Stretching along Railroad Avenue in downtown Russellville is a large storefront, crowned with a section of red bricks that boldly displays the name “Schubert.” This structure, which is well over a century old, serves as a memorial of sorts to an enterprising young man who contributed greatly to the development of a church and the early growth of the surrounding community.
Michael Schubert was born near Taos in 1859. He experienced hardship in his early years when his father, John, died during the early part of the Civil War. The young private, a member of the Cole County Home Guards, had been on guard duty by a railroad bridge in Osage City when he was struck by a train on August 7, 1861.
Several years later, his mother died from smallpox, leaving young Michael and his sister, Kate, orphaned. Throughout the next several years, he buckled down and worked hard to earn an education. In the book The Heritage of Russellville in Cole County, Reba Koester explained that the formal education Schubert received “amounted to only a few years in the public school and a few months in a private German school.”
“At the age of 24, he was associated in the mercantile business at Decatur,” explained the book written for the sesquicentennial celebration of Russellville in 1988. Decatur was once a thriving community with a mill, hotel and other businesses located south of Russellville along the South Moreau Creek.
Frederick “Fritz” Steffens, a German immigrant and businessman in Decatur, took the young Schubert under his wing and taught him how to operate a successful business. Schubert also garnered from Fritz an interest in the funeral profession. After spending four years in Decatur, he moved to Barnett and purchased a stock of goods so that he could operate his own store.
Schubert fell in love and, in 1889, married the former Mary Schneider from his hometown of Taos. Sadly, Mary was only twenty-seven years old when she died in 1893, and was laid to rest in Big Rock Cemetery in Barnett. Still reeling from the loss of his beloved, Schubert chose to build his business in the nearby community of Russellville, which was experiencing a period of unprecedented growth because of the railroad.
The next several years were a whirlwind of activity for the entrepreneur. In 1895, he became one of the organizers of the Russellville Exchange Bank, the first financial institution of the community. For two years, he worked as a cashier at the bank but then chose to focus on other possibilities. Schubert was also present during the formation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Russellville in the fall of 1995. A booklet printed in 1995, celebrating the church’s one-hundredth anniversary noted, “John Buchta and Michael Schubert were elected as first deacons.” Additionally, Schubert was listed among the first contributors for the new church.
One of his earliest business endeavors was establishing the Schubert Funeral Service in 1896. Gus Steffens, the son of the Decatur businessman who had taken Schubert under his wing, opened his own funeral home in Russellville several years later.
Between his spiritual and business engagements, Schubert again found love and married the former Emma Kautsch on May 10, 1897. She was of great support when he began to actively expand his businesses.
In 1897, he realized his mercantile building was no longer large enough to accommodate his booming business and added to the brick-faced structure to provide additional space for inventory. For several years, he was a business associate of Frank Weiler, and operated under the name Schubert and Weiler Mercantile Company.
“On June 22, 1911, Frank Weiler sold his one-fourth interest in the firm…,” explained Russellville’s sesquicentennial book. “The Schubert Mercantile was lighted by electricity the second week of October 1915. The store now had the appearance of a metropolitan store, having all the modern conveniences such as electric lights, toilets, heat, water, etc.”
The father of several children, Schubert’s second son, Hugo, entered the mercantile business with his father in 1923. Hugo also continued his father’s funeral business, and completed embalming school in 1924 to assume management of Schubert Funeral Home. Both the Steffens and Schubert funeral businesses were later purchased by James Scrivner and Jewell Stevinson, of Stover.
Michael Schubert, a great visionary of the Russellville community, lived to see Trinity Lutheran Church expand from its small lot on Marion Street to its new brick church, parsonage and small white schoolhouse located on the southside of State Highway C. Following his death on February 17, 1937, the body of the seventy-seven-year-old businessman was laid to rest in the cemetery of Trinity Lutheran Church outside Russellville, which he had helped establish years earlier. Shortly after his death, his widow donated the property upon which the Trinity Lutheran Parish Hall was erected.
Schubert’s son, Hugo, continued to operate the mercantile business until selling it just days before his death in 1959. The business was later purchased by Arthur Jungmeyer, whose son, Don, utilized the building to operate a grocery store that served the community for many years.
Michael Schubert's contributions to the growth of Russellville cannot easily be described or measured, but a portion of his legacy still remains in his former business building downtown, Trinity Lutheran Church and his home on the southeast corner of Smith and Minnie Streets.
It is the legacy of a young man raised in dire circumstances, who sought to immerse himself in the education provided through perseverance and hard work, thus building a loving family and church, while rising to the zenith of success in the community he chose as home.
Jeremy P. Ämick is writing a series of articles highlighting the history of the Russellville area in honor of Missouri’s bicentennial.
When Denny Banister graduated from college in Warrensburg in 1966, the young man’s life could have taken many interesting directions. Only recently married to his fiancée, Madelyn, with whom he had grown up in St. Louis, the young man chose to pursue a long-held interest in the military by enlisting in the U.S. Navy.
“I was sent to San Diego in May 1967, for boot camp,” recalled Banister. “While I was there, I was selected to serve as a journalist because of the broadcasting and radio experience I had acquired during an after college,” he added.
After completing his basic training, he received orders to report for Rota, Spain, arriving in country in late summer 1967. Several months later, his wife joined him at their new overseas home.
“They assigned me as the station manager for the radio station on the base,” he explained. “The naval base was very interesting and the radio station was located down by the pier.” He further noted, “We were part of the Armed Force Radio and Television Service and carried their transcribed programming.”
Additionally, Banister went on to explain, he spent much of his time as a disc jockey and developing local programming.
“One memorable moment was when I interviewed an admiral with the Spanish navy and the interview was conducted through an interpreter. On another occasion, I interviewed for the base newspaper a prince in the line of Spanish royalty.”
On other occasions, the sailor was called upon to host and introduce various entertainment acts who were visiting the military base during USO shows. During what became a three-year assignment in Spain, Banister’s wife gave birth to their son on Christmas Day of 1968.
“My family and I were able to get some time off and travel to Austria, Switzerland and Germany—we really got to see a nice chunk of Europe,” he said. “But then I received orders for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the summer of 1970, so my wife and son went back to St. Louis while I finished the next two years of my assignment.”
While in Cuba, he was once again assigned to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, working as the radio station manager and as a member of the television evening news team.
“I remember when I arrived at Cuba and they were ferrying me to the station, I thought to myself, ‘Here I am, serving during the Vietnam War and spending my time as a journalist, while many of my friends are in the Vietnam War.’ It was a surreal moment,” he added.
The United States soon began to draw down forces as the end of the Vietnam War approached and, in September 1972, Banister received his discharge from the Navy. When returning to St. Louis to reunite with his family, his parents were in the process of retiring to the Lake of the Ozarks. During a trip to visit them, a voice he heard over his car radio soon shifted the direction of his post-military career.
“We were going to see my parents when a guy I used to broadcast with during college came on the radio station in Fulton,” he said. “So I stopped by the station to see him and the general manager there was another guy I had worked with in commercial radio.”
Banister would spent the next six months working at the station in Fulton, followed by five years with KLIK in Jefferson City. Missouri Farm Bureau then hired him in 1976, where he would go on to retire as assistant director of public affairs after thirty-five years of employment.
“I had been out of the Navy for eleven years and working for Farm Bureau when I realized that I really missed the service,” explained Banister. “Initially, my decision to leave the Navy was because I was tired of being away from my family but when I was working in radio, there were no holidays and you were always moving to other stations if you wanted opportunities for advancement.”
Enlisting in the Navy Reserve in St. Louis in 1983, Banister remained in the service until retiring on this sixtieth birthday in August 2004, having completed a combined 28 years of military service.
“The Navy Reserve offered me several fascinating opportunities like working temporary orders at different naval broadcasting facilities and covering events like Fleet Week and air shows with the Blue Angels—the Navy’s flight demonstration team.” He added, “I also got to go on sea duty frequently.”
His experiences, the veteran sagely explained, have made it difficult for him to share with others his own story of military service.
“As a journalist it was part of my job to tell the stories of others,” he said. “If you focus on yourself, then you’re missing the story.” He added, “But while I was in the Navy, I never stopped learning. I had the privilege of working with individuals from many professional backgrounds and I learned from them, taking those new skills back to my full-time employer. It all tied together quite well.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
A twenty-three-year-old Amil Vernon Wittenberger was living in Jamestown and working for the Missouri Highway Department when he received some sage advice from a supervisor who believed the U.S. would soon be drawn into World War II—voluntarily enlist and have some choice in the direction of your military career. Heeding the suggestion, Wittenberger was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Corps at Jefferson Barracks on December 27, 1940.
“From Jefferson Barracks, he was sent to Chicago for aircraft maintenance training at a site known as Aeronautical University,” said the veteran’s son, Denny Wittenberger, who has painstakingly researched and detailed his father’s military service.
When his initial training as a mechanic was completed, the young airman was transferred to Selfridge Field, Michigan, where he was introduced to maintenance requirements for the P-40 Warhawk, a single-engine fighter manufactured by Curtiss-Wright. As the late veteran’s son explained, his time at the Michigan airfield introduced him to a group of iconic aviators who performed some of the most legendary aviation missions of the war.
“While he was there, they were assembling the P-40s for the Flying Tigers, who distinguished themselves defending China while fighting the Japanese,” said Denny Wittenberger. “My father told me years later that he volunteered to join them, but they declined his offer because at that time, he had not yet received the required training and experience.”
This only delayed his inevitable deployment overseas, and the mechanic was soon sent to the next destination in his military aircraft maintenance instruction—Dale Mabry Field near Tallahassee, Florida. It was here that he transitioned to working on another fighter aircraft, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Several weeks later, he reported to Eglin Air Force Base (Florida), where he refined his skills by continuing to perform maintenance on the P-47s.
“He and my mother, whom he had known before the war, were married during this timeframe and while my father was performing his military duties on the base, my mother taught school on the campus of the University of Florida,” said Denny Wittenberger. “Dad wasn’t there much longer because he was transferred to Lakeland, Florida, to learn maintenance on the new P-51 Mustangs,” he added.
In his book Allison-Engined P-51 Mustang, Martyn Chorlton wrote of the aircraft, “It was popular with all who flew it and no less popular with those who kept it flying.” The author further noted, “The increased range was a godsend and the increased speed a bonus …”
Assigned to the 458th Squadron of the 506th Fighter Group, the training Wittenberger received thus far culminated in combat application when the squadron received notice they were deploying to Iwo Jima in early 1945. U.S forces had captured the islands at a great cost in lives, and the U.S. Navy Seabees Construction Battalions were rebuilding Japanese runways to accommodate the squadron’s aircraft.
“Their aircraft began providing fighter escorts for the B-29s during long-range bombing missions against Japanese targets,” explained Denny Wittenberger. “These missions were often eight hours round-trip and sometimes included strafing missions if a target of opportunity was identified,” he added.
Achieving the rank of master sergeant, Wittenberger became the line sergeant for the squadron, having the responsibility for the overall maintenance for the planes of the squadron along with the eighty-four personnel and twenty-seven planes under his supervision and care. For the next several months, until the Japanese surrender, Wittenberger and his crew worked long hours to ensure their planes were ready for the next day’s missions. In a citation Wittenberger received from the commander of the 458th Fighter Squadron in September 1945, it was noted he “established a brilliant record of leadership” in addition to “… laboring many arduous hours at night with poor lighting facilities, (and overcoming) all obstacles confronted him.”
The veteran would be awarded two Bronze Star medals “for meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States …”
His son explained, “After serving four years and ten months on active duty, my father received his discharge on November 9, 1945. He returned to Jamestown and began life as a farmer while also operating the Jamestown Mercantile for a number of years.”
The veteran and his wife went on to raise one son. In later years, Wittenberger became a union electrician for Meyer Electric, retiring after working at the Callaway Nuclear Plant. Prior to his passing in 1993, his son explained, the veteran attended some of the reunions held for his squadron.
“There was a saying by one of the airman that the 506th was one of the last fighter squadrons to fight since they got there in early 1945, and the first ones forgotten,” said his son. “And when I attended the reunions with my father, it seemed like the pilots got all of the attention and the maintenance people were overlooked.” He added, “When those planes returned from a mission back in the war, those maintenance crews worked all night to make sure they were ready to go on the next mission. There were an incredible number of man-hours invested in that effort and I just want to make sure the dedication of my father and the maintenance crews is never forgotten.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.