The Gum Man

Ask any of my kids what they remember most of their Gramma when they were growing up and they’ll tell you that she ALWAYS had a stick of gum or piece of candy for them. It’s one of those memories that you’ll have with you forever.

When I heard of “the gum man,” I knew it was a name that will resonate to this day in Webster City. Let’s see if I’m right.

Born in Knoxville, Iowa, on November 2, 1911, Thurber Curran spent his early childhood in Des Moines. So little is known of his parents or birth that his obituary in the Daily Freeman-Journal from 2002 refers to his place of birth as unknown. There is a picture of Thurber on a tricycle at age six; a niece of his is one of my sources for this article and says he was already delivering newspapers on the streets at that age.

She also told me that, as a teenager, Thurber was living near Blairsburg with a foster family. Charles McLaughlin and his wife, Anna, brought young Curran from Des Moines in response to a newspaper article entitled “Take a City Child to the Country for the Summer.”

Thurber was raised by the family along with a daughter of their own. Tragically, Anna McLaughlin died in October of 1940 when the family home burned down, caused by an electrical fire.

It was in the same year that Curran enlisted in the Marines; he would go on to serve in both the Marines and the Army during World War II. In August of 1941 he married Esther Christensen, of Jewell, in St Louis. Curran served in the tank corps and eventually was stationed overseas in Hawaii and the Philippines.

After the war he took a job delivering fuel in our area for Phillips 66. He and Esther moved from Charles McLaughlin’s farm to a Webster City residence at 1005 Water Street. The couple had a son and a daughter while Thurber worked with Phillips 66 for more than 30 years.

Curran was known as “the gum man.” It seemed he always had a stick of Juicy Fruit (a personal favorite of mine) to hand out, after getting permission of a kid’s parent. Toward the end of his career, he switched over to Big Red gum (you can’t go wrong with cinnamon).

Helpful, kind, respectful … these are words that described Thurber and Esther. He was an active member (and recruiter) of the American Legion Post here in Webster City, once receiving an award for recruiting members. The Post at that time numbered some 900 members. If you search the digital archives of the Webster City newspapers, there are numerous articles that mention one or both hosting, serving or visiting folks in the area.

Though I never knew Thurber or Esther, they so represent their generation. My own folks also lived through The Depression, met in high school, married during World War II, helped defeat the Axis Powers and went on to raise a family and build the suburbs — all things accomplished by America’s Greatest Generation.

Our Neighborhood is a column by Michael Eckers focusing on the men and women whose presence populates Graceland Cemetery in Webster City..


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