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Bill Alberhasky’s legacy lives on in Iowa City with John’s Grocery
‘He was very tough being a Navy man, but after you proved yourself to him, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you,“ Bill’s oldest son, Doug Alberhasky, said
IOWA CITY — William “Bill” Alberhasky was an innovator, always looking at what John’s Grocery — a staple in Iowa City that his parents founded over 70 years ago — could do next to improve the store and stay ahead of trends, his oldest son, Doug, said.
And he did it all with a great, dry sense of humor.
The family-owned corner store has been in Alberhasky family for three generations. Bill Alberhasky worked at John’s Grocery longer than any other person in the store’s history. He worked alongside his parents, siblings, children and grandchildren.
“When my grandparents opened up, there were 28 other family-owned corner groceries in Iowa City, and we're the last one,” said Doug Alberhasky, the third generation owner of John’s Grocery. “It's a testament to him, and the rest of the family, that we were able to make it all those years.”
Bill Alberhasky died on Thursday, May 5. He was 78.
His parents, John and Erma, bought the grocery store on the corner of Gilbert and Market streets in 1948 and renamed it “John’s Grocery.” Bill started his career at the store when he was 5 years old and tall enough to see over the counter to help customers.
He was one of seven children and the second oldest. Alberhasky attended St. Mary’s Catholic School, City High School and St. Ambrose University.
Alberhasky served in the Navy from 1964 to 1967 during the Vietnam War. He returned to Iowa City after his military service.
“He was very tough being a Navy man, but after you proved yourself to him, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you,” Doug Alberhasky said.
He married his high school sweetheart, Sheila Kay Stramp, on Oct. 28, 1968, and the two were married for 48 years. The two enjoyed entertaining, spending time with friends and traveling to see family. Sheila died in 2017.
The Alberhaskys had three children — Doug, Michael and Debra — who have all been involved with the store.
Doug Alberhasky, who has worked at the store since he was 6, said there’s something magical about getting the opportunity to work alongside generations of family. He recalled working with his father and grandparents and now having the chance to work with his own kids at the store.
“Being a father now, I realized how much sacrifice he had to make to be able to do all those things, but in the family business, there wasn't anybody else,” Doug Alberhasky said about his father.
His father allowed him take risks, and Doug Alberhasky hopes to continue innovating the way his father did.
“It makes me so happy that he was able to give me the latitude and the trust to be able to take chances, and that's frankly why we're in a position that we are today of still being around,” Doug Alberhasky said.
Doug Alberhasky said he will do everything he can to honor his grandparents and father.
“It's some big shoes to fill, for my case and for my son's case, but it's the only thing that we've ever known,” Doug Alberhasky said. “It's the thing that you never work a day in your life when you love what you do, and I truly love what I do.”
Doug Alberhasky said he was heartened to read hundreds of Facebook comments from customers, former staff and others who shared memories of his father and the impact he had on them.
"It really made me feel good in the fact that he was able to help so many people over the years,“ Doug Alberhasky said.
“Each generation is building on the next and the more things change, the more they stay the same,” he added. “I'm very, very thankful that Iowa City realizes that the things that make us unique are our family owned businesses.”
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