Do you know: the Brown family

By Richard Karns

Special to the Herald Review

Milton W. Brown had several businesses in Reed City, and along with his wife Ethel Belle Randall Brown, raised their five children, Marjorie, Randall, Emerson, Robert and Jean, in Reed City.

Milton had a variety of business ventures, as a paperboy, having a fruit and lunch stand and eventually becoming the manager of the Western Oil Agency of Reed City, of which he was the largest shareholder. He also later owned two buildings, one housing the post office and the other next door, where he had his newsstand and soda fountain, both having apartments on the second floor.

Milton was politically minded and became the president of what was then the village of Reed City. When the city was incorporated in 1932, he became its first mayor. Ethel was a teacher and during this time had taught at Oliver's School and the Reed City Public School.

We have all heard the expression "life happens." Sadly, this was true for our nation. The stock market failed in 1929 and hit the Brown family and so many others in this area hard. In that same time period, there was a fire that destroyed the two tanks of the Western Oil Agency, each holding 10,000 gallons of fuel. In 1933 while still trying to recover, Milton died from an infection while working in the apple orchard.

At the time of Milton's death, Marjorie was at Eastern and Randall was at Olivet. Still at home were Emerson, 13, Robert, 9 and Jean, 7. Emerson said Marjorie put her life on hold and returned to Reed City to run the businesses. It was important for her to keep an eye not only on the books for Western Oil Agency and the newsstand, but rent from the post office building and apartments. When the oil companies came to town in the 1930s, the workers kept the apartments full. At one point the family moved into one of the apartments and rented their house to the oil company.

Milton and Ethel's work ethic of being involved and trying to do important things with their lives was passed down to their children. All the five Brown children graduated from high school and college, and have done what they could to help mankind and make the world a better place. This is not only a credit to themselves, but to the parents that raised them.

Marjorie became a teacher, teaching in many places including Reed City Public Schools. Marjorie authored the history of Reed City, titled "One Hundred Going on Two Hundred." She followed in her father's footsteps, being involved in Reed City politics and having served several terms on the city council.

Emerson had a long career in the U.S. State Department, serving in Egypt and Algeria working with displaced refugees and other diplomatic positions in Germany, India, the Hague, Canada and in Washington D.C.

It was enjoyable listening to Emerson talk of the early days of Reed City. Although we are separated by a generation, I could relate to much of what he was saying. He, along with much of the young people living in Reed City, would swim at Mill Pond (Lake Osceola), and so did the older siblings of my family. It was Emerson who taught my sister Peggy how to dive. Emerson served as a life guard and said, "I would go as many as seven times a day to swim." I never swam in Mill Pond, but many of us in my generation remember swimming at Red Bridge, Black Bridge and the part of Johnson's Creek that now runs under the little Mackinaw Bridge — we called it Sucker Point.

Talking about the newsstand and soda fountain was of particular interest to me. His father at some point lowered the floor of the first half of the store so it was street-level. Emerson said the upper level made a perfect place for the young people to go. It was a place where they could listen to music, have a Coke or some of his father's homemade ice cream, and even dance if you were so inclined. Emerson laughed saying, "I think that jukebox kept the place afloat."

The young people of my generation were no different. Many of us would go to the same place (different name) after school. Maybe we listened to that same jukebox.