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The College Drug

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

For more than a decade in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Hazel was your waitress of choice at the College Drug on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Thirty-eighth Street in Rock Island. Here, she presided over a counter with seven stools and a table with four chairs, dispensing your choice of a College Drug hot cinnamon roll or a hamburger heated on the small grill. In truth, it was sometimes her choice.

Hazel had been bitten by that American insect, the collecting bug. Only in her case, it was not salt and pepper shakers, penguins, buttons, stamps, or African violets. Hazel's passion was customers whom she added one by one to her private collection, filling a gap in age or personality here and there. Over the years she had assembled a colorful and varied collection—a Noah's Ark of students, faculty, townies, a postman or two, and several traveling salesmen.

Each morning they arrived, in proper order, dusted off and shined up, to take their places at the counters and tables. The most antique piece in Hazel's collection, Ralph Jackson, was always the first to appear a few minutes after opening. Jackson was in his eighties and was famous for setting up a local co-op for railroad workers which broke the stranglehold of the company store. Jackson took his place at the table, lit the first of what would be a pack of Lucky Strikes, and waited for the rest of the collection.

They came in by ones and twos and took their places. The faculty with first hour classes hurried in for their hot rolls, followed by neighborhood mothers with children off to school, then the Dean of Women, the theater director, and two speech teachers, and finally students who had overslept breakfast.

Unfortunately, you can no longer view this collection. Hazel, the curator, retired and moved to Florida in the mid-1960s. The College Drug moved several blocks down the street to make way for college parking, and the collection dispersed. Jackson died, a few pieces were auctioned off to other collectors, but most of the rest remain stored in their boxes, hoping, no doubt, for another collector to appear.

Some museum missed a great opportunity.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.