Two Bushongs make it right

Dana Bushong rolls over 100 years in Fort Madison


FORT MADISON – There’s probably not a lot of people who really know who Dana Bushong was, or more specifically, were.
The relevant part of that query is they ultimately laid the foundation for a jewelry store that is been in Fort Madison for 100 years.
Skip Young is the current fourth generation owner of Dana Bushong Jewelers in downtown Fort Madison. He’s the descendant of two Dana Bushongs – Dana Ulysses Bushong and Dana Mosier Bushong, father and son. Skip is Dana Mosier’s grandson and Dana Ulysses' great-grandson.
The two Danas left Bay City, Michigan in 1919 as a 40-year-old father and a 20-year-old son because they had heard of this amazing “pen man” W. A. Sheaffer in Fort Madison and they wanted to become associated with the business.
“They walked into W.A. Shaeffer’s office when it was in what is now Dr. (Mark) Pothitakis’ offices and introduced themselves. The younger Dana had acquired the skill of copying signatures and doing hand-engraving from a prisoner in Michigan,” Young said.
“I don't know how the two of them got together, but I did hear that the older Dana knew the prisoner and they spent time with him learning how to perfect that skill.”
The skill was actually forgery, Young said, but it was never used with that intent by his grandfather. However, he said he felt the prisoner was incarcerated for something along those lines.
The younger Bushong worked with that prisoner and learned that doing the signatures upside down and inverted was a way to perfect copying signatures.
Their meeting with Schaeffer was to show him that the younger Bushong was a good engraver and that would be a nice marketing addition to the pens to add signatures to the pens.
At first Sheaffer didn’t warm to the idea and the two left with a handshake and a hotel credit, but while in the meeting, both Danas saw a sheet on Sheaffer’s desk with a signature and they quickly made an upside down copy and took it back in to the pen magnate.
Young said Sheaffer told them he would think about it, and then he sent someone over to the hotel to invite the two to dinner. After that, the younger Bushong stayed in Fort Madison, while the older Bushong made his way back to Michigan.
He worked in the Sheaffer jewelry store before it became the pen business doing maintenance and engraving and doing watch repair from Royal Law of Law’s Jewelers. They did the first few pens with signatures and they were wildly successful. By the time the relationship was over, Young’s grandfather had engraved more than 300,000 pens.
He was recognized in Ripleys’ Believe It Or Not.  A book published in 1937 showed that Bushong did 40,000 pens. He died in 1957.
Young also has a note from Bing Crosby that was written to his grandfather commending him on the quality of the work and that his Sheaffer pen would be on his office desk.
Young never met his grandfather or great-grandfather because he was born in the 60s and said he didn’t get the creative gene.
“I’ve never understood that. I can’t draw a duck. I know that for his first whatever number of pens that’s how he did it, but over time he was able to not have to do that.
In 1923 the older Bushong moved back to take over Mr. Sheaffer’s jewelry store, but he didn’t want to do that with the pen business taking off. There was another store called Theo Ernst Jewelers that was there since the 1860s, Young said. He said Ernst owned the jewelry store Sheaffer bought from him. The older Bushong helped merge the Sheaffer and Ernst jewelry in 1923. The two Bushongs opened that store under the merger due to the Sheaffer store being “wildly mismanaged”.
“W.A. basically funneled all the current cases, a clock, the floor cases, and the whole Sheaffer/Ernst jewelry store into Dana Bushong Co. Inc.,” Young said. “On March 1, 1924 in that building across the street with a handshake, W.A. Sheaffer said he was done with the jewelry and told the two if they do a great job, he would give them all his cases and they could move the business wherever they want.”
Young said in 1924 Sheaffer signed the business over to Dana Bushong and, until March 1, 1925 he ran it as the owner and manager, but kept the name as the Theo Ernst Jewelry Store. In 1925 they eliminated the Sheaffer and Ernst names from the ownership and it became Dana Bushongs.
In 1933, the company incorporated and became the 19th jewelry store in Iowa.
Jane Bushong, Skip’s mother, became a hand model for Sheaffer television commercials in her late teens and met Skip’s father on the television set of the Jackie Gleason show in Chicago.
“She would go to Chicago and they would do these film things and tv was done live in the 30s and 40s. My dad had the camera on mom’s hand and she was doing the fine line pen. Meanwhile Jackie’s getting powder on in a seat nearby. They used two cameras back then – one for the commercial and one for the live studio and they’d unplug one camera's wiring and run it over to the other because they didn’t have multiple,” he said.
“But my dad ran the camera up mom’s hand to her arm and to her face and was like, 'Wow, you’re beautiful. Would you go to dinner with me?' and mom was like, 'No!'" But they eventually came to “Yes” and got married in 1955.
He said his mother came back in the 1980s to bring the Chicago market back to Fort Madison and stocked the store with really expensive stuff.
“She got disillusioned very quickly and I was still at the University of Kansas when she called me and said I was coming home that day,” Young said.
He told her that he wasn’t. He wanted to finish up his journalism degree and go do what people do, but she threatened to sell the store if he didn’t come home. So he did in 1983 while he was dating his wife, Michele.
He said Michele became the power behind the jewelry store and brought it into its contemporary. Skip said he hated the business.
“I’m an artist, a festival-goer, guitar player, people talker. Don’t make me go back there,” he said.
He was working with his older brother and they didn’t get along so Skip ended up buying both his old younger brothers out of the business and he and Michele took sole ownership of the business.
“I paid a small ransom to my brothers in 1985 and married Michele the next day on June 1 and Michele and I became 100% owners of this,” Young said.
“My original plan was to sell the place for a couple hundred thousand dollars, which is more than I paid for it, and go do nothing or go work for a paper or something. But that never worked about because Michele, truly – loved – doing this.”
Young got involved deeply in the community and set the business on its current path, he said.
“She is 100% the driving force behind this business. It’s not me. It’s her,” Young said.
Michele died on Sept. 8, 2023 leaving Skip and his two daughters Lauren Roddefer and Katherine Young to run the business.
Young said now it’s those two driving the business with his mentorship and he’s looking forward to when they have learned enough about the business to take it over completely.
Skip and Michele have two other children, Natalie and William. Lauren’s husband Bryan Roddefer is also working with Skip in the shop.
“They are their mom. They are little Micheles. They’re very community anxious. They go to tourism meetings, they're painting a bench, they're putting our float back in the parade, all the stuff I didn’t want to mess with. Their marketing is fantastic,” he said.
“Now I have as much time as it takes to get comfortable leaving. I don’t think I’ll ever completely leave and I plan to spend time here whether I’m the owner or not.”

Dana Bushong, Skip Young, centennial, Fort Madison, business, 100 years, history, downtown, ownership, pens, clocks, jewelry, news, feature, spotlight, Pen City Current


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