My memories of growing up in West Liberty always take me back to the Frigid Queen ice cream store. Located at 1101 North Columbus, the doors opened in 1950.
A long time local who frequented the Frigid Queen reminisced that it was a “busy, busy corner—always a line waiting for cones—but not a complaint and well worth the wait. For many this included treats for the whole family after a long day in the fields or, as a good place in the early evening to catch up with friends after games, etc.”
Other townspeople remember this popular spot for not only ice cream cones, but for sundaes with homemade hot fudge topping, shakes made with real strawberries, sloppy Joe sandwiches, splits, slushes and much more!
The Frigid Queen was the place to stop on hot humid days after school activities, swimming, and even just to walk the dog for Fido’s nickel dish of ice cream.
At the close of the school year, often times school bus drivers would treat their busload of kids to the treats of their choice at the Frigid Queen.
I recall that many times years ago, after my Dad’s work on our farm was done for the day and supper dishes washed and put away, my siblings and I would get dressed for bed in our pajamas. Then we’d hop into the car, and with mom and dad we’d drive into town to the Frigid Queen.
Dad took our orders (for me, it was almost always a pineapple malt), then took his place in line. I recall the yellow neon sign and him battling the bugs out of his face, as he visited with other townspeople and got caught up on the local news.
It was fun, too, to watch really little kids in line with their parents try to do chin ups on the outside counter, just to get a glimpse of what was going on inside. When the order was filled, Dad would bring the items back to our car for us to devour. Then off we went, headed north to home.
Talking to an owner's son
Recently I visited with Jack Kirby, now of Kansas, the son of one of the former owners, John and Jean Kirby. With his help, I’ve chronicled the history of this special store on the corner of Maxson and Columbus.
Jack shares that Wes and Eva Westphal were the original owners. Wes was the West Liberty High School principal and a teacher, plus he coached the girls basketball team. In Wes’s words, ‘As you know, school teachers don’t earn very much, and many supplement their income in various ways. With that in mind, I came across an ad in the Des Moines Register offering to set people up in a business of their own running a soft ice cream shop.’
The Westphals searched for and found what they believed to be the perfect spot for the business along the north end of Highway 6. This lot was owned by Dr. Hale, a local dentist.
There was a cinder block stucco covered small building already on the lot. That building was originally located on the northeast corner of Calhoun and 4th Streets, where the West Liberty State Bank now stands. Supposedly, Wes had said, it was built as a Standard Oil station in 1919.
Being a school teacher, Wes wasn’t sure how the community would look upon he and Eva as owners of an outside business. They contacted school board member John Kirby, to feel out the idea.
John liked the idea, and said it would show the board and the community that they intended to stay around for a while. So with that encouragement, the Westphals took the plunge! The lot and building were purchased for a fair price.
Learning the business
The Westphals then hired contractor Wayne Grunder to remodel and build the front room, which was about twice the size of the original building, made of wood and glass.
The Des Moines Register ad also lead them to a Mr. Roschman in Rock Island, who sold Sani-Serv continuous run ice cream machines, as well as the big milk coolers where they stored their mix. They obtained a permit from City Hall to break the curb on both sides facing Maxson and the highway. In addition, they had truck loads of crushed rock hauled in to surface the lot.
Next, the couple contacted Bob Lane, a local artist, to design the Eskimo for the sign. The sign was made of all weather plywood, with the Eskimo and the words “Frigid Queen” on each side. The Westphals came up with the name Frigid Queen randomly, and did a search to be sure no other business had the same name. Then they had their contractor install flood lights on the roof to illuminate the sign.
As he was a school principal, Wes had a good hunch who’d be the best people to hire to help. He hired Betty Danner (Gingerich), Joan Stratton (Thurness), and Janice Richards (Jehle) and Ramona Lenz worked as needed. Each hire turned out to be an excellent worker!
Five-cent ice cream cones
The menu at the time included five, 10 and 25-cent cones, the latter known as a ‘Mile Hi.’ They also had 25-cent and 30-cent malts and shakes, as well as Brown Derbys (vanilla cones dipped in chocolate).
At one time, they tried ham sandwiches, but it turned out they ate more than they sold! They also had chocolate, butterscotch and fruit sundaes.
Mr. Roschman had given the Westphals a design drawing for a can washing sink, so they had a local tin shop make that up for the building. It was located just inside the door to the back room.
‘Speaking of that door’, Westphal had said, ‘the exterior door, which we had removed, had a half-inch thick glass in it.’ He used that glass as a tabletop for a coffee table which he and Eva had in their home for years.
Mr. Roschman stressed the importance of using the very best vanilla. He also made a connection for them with Peerless Dairy in Rock Island who furnished an ice cream mix. The dairy truck came just once a week, so often times Wes had to make a trip to Rock Island to pick up four or five cans of mix, when business was especially good.
The Westphals had thought operating the Frigid Queen was going to be a summer job that they could run during his time off from school. However, as it turned out, it was a seven-month business. Eva managed the store for two months in the spring and again for two months in the fall.
Kirbys take over
In the summer of 1952, Wes became the head baseball coach at Franklin High School in Cedar Rapids, hence the Frigid Queen went up for sale. It was a total coincidence that John Kirby ended up buying it.
From 1952-‘55, John and his wife, Jean, operated the Frigid Queen, basically running it the same way the Westphals had done. One thing the Kirbys did differently to increase revenue was add flavored hard pack ice cream.
Since there was only one ice cream machine, it ran vanilla all day long. After closing, Jean Kirby would clean the machine and add a flavored mix, typically chocolate or strawberry, and stay until 1 or 2 in the morning running flavored ice cream to put in pints, quarts and gallons, to sell frozen. This occurred several nights each week and took many hours.
The Kirbys’ two young sons, Jack and Jim, did some work in the store, and learned how to put that curl on the top of a cone!
Jack says there ‘may have been some free cones given out to close friends, therefore cutting into the profit margin.’
Jack recalls many times going to Rock Island with his dad in a 1949 black Chevy panel truck to pick up more ice cream mix, if they were running low. This was the same panel truck, he says, that was loaded with boys for out-of-town junior high basketball games, putting six or seven boys in the back. It probably would not be legal today, Jack laughed.
In 1955, Clara and Deac Cain bought the Frigid Queen from the Kirbys. Clara ran it the longest (until 1975 when she retired), and introduced many items normally found in a small café like sandwiches and fries.
It’s remembered that Clara “would fill her freezer up at the end of the season so that some of her regulars could get their fix during the winter. They would call her up and she would go to town and open up so they could pick up their treats.”
In 1975, Cecil Bowie bought the Frigid Queen. It’s believed he constructed the addition to the building to make it more the size of what it is today.
In 1983, the business was bought by Martin and Rose Warson, who lived in Lone Tree. The Warsons changed the name to ‘Ice Cream Parlor.’ They also served many items in addition to ice cream: Maidrites, hamburgers, hot dogs, shrimp baskets, frozen bananas, etc.
The Warsons added a new roof, new floor, and new ice cream machine.
In 1988, the Ice Cream Parlor was purchased by the Nygen family, and pretty much the same fare continued.
Chris and Carmen Cook of Tipton purchased the business in 1990 and the name was changed to ‘Cookies.’
In 2006, Leroy and Sylvia Sexton bought the place. They added a breakfast menu.
Finally, pizza anyone?
Mike and Marci Severson and Dean and Mindy Heick bought the business in 2011, renovating the interior to get it ready for Godfather’s Pizza Express.
Diana Richardson purchased the building in 2014 and made it into Casey’s Heavenly Dog Grooming, and in December of 2020, it was sold to Kennedi Simon. It’s now Tater’s Spa & Pet Grooming & Boarding.
Our old ice cream store has gone to the dogs!
Phyllis Owen Sterba is a West Liberty High School graduate who lives in the area and writes history pieces for the Index in her spare time. She can be contacted through the Index at indexnews@Lcom.net Sterba is always interested in history on local business, festivals and community activities. If you have an idea, please share.