Latrobe to go bananas over split
Barb Machen, 78, remembers standing behind the soda fountain decades ago at Strickler's Pharmacy in Latrobe and hearing “Dr. Dave” call down from his optometrist office upstairs.
“He'd yell down, ‘I'm coming down for my cherry Coke!' And we'd say, ‘That's OK, we'll bring it up to you,' ” she said.
At the time, David Evans Strickler was in his 70s.
Part of that soda fountain where Strickler created a world-famous sundae will be on display this weekend during the Great American Banana Split Festival. Strickler's Drug Store original soda fountain and a banana split mural — made with 30 pounds of jelly beans — will be on display in the Latrobe Art Center.
Machen salvaged it from the trash 13 years ago, when the Latrobe pharmacy closed for good.
She remembers cleaning the machine on Sundays, before it was removed in 1972. She worked in the store from 1951 to 1954 and again from 1965 to 1995.
“When you worked on Sunday, you took the fountain completely apart and cleaned every solitary thing,” Machen said.
The fountain needed a good cleaning after a stream of people had come in for chocolate sodas, milkshakes or freshly brewed homemade root beer.
“Banana splits were a little more expensive, but you could get a root beer float for less than a quarter,” said Mary Lou Townsend, president of the Latrobe Area Historical Society.
She pulled out a file labeled “Strickler,” filled with clippings and other information the society has collected about the esteemed name interwoven with the history of Latrobe.
A ‘Dr. Dave' sundae
Born July 12, 1881, David Evans Strickler grew up in the Cooperstown neighborhood, now Latrobe's 5th Ward. His family paid his tuition to the “city school” in Latrobe. He graduated in 1901 and enrolled at the Western University of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pittsburgh.
While a college student working at Tassel Pharmacy, he created the famous sundae with the three scoops of ice cream.
“It warms my heart to look back and remember that I made the first banana split in a little drug store in a little town,” Strickler wrote in a 1959 letter to the television show “I've Got A Secret.”
He wanted to appear on the show as panelists guessed the occupation of each guest, but “Dr. Dave” was not selected.
Strickler later bought the pharmacy. He maintained the optometry office above the store, even after he sold the building to Tom Lazarchik in 1966.
Lazarchik “kept the Strickler name on the store because it was a well-known name,” said Toni Lazarchik, 71, of Latrobe, whose husband passed away in November 2012.
On display alongside the original fountain will be items from the store, including ice cream scoops, signs and a piece of paneling from a basement wall, signed by the 50 delivery boys who worked in the store until it closed in 2000.
The soda fountain was removed because the pharmacy was shifting its focus to film and cameras, Lazarchik said.
“It was in need of repair, and he (Tom Lazarchik) wasn't doing that much fountain business at the time,” she said. “Knowing now how big the banana split has got to be, maybe he would've kept it.”
In the early years, when her three sons were delivery boys and her husband ran the store, there were personal connections that customers made with the family and longtime employees like Machen, Toni Lazarchik said.
When it was lunchtime and the Kennametal offices were located near the Ligonier Street store, Machen remembers preparing for the after-lunch rush.
“They all had to come up there to get their double scoops of ice cream,” she said. She recalls when a pint sold for 37 cents.
Machen said she enjoyed all the years working alongside other employees like Matilda “Til” Krinock, Toni Ray and Peggy Olecki, all now in their mid-80s, and Tom Lazarchik.
“I enjoyed working for him. If I didn't, I wouldn't have stayed for as long as I did,” Machen said.
Lazarchik said her husband would have enjoyed the festival, especially the placement of the marker where he toiled so many hours.
“He would've been very happy for Dr. Strickler and for the town, for all his old employees,” she said.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.