CROFTON — While on a New Year’s Eve outing in 1946, Dr. Joseph Wiebelhaus made a purchase here that set a new course for his family for generations.
Later this month, Brian and Debbie Wiebelhaus of Crofton will invite residents of the area to help Wiebelhaus Recreation — the business that emerged from the doctor’s purchase — celebrate its 75 years of business in the community.
“The way the story went, my grandpa — which would be my dad’s dad — went to a New Year’s Eve dance or a New Year’s dance and came home and said he purchased the property. It used to be a hardware store,” Brian said.
At the time, Brian’s father, Walter, recently had returned from the service and was being treated by Dr. Wiebelhaus — a naturopathic physician who ran the New Meridian Sanitorium in Crofton — for malaria.
“He was really sick,” Brian said of his dad.
During his recovery, Dr. Wiebelhaus told his son that he thought he needed to get into the bar business, so in April 1946, Walter and his wife, Eva, purchased the former hardware store at the corner of West Second and Main streets in Crofton, as well as the former Potter Pool Hall next door.
The hardware store was torn down and replaced with what is now the restaurant and lounge for Wiebelhaus Recreation. Work also began on renovating the old pool hall, but supply shortages prevented the work from being completed until late 1947.
“It was two-lane bowling. They were going to get that ready to put in four lanes, but they had trouble getting material because of the war,” Brian said.
Under Walter and Eva’s ownership, the Crofton business thrived. It offered limited food options, as well as bowling, pool tables and card tables; the bulk of income from the business came from alcohol sales at the bar.
Times have changed over the years. Brian and his wife, Debbie, took over ownership and management after Walter and Eva retired in 1989.
Walter’s retirement brought an end to the longest-held liquor license operation under the guidance of one individual in the State of Nebraska at the time, Brian said. However, he added, the liquor license is still held in the family and surpasses any previous records in the state.
While alcohol is still sold at Wiebelhaus Recreation, it no longer makes up the bulk of the business the way it did for Walter and Eva so many years ago.
“Now we’re kind of the opposite,” Brian said. “We do 80% food, a little bit of bowling and a little bit of alcohol sales. ... It’s a family place to come.”
The menu has quadrupled in size with more than 50 items offered, including breakfast; fish fries and broasted chicken are among the mealtime favorites of customers.
“We do catering. Debbie does such a good job,” Brian said. “Everything is homemade. She’s the main cog in the kitchen wheel.”
Brian and Debbie expressed gratitude for the business’ employees, especially in light of the workforce challenges facing the area. Wiebelhaus Recreation employs about 14.
An update to the business in 2011 gave the place a sports theme, which Brian said has been a big asset. The bowling area also was upgraded to include automatic scoring, synthetic lanes and pull-up bumpers for the children.
Brian said he believes the business has become a reflection of what his grandfather said he wanted when the place formally was dedicated on May 1, 1946.
During that dedication, Dr. Wiebelhaus had dedicated the business “to the youth, the mothers and daughters of Crofton. I promise to keep it respectable so that husbands may bring their wives and their sons and their sweethearts without fear of embarrassment.”
Brian said he is hopeful the business will continue in the family after he retires and he’s confident in the prospect of that happening, but firm plans have yet to be arranged.
The celebration for Wiebelhaus Recreation’s 75th anniversary is set to take place Saturday, July 31, with limited beer specials, as well as free hot dogs and chips, sno cones and door prizes.