116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Weaver G. Witwer
Apr. 7, 2013 8:56 pm
Weaver Glen Witwer was born May 18, 1891, in Cedar Rapids, the son of Frank R. and Emma Palmer Witwer.
He married Hettiebel Barclay in a quick, quiet ceremony Aug. 3, 1911. Hettiebel was the only daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. W.F. Barclay. Her father had been pastor at St. Paul's Methodist Church until his death in 1904. Now her mother was gravely ill. If the bride wanted to have her mother at her wedding, it had to be immediate. Mrs. Barclay died that same day.
The newlyweds lived at 386 S. 15th St. in 1911, and Weaver Witwer was employed at the Frick-Stearns-Russell Co. Two Frick families began wholesale businesses at the same time as Witwer's great uncles, H.E., Benjamin H. and John J. The Witwer Brothers Wholesale Grocery Co., combined with a retail store and a real estate firm, was highly respected and successful until the brothers retired.
However, the grocery business was in the Witwer blood. Weaver and his younger brother, Frank Maurice, opened their own business, Witwer Grocer Co. In 1921, he was president and treasurer, and his brother was vice president. The wholesale firm started out on B Avenue and then moved to Second Avenue. Frank Witwer married Rachel Holt, granddaughter of The Gazette's publisher, Clarence Miller, and they had a daughter, Anne. Frank Witwer died in 1933, just two years after his father.
On his own, Weaver Witwer continued to operate and expand the company to include 32 farms that he operated with the latest technology. Witwer Grocer had a fleet of red trucks that were seen across the Midwest.
Weaver Witwer's I.O.A. Foods plant opened in July 1936 at 610 First St. SE. In 1949, he constructed a five-story brick building at 905 Third St. SE, now Bottleworks loft condos. The row of windows on the building's main floor showed off a gleaming assembly line of bottled beverages. I.O.A. also roasted and ground coffee, processed raw potatoes into chips, canned preserves and marketed a number of foods under various trade names, including Witwer's own Eat-Well brand. A 1951 Gazette story explained that the initials I.O.A. "have no meaning other than a colloquial pronunciation of Iowa."
By 1937, Weaver Witwer's success allowed him to build an opulent, Georgian-style home and stables that he named Hilltop Farm off East Post Road SE. The house was unusual because it was constructed entirely of steel beams and concrete, with wood used only as decoration.
Frank Witwer's wife, Rachel, married Robert Calder Davis and moved with their daughter, Anne, to Ojai Valley, Calif., but Anne often visited her aunt and uncle at Hilltop Farm.
Weaver Witwer built several stores that he called Witwer Farm Market Co. (later called Me Too Stores). One of his stores was downtown in the former federal building/post office at 305 Second Ave. SE.
On July 1, 1959, Kieck's Clothing moved into the lower level of the Farm Market store at 32nd and Oakland. This was planned when Weaver Witwer, vice president of Kieck's Inc., built the Oakland Road store. Kieck's downtown location at 300 Second Ave. SE became part of Merchants National Bank's expansion.
On Dec. 21, 1963, Weaver Witwer announced that he was selling his five grocery stores to a group headed by store managers. The corporation name would drop "Witwer" and be called Farm Market Stores. The stores were at 303 Second Ave. SE; 1556 First Ave. NE; 2711 Mount Vernon Rd. SE; 1516 32nd St. NE; and 1223 Seventh Ave., Marion.
He retained the food processing company, 32 farms totaling more than 7,000 acres in Linn and Benton counties, and his meat-processing plant. His farms still provided dairy, eggs and poultry to the stores.
The Gazette article announcing the sale called the farms "highly improved and provided the most modern equipment. Currently the farm business includes several large dairy herds, commercial beef herds and cattle feed yards, extensive hog raising enterprises, huge laying houses and broiler, egg-type pullet and turkey production units."
Weaver Witwer, who had been active with his businesses for more than half a century, cited age and poor health as reasons for selling the stores.
By May 1965, Weaver Witwer turned over his farming operation to his longtime farm managers, Harry and Clyde Simonsen. The farms, operated in three units -- the north and south units east of Marion and the Benton County unit -- still provided products to the Farm Market Stores and became Simonsen Farms.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors signed a lease in 1967 on the Farm Market building at the corner of Third Street and Second Avenue for $1,000 a month and taxes. Then the board sought passage of legislation to exempt property leased by counties from taxation. The lease was for three years with an option for two more. The building was used by the superintendent of schools and stored voting machines.
By 1969, the supervisors considered leasing a building from Bjornsen Investment at the corner of Second Street and Fifth Avenue and moving the county offices and several other county agencies to the new building. Witwer petitioned the board to stay at his building and promised to deed it to the county when he died.
The building was remodeled and housed the Witwer Senior Center, the Council on Aging, Juvenile Probation and youth facilities.
Hettiebel Witwer died in 1968 after a long illness. Weaver Witwer followed her in 1979. The funeral services were held at Hilltop, and they are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.