related deaths. Arnold, the first to depart, was mayor of Hillsboro when he died of a heart attack in 1961.
When Albert died a few years later, John, the youngest of the brothers, became the sole owner.
Jerold said he more or less took over the produce department after Arnold died. When he was out of high school and about 18 years old, he began making the frequent trips to Wichita to transport produce and groceries.
“We’d go to different fruit markets and see what kind of deals we could make,” Jerold said. “There were a lot of produce houses in Wichita at that time.”
Jerold said he always was interested in helping out at the store, but when his father died suddenly at age 57, Jerold was suddenly the one in charge-at the ripe old age of 20.
“I ran it for my mom for about a year,” he said. “Then I bought it from her in 1974.”
Not long after that, a new generation of Vogts began arriving on the scene. Jerold and wife Karleen had two sons, Todd and John. Both found their way into the business at an early age-much like their father had.
“Todd’s always been interested in it,” Jerold said. “He was real young, too, when he started. He’d come back from day care and stock shelves. John did that, too.”
Both sons went on to graduate from Tabor College with business degrees before joining the operation full time.
Jerold said he and Karleen were pleased with their sons’ decisions to help them run the business.
“We always wanted that, but we never pressured them to do it,” he said.
In recent years, it became clear that if the business was to remain healthy, they would need a new and bigger store, Jerold said. With few options downtown, they opted to build in Hillsboro Heights.
“You don’t want to leave (the old store), but we didn’t really have much choice,” Jerold said. “The building was deteriorating-that was the worst thing. And we just outgrew it.”
Even as his uncles did years before, this generation of Vogts has parceled out responsibilities in the current operation.
Todd is the store manager and places all the grocery orders. John oversees the dairy and frozen-foods sections.
Meanwhile, Gene Atwood manages the meat section, Gerald Ediger manages the produce department and Kathy Arnold manages the new bakery and deli department.
“I’m just kind of here,” Jerold said with a smile about his role. “I just kind of oversee them and help out as I can.”
In many ways, the nature of the grocery business has changed drastically in recent years-from the arrival computerization to a greater diversity of product lines.
But at least one thing still remains unchanged about a Vogt-run grocery store, Jerold said.
“We just try to give everybody service,” he said. “My dad was a service-minded person. He was a caring person.”
With the recent expansion of space, the Vogts have also greatly expanded their product line in an effort to serve the needs and desires of the modern customer.
“You just got to know what everybody wants,” Jerold said. “You try to listen and then try to get as much as you can.”
With the help of family, he said he expects the store to continue doing that for some time to come. The next generation is fully committed to that goal.
“You can be proud that you’ve done something that your kids want to follow,” Jerold said.