Rx for Tracy
By Seth Schmidt
Maria Schleppenbach-Grogan is just a little surprised by the question.
Why did you choose to come back to Tracy and run your dad’s drug store?
“Why wouldn’t I?” the Tracy pharmacist replies. “I always knew I was coming back. I love it here.”
The 1982 Tracy High School grad joined her father, John, at John’s Drug in 2006. Her father died in 2009 at the age of 77.
“I’m glad that I had two good years working with him,” Maria says.
This week, Maria is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the business that John Schleppenbach established in July of 1966. Customers are invited to stop in Wednesday through Friday, July 20-22, to register for door prizes, enjoy refreshments and check out a variety of in-store specials.
John’s Rx Drug has been a part of the downtown Tracy business scene since July, 1966, when John Schleppenbach bought Dietz Drug. The former owner, Joe Dietz, had operated the store for 21 years.
By the time he’d saved up enough money to buy the Dietz store, Schleppenbach had already been a druggist in Tracy for nine years. He’d come to Tracy in 1957, after earning his graduate degree in pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, and completing a two-year stint in the military.
Schleppenbach got his start in Tracy when Bruce Kirkpatrick, owner of Kirk’s Rexall Drug, hired Schleppenbach as a new pharmacist. Schleppenbach worked for Kirkpatrick for seven years, before joining Dietz. Seven Tracy business and professional men co-signed the note that allowed Schleppenbach to buy the Dietz store three years later.
The store name changed to John’s Drug, and the storefront was remodeled to resemble a Bavarian chalet. The orange and brown-roofed façade remains one of the downtown’s most visible landmarks today.
Schleppenbach said in a 2008 interview, that owning his own drug store was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“All I ever wanted to do was run a pharmacy in a small town,” he said.
The young pharmacist became a Tracy legend because of his gregarious personality, and willingness to open up his pharmacy at any hour or day to fill an emergency prescription.
“I’ve always tried to put myself in the shoes of my customers,” Schleppenbach once told the Headlight-Herald. “How would I feel if it was my wife or my daughter who needed a prescription at 2 in the morning? Of course, I was going to come down and open up for them.”
Waiting for dad to get back from a filling an after-hours prescription was simply a way of life for Maria and her siblings: Julie, Sandy, and Jake, and their mom, Marge.
“I grew up with it,” Maria smiles. “The phone would ring, and dad would say, ‘I’ll be right back. It always seemed to happen when we were sitting down to supper or just about to open Christmas presents.”
Schleppenbach continued to fill prescriptions at the store after Maria joined him as a partner and fellow pharmacist in 2006, and even after being diagnosed with ALS in 2008
“Dad said he would never retire, never ever,” Maria recalls. “And he almost made it.”
He filled his last prescription on April 24, 2009, and died on May 25, after being hospitalized with pneumonia.
John Schleppenbach described his determination to keep working in 2008 this way:
“I love my work. Why should I stay home? I like being around people, and you feel like you are helping people…I like being a part of the healing chain.”
For more on this article, see this week's Headlight-Herald.