Elmer Leon Pargen passed away peacefully on July 15, 2007. He was born November 30, 1916. His wife Faye and his sister Marjorie preceded him in death.
Born and raised in Parsons, Kansas, Elmer moved to Kansas City and became the soda fountain manager at Katz Drug Store on 12th and Walnut. He worked for Katz in Kansas City and Oklahoma until 1939 when he bought Thompson's Ice Cream Shop and went into business for himself in Fort Scott, Kansas. A double dip ice cream cone was 5 cents, and he delivered a pint of ice cream free anyplace in town.
A year later, he bought the Nifty Café from Bob Elston. Located at 20 South National Avenue between a cobbler's shop and Gross Insurance Company, it had a counter with ten seats, a pinball machine, pull-tabs and a five-cent hamburger was the specialty. For big eaters and big spenders, a grilled hamburger steak was twenty-five cents.
Elmer returned to the Nifty Café in 1945 after spending three years in the army. In 1947, he met and married Faye Johnson and they were business partners from then on. After purchasing the cobbler's store in 1949, they began expanding the café. The front entrance to the restaurant was surrounded in dramatic large green marble tiles and clear glass blocks and a new neon sign announced the official opening of Elmer's Café. The newspaper ad for the opening asked, "What's Behind the Green Door?" and local customers and travelers entered to find four booths and a u-shaped counter with eighteen stools.
Elmer's Cafe became a popular place for those who worked downtown and especially at the Western Insurance Company. Running a restaurant was hard work, but Elmer rose at five each morning and walked to the café to help bake fresh pies for the day. He used his mother's recipe for the cream pies and recipes from the Eastern Kansas Utilities Cookbook for some of the others. Though they served fruit pies, Elmer's Café was known for the mincemeat pie served in the fall and winter. Elmer made the mincemeat in a large vat from scratch, using over thirteen ingredients. This was Faye's favorite pie and it was always served with a topping of hot sauce. Pie was 20 cents apiece, but the hot sauce was extra.
Elmer and Faye hired many people from Fort Scott to work in the restaurant and often they were students. "There were a few who could run it better than I could," Elmer said recently. Bob Hampton (Hot Springs, Arkansas) and Barbara Allison (Albright) were two of them and they stayed in touch with Elmer all his life. A reunion didn't pass by without a visit from some of 'the kids' who worked for him. Bob Hampton recalls 'Faye and Elmer were always on us about cleaning with ammonia water --wet rag, dry rag,' and 'Faye always wore rubber gloves -- even when she occasionally cooked.' He also remembered that she doubled the chocolate in the malts she made for him and at night, the register was always left open so a thief wouldn't have to tear it up.
Elmer's Café menu reflected the food that 'people in this area were raised on'. There were many popular dishes -- fried apples, sausage patty and mashed potatoes with cream gravy was the Wednesday night special. Salmon croquettes with tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese and ham and beans with cornbread were also specials. 'Biscuits and gravy' was a staple but the biggest hit was the chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy.
Eventually there was a third renovation in 1957 that featured tables and chairs, booths and a counter. There was room to seat 62 people in the new place -- a far cry from the ten stools at the Nifty Café. In 1980, Elmer and Faye decided to retire and they closed and sold the restaurant. They traveled and enjoyed their grandchildren and their home at 301 West 9th. Faye died in 1986. Elmer recently said, "We had a great life working and raising our kids in Fort Scott."
Elmer was a World War II veteran, an avid golfer, a fine card player, a contributing citizen to the Fort Scott community and an outstanding family man.
Elmer remained in Fort Scott and lived in the Culbertson Apartments on Lee's Circle. He made many friends through the years and those friendships were very important to him. His two children wish to thank those folks who've watched over him, especially in the recent years. Friends and acquaintances greeted him wherever he went, often stopping to chat or meeting him for coffee and dinner. We would like to thank the fine gentlemen who drank coffee with him every morning at McDonald's; he enjoyed the conversations and sharing his opinions and whimsical approach to life. The staff at Catherine's Café at Mercy Hospital served him lunch every day for many years and always made sure he got his vegetables and some conversation. Many Mercy Hospital employees knew him and stopped by to chat and Elmer, always affable, enjoyed seeing them. He was a master at making people feel at ease, certainly a skill acquired from his restaurant days. Thanks to all of you.
Special thanks must go to Estella Meech, a true and caring friend who welcomed Elmer into her family on many occasions and stayed connected with his children, and Barbara Albright, one of 'the kids' who worked at Elmer's Café, who was always there for any help or support he needed. Certainly we thank all of you who kept an eye on him for us in the last few years.
Sincere thanks to Dr. John Fox and the staff at the MedicaLodge for the wonderful care, help and support they gave him on the final part of his journey. He was a sweet man, and a great Dad who told his daughter recently,
"I've done everything I ever wanted to do. I got my nickel's worth."
His two children, Sally and Don, survive him. Don Pargen's family lives in Joplin, Missouri, and includes his wife, Emma, daughter Lisa, son Tyler and his daughter Libby. Sally Hart Borgen lives in Edina, Minnesota and her son, Peter and his family, wife Tracy and daughter, Rowan, reside in Phoenix, Arizona. Daughter Molly Moser and her husband Dan live in Spring Hill, Michigan with their son, Jack, and daughter, Lucy Faye.
He is also survived by his brother, Pat Pargen (Kansas City, Missouri) and his wife Gerry and their children and grandchildren as well as sister Jean Beets, (Independence, Missouri) husband Jack and their children's families.
Rev. Steve MacArthur will conduct graveside services for Elmer 11 a.m. Friday, July 20, 2007 at the Fort Scott National Cemetery. Family and friends will meet at the Konantz-Cheney Funeral Home at 10 a.m. and leave for the cemetery at 10:45 a.m. Expressions of sympathy may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Obituary lovingly written by Sally Borgen.