Today, former Nevada business owner Francy Scudder turns 75.
It’s fitting that a woman who always had so much love to share in this community would celebrate her birthday on Valentine’s Day.
Last week, we brought you the first of this two-part story on Francy’s younger years and how she eventually took over Scudder’s Department Store ownership from her father. We shared how much she loved being part of a bustling downtown business district from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, eventually closing the store for good in 1995.
We left off last week with Francy remembering some of the great business leaders she enjoyed working with back in that day.
Francy’s efforts, joining with others to keep the business district strong, made her think back to earlier times on main street when she was growing up in Nevada. She remembered, “when all of main street stayed open Saturday nights for farmers, which stopped in the late 1970s, I think.” During her store ownership years, “I think we tried Fridays and tried drawings, but that had become part of another era.” Still, she and others worked like crazy to sponsor “fabulous promotions” for the businesses of Nevada. “I have them all in a scrapbook,” she said.
In one of her own promotional ad roles, Francy became Nevada’s bag lady. “ABWA had me do this at the Catholic Church for a meal… Many members did not recognize me and thought I had come off the highway and was panhandling,” she said. “I had so much fun. I continued that for years by having the bag lady in ads.” That bag lady showed up wearing men’s bibs, galoshes and women’s clothes, too. One ad even featured her in a wedding dress. The bag lady gig eventually ran its course.
But Francy never stopped enjoying the ability to have fun as a businesswoman during those years. She loved doing the Lincoln Highway Days parades, posing one year as Betsy Ross with Dennis Henderson, another year as “Hot Flash Hannah” with Dick Atwell and even posed as the Statue of Liberty in one parade.
When the book, “100 Best Small Towns in America,” named Nevada as 36th on the list in the early ’90s (Nevada being one of a few Iowa towns included), it brought lots of attention to the community and its main business district. “I was one of the merchants interviewed for the book, and we had the best T-shirts and sweatshirts printed for the town members to wear. I still have mine. It was quite the honor.”
Francy was often in the spotlight as a business owner during the early ’90s. “The Nevada Journal interviewed me, the Ames Tribune interviewed me and the Des Moines Register interviewed me at different times about a small town and a small store that was still hanging on.”
Francy recalled her dad saying that if the store made it 25 years, that would be a good run. “We made it 35 years,” Francy said. But in the mid-’90s, she could tell “the times they were a-changin.”
She talks about that time. “For quite a while, the kids and parents wanted to go to the malls. Then Walmart came into Ames and the perception was that they were cheaper — but not all things were.” But she understood the attraction, finding all kinds of things in one place. “It was the beginning of deep discounts,” though she said many stores were marking things way up just to bring the prices way down. But it worked.
“People thought they were getting a great bargain…not everyone did, but shoppers were expecting … bargains, (or so) they thought. And I just could not play unfair.”
So, she read the writing on the wall and decided it was time to close. “I had a going out of business sale.” She thought, in fact, that she could put herself through college with that last big auction of items. But it snowed, a blizzard of all things. She decided not to cancel the event, and it didn’t make what she had hoped.
“But, I was very lucky, because I made enough to pay all my suppliers what I owed them,” And then, with the help of grants and scholarships from the Nevada ABWA and PEO, she said, “I only had to borrow $30,000 for three years to live and not work and go to school.” Her son, Andrew attended college at the same time she did, and the result for her was that she earned a degree.
She felt lucky to be able to use that degree to get a teaching job in a special program for at-risk girls in Des Moines. “I had six ladies as high school students… These high school girls had behavior problems. They were not allowed to mix with the general (school) population, so I taught them six classes a day.” From last week’s story, you know she continued to teach when she moved away from Nevada to Colorado with her husband, Paul Henderson.
“I had met Paul in the summer between my first year of teaching. His class had a 50-year party. I had been in the Nevada Fourth of July dunk tank” and a friend asked her to go to that party. She ran into Paul there. “He said I had taught him swimming. It was either me or my twin, Darcy … close enough. And he remembered coming with his family to our Christmas parties. Anyway, we fell in love,” she said.
Eventually, the two moved to Windsor, Colo., but Francy said she still likes coming back to Iowa when she can. She likes to visit friends in the area, but most of all, she likes to visit her son, Andrew Allen, who still lives in the area, in Huxley, where he and his wife Hollie (Post) Allen have three children: Ashton, 15; and twins, Darcy and Drew, almost 13. Andrew is president and CEO of YSS.
On one trip back, Francy said she got to look in on her old store, now the site of the Gatherings business. “It was wonderful,” she said. “Not one sad moment for me… just happy the store was in a ‘good place’ with great activity.”
Thinking back about what she most treasures of her many years in Nevada, Francy listed a few things. “That people genuinely liked us…that we were good for Nevada…that we gave it our all… We grew up to believe in our community as much as you can. I had the best of all worlds growing up in Nevada… and raising my family in Nevada.”
It wasn’t always easy and running that store didn’t make her rich. “Of the many values my children learned is that you lived within your means — meaning they wore clothes from Scudder’s, even when they sometimes wanted those ‘name brands’ their friends had. They knew we could not afford them, and we needed to support my business.”
And in the end, everything worked out and Francy loved the life she had. “I had a great, wonderful life in Nevada.”
Francy Scudder Henderson at a glance:
Now married to native Nevadan Paul Henderson, and they live in Windsor, Colo.
Between them they have 17 grandchildren (or step-grandchildren) and two great-grandchildren.
Francy’s three children:
Darcy Scudder Chambers works as a massage therapist in Chester, Md., and has two daughters
Stephanie Scudder works as a supervisor in Maryland for the Reeb Millwork and has two daughters and one granddaughter
Andrew Allen works as president and CEO of YSS statewide, but based in Ames, and has three children
Francy’s two sisters:
Her twin sister, Darcy, died tragically in an accident in September 1988. She was a kindergarten teacher at the time.
Her younger sister, Betsy, lives in Naples, Fla.