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Bob Lind, Published April 20 2014

Neighbors: American Airlines captain got his start in Minn, ND

Although a flier, Bill’s hobby is railroading, with a special interest in the history of the Northern Pacific Railway, about which he’s written two books and several dozen articles for “The Mainstreeter,” the journal of the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association.

With all this, Bill, now living in Apple Valley, Minn., retains many special memories of his growing up years in Fargo.

One of them was of an event that occurred April 14, 1963.

It was a Sunday. An Easter Sunday.

Destruction . . .

“I was almost 6 years old,” Bill writes Neighbors, “and we (meaning him and his parents Bill and Shirley Kuebler) had just acquired a sharp, like-new two door 1960 Olds Dynamic 88. Overvold Motors had used the car as a demo and it had very few miles on it.

“After Easter church services, we were enjoying our ‘new’ car on a drive through downtown Fargo when we encountered barricades in the area of 1st Avenue North and Broadway. A large, smoldering pile of rubble was all that was left of the Straus clothing store – a dismal, depressing scene.

“I heard my parents lament the loss of this store; very fine clothes were sold there, they had often said.

“‘What will become of this store and of those who run it?’ I wondered. To a 6-year-old, even though it would be years before I shopped for clothes, I felt a sense of loss.

“This was the first major fire in Fargo that I remember seeing. The end of Straus seemed permanent to me. A Fargo landmark was gone.

“Or was it?

. . . And new life

“By coincidence, about one year later, on Easter Sunday, March 29, 1964, we were once again driving through downtown Fargo after church services. We remembered the fire of the year before and remarked that a brand new Straus store in the same location was up and running, though closed on Sundays as were most stores in those days.

“My parents were happy to see the menswear store in business once again,” Bill says, “and my mother commented that she planned to shop there soon for my dad. Over the years he owned several suits from Straus and trusted her judgment, and she had exquisite taste.

“I owned one or two little suits as well; I had been wearing them since about age 4. In those days, it was common for children to dress up for church (and for train and air travel, too!)

“I don’t know if the little suit and tie I wore in church back then had come from Straus or not, but somehow in my mind I made that connection.

“Fast forward about a dozen years to the week of Easter 1976. I was home on spring break during my first year at the Air Force Academy and it was time to purchase my first three-piece suit as a young adult – now age 19.

“My parents suggested Straus, because, they said, ‘They have excellent menswear.’

“That sounded good to me, so my mother, who knew the owner, Ed Stern, set me up for a meeting with him. He had joined his father, Herman Stern, in the menswear business in 1936. (Note: Herman was posthumously awarded North Dakota’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, this year.)

“Ed Stern graciously helped me pick out a fine suit and fitted me. It looked sharp and lasted many years.

“A few years later,” Bill continues, “I’d be back in town again, shopping at Straus for a new suit.

“As I looked around the store that day in 1976, I couldn’t help but contrast the ‘like new’ interior of the building with that smoldering pile of rubble that my wide eyes had seen on April 14, 1963.

“It really was quite a contrast, to say the least. What had seemed utterly destroyed was now ‘alive’ again, a great business providing customers with outstanding products. A fire, apparent destruction, and now new life for a store with a bright future.

“One couldn’t help but notice the coincidence, and a parallel, with Easter on these occasions: Death, and then the resurrection of Jesus, promised new life for all believers, of whom I was one.

“Somehow,” Bill Kuebler says, “it seemed as fitting as that first suit I bought at Straus.”

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com