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As a child my Saturdays and summer breaks centered around youth activities at the YMCA located, at that time, at SW 8th and Quincy in Topeka, Kansas. The youth area was in the basement of the one time USO building and was a virtual boys club. No girls were allowed in this sacred area that included pool tables, lounge area with large color television, which most homes did not have at the time, hobby shop ran by the wise, talented and noble Mr. Anderson and an Olympic size swimming pool.
Activities included Judo lessons, handball, basketball and trampoline in the gymnasium. Field trips ranging from tours of Frito Lay and Coca Cola to Flights on small planes at Billard airport. My first flight on an airplane was captured on a front page story in the Topeka Capital Journal during one of these field trips. And let’s not forget swimming lessons from Louie the Lifeguard (I eventually obtained the Junior Life Saver level after Louie threw me into the pool after I refused to swim but that’s another story for another day) and open swimming in the afternoon when the pool became no mans land.
Yes, for a boy the YMCA was a world filled with opportunity, education, wonderment and fun. Now days there is a parking lot located on that southwest corner that was once a bastion of a boys life yet that is not what this posting is about, no it is about the business that once sat at the opposite corner from the YMCA; Pore Richards Beer ’N Stein Café.
When I would walk to or leave the YMCA I would always notice the big black sign with the neon lettering and the caricature of the funny little Hobo on top with his “Toe Peek A ing” out of one shoe. I had always assumed that the silly little Hobo with the large round spectacles was the fabled “Pore Richard”. I always found it funny that the adult who had made the sign did not know how to spell the word “Poor” and I wondered if Mr. Richard had been upset when he first saw the sign.
There was never really anything about the sign nor the exterior of the building that would appeal to your appetite to invite you in yet it was a Topeka tradition and a Topeka gathering place. My grandmother would sometimes take a business lunch in this mysterious restaurant that was off limits to one of my tender age.
Yes, almost everyday of my young life I saw Pore Richards and his image became such a familiar sight to me that even to this day when I hear the term Poor Richards Almanac a vision of the funny little Hobo comes to mind.
I had vowed that one day, when I was an adult, I would have a “Beef ’N Stein” in the famous Café. But alas, that was never to be. As with so many things and places held dear to so many peoples heart “Pore Richards” passed into history and the pages of the past.
Sometimes I think about the iconic sign and wonder what happened to it. Is it collecting dust in someone’s storeroom that swears, “I’m going to do something with that someday!” or was it recycled for the metal that was in it. I personally would like to see it in a museum where future generations can smile at the friendly little Hobo but barring that I think the recycle scenario would be the best thing that could have happened to the sign.
I smile when I imagine the stoic little Hobo being the front grill of an expensive recreational vehicle rolling down the highway, freed from the confines of the sign and doing what a Hobo does; traveling the highways and the byways of America. I lift a Stein to you my dear unknown friend and your memory; Pore Richards.
“Art must evoke an emotion in order to be art. If it only creates indifference then it is not art, it is garbage!”