We were almost cousins

One of the joys of my career was the fascinating people I had an opportunity to get to know. My years in newspaper advertising sales in Sioux City gave me opportunities I never dreamed of as a country kid in rural Iowa.

When Cindy and I moved to Sioux City in 1974 we became aware of a chain of local appliance stores. Williams Appliance operated four stores in the market at that time.

When I began working for the Sioux City Journal, Williams Appliance was served by an older account executive. When this man went on vacation one summer, I was assigned to cover that account on his behalf. A couple of years later, when the older man retired I was called into the ad director’s office and told that the managing partner of the stores had requested that I become their regular account executive.

I was surprised because when I did work with Bill Wobbema, the man in charge, I had a feeling he didn’t care much for me. Nevertheless, I was a hungry young ad salesman and Williams Appliance was a good advertiser; multiple ads on a comic page each day.

Bill Wobbema was a Dutchman originally from Sheldon in northwest Iowa. A good Dutchman, Bill invested his advertising dollars very carefully. (I write this with a smile because some folks would say the same of me.)

Bill was a World War II veteran and, I learned, began his career selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door in Sioux City after he returned to Iowa from the war. He was always courteous when I called on him but very businesslike; not interested in small talk.

One day, while planning his upcoming advertising schedule, Bill mentioned that he was in a hurry as he and his wife were about to leave on a vacation. I asked about his vacation plans and he said he and Pearl were planning to visit the Netherlands. I casually mentioned that my maternal grandmother was born in and spent her early years in Bellingwolde in the Netherlands’ Groningen Province. Bill perked up. “Really? Groningen is on our schedule to visit!” he said. “I have family from Groningen.”

He had been there before and told me about the province. I then told him that one of my great-grandmothers had grown up on Terschelling Island in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands. Bill was astonished. “Terschelling? I have relatives from there, too! After a few seconds, Bill exclaimed, “We could be cousins!”

Thus began a much warmer relationship with my client. One day, Bill was in a somber mood. I asked if he were okay. “No, I’m not,” Bill said sadly. “Last week I bought a Japanese car.”

Bill went on to explain that he had always driven American-made cars but was disappointed with the quality of his most recent purchases. He bought a new Honda and was pleased with the excellence of the vehicle. “I haven’t had to take it back to the dealer to repair anything,” he exclaimed.

As a World War II veteran purchasing a Japanese car weighed heavily on his patriotic heart.

Bill was an innovative retailer. In the 1950s, I was told, he sold laundry appliances equipped with coin boxes so his customers could make monthly payments on the equipment from the coins they used to operate their appliances. In 1967, when a UHF television station went on the air in Sioux City, Williams Appliance sold converter boxes that allowed viewers to tune in the new KMEG-TV (Channel 14) on their VHF television receivers. UHF reception by new U.S. television receivers was not required until 1964. Over the years, my wife and I purchased several items from Williams Appliance.

I never asked for a deal but when I made the purchases he sweetened the deal. Williams Appliance sold only quality merchandise and serviced it, too.

After Bill retired he came by my office regularly to talk about business and always to talk about the Netherlands and our Dutch heritage.

Several years after I left Sioux City Bill passed away. Williams Appliance is no longer in business but I still think of Bill frequently and remember him fondly. After all, we were almost cousins!

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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