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‘Mrs. Dairy Queen’: Goodbye after 64 years

Joe Miller and his mom, Edith, display the hand-printed signs that used to advertise the frozen treats at the Salem Dairy Queen the family owned for 64 years. The DQ located on West State Street closed for the last time after Labor Day. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

SALEM — Young customers called her “Mrs. Dairy Queen.”

Even now, nearly 64 years after Edith Miller and her late husband Howard took over ownership of the Salem ice cream stand, she said some people still recognize her from the DQ and call her that.

So saying goodbye to the business that became their livelihood and the livelihood of their son Joe, who took over ownership from them, has been bittersweet.

“A lot of good memories,” she said.

The business shut down quietly in September, early but not all that unusual since it was seasonal, always opening in the spring and closing in the fall, but this time was different.

A black-and-white photo shows the Salem Dairy Queen in the 1950s, before the house was moved to make way for the Frostop. (Photo provided by Joe Miller)

Customers were greeted by a message written in chalk that said: “Closed Thanks for 64 Great Years.”

And that was that.

“Time for someone else to have 64 years of fun,” Joe said.

Both he and his mom said there has to be a stopping point sometime and the world is changing, with curb service a thing of the past. Getting employees who wanted seasonal work and would stay was getting harder and harder, too, unlike the old days when there was a waiting list to get in.

“Once they got the job, they were there for a long time,” Joe said, some as long as 30 years.

Kassie Blazer, left, and Hannah McKee stand in front of the Salem Dairy Queen during a fundraiser for the Dustin Huffman Memorial Scholarship Fund several years ago. (Photo provided by Joe Miller)

For a lot of kids, this was their first job experience, working at the Dairy Queen or the Frostop next door, which the Millers also owned for many years. Some worked at both places. Even long after they left the area, many of the former employees would return to Dairy Queen for a visit whenever they were in town over the summer.

“A lot of them said it was the one constant in Salem,” he said.

The lot at the corner of West State Street and Georgetown Road would be overrun as baseball and softball teams gathered for a sweet treat after the game. Marriages were born, friendships blossomed and families enjoyed some together time over soft serve ice cream cones with the familiar Dairy Queen curl.

“We owned the Dairy Queen, but the city of Salem, I always thought the people of Salem actually kind of owned the Dairy Queen. We were just kind of fostering its existence,” Joe said.

The journey began on June 11, 1956 when the Millers first opened as the new owners of the Dairy Queen after purchasing the franchise from Chester Walsh, who built the building with two walk-up windows in 1948. Dairy Queen was born in 1940.

Joe Miller and his daughter, Megan, looking out the window, take a final photo the last week of operation for the Salem Dairy Queen in September. (Photo provided by Joe Miller)

They also purchased the two-story house adjacent to the property and had it moved to its present location, building the Frostop on the spot in 1960. The Millers sold the Frostop business in 1969, but still owned the land and eventually Joe bought the business back, but it’s been closed for many years now. They had also sold the house, but Joe bought that back, too. All the properties, four lots, have been sold to one buyer.

Both Millers talk about their DQ experience with pride. Edith recalled that many customers would get the same treat every time, so they would start making it as soon as they pulled in. The old original menu board made of metal listed some favorites, such as the Boston Shake which basically was a hot fudge sundae on top of a milkshake or the Jack & Jill sundae consisting of chocolate and marshmallow.

Up until the end, the Salem Dairy Queen still made the original offerings, using quality fresh fruit and better products and pecans. They also made by hand the take-home treats on the premises, including the Dilly Bars. Joe said they always tried to give the customers what they wanted or what they would want themselves, still offering old-fashioned floats and sodas.

Edith said the popular Blizzard was one of the smartest ideas Dairy Queen ever produced. Other products were tried, but nothing took off the way the Blizzard did.

A lot of ice cream places came and went in Salem while the Dairy Queen remained. Many fundraisers took place there, from the Reilly Wall to Eyes for Olivia to the Dustin Huffman Memorial Scholarship. There were a lot of interesting promotions, too, like the time they had Fiesta Days in 1967 for the fiesta sundae, with sombreros and pinatas for decorations. One year during the Salem Jubilee, Joe wore a fiberglass cone over his body for the parade.

These are the original signs from the Salem Dairy Queen, which was built in 1948 and operated by the Miller family since 1956, showing some of the treats that were popular then and still around today. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

The Dairy Queen also hosted class visits with kindergarten kids and first graders, letting each one make their own first cone.

Like Edith said, lots of memories. She was recognized by Dairy Queen for 60 years service when the milestone hit. She said the building may be one of the oldest Dairy Queen buildings left in Ohio. Joe’s been coming across a lot of memorabilia while preparing to sell, such as the hand-lettered signs from the 60’s, and some Frostop car hop trays.

Edith and Howard had another son, Jim, who’s still in the area. And Joe and his wife Sheri have a daughter in eighth grade, Megan, who grew up at the Dairy Queen.

Didn’t we all?

mgreier@salemnews.net

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