ATHENS — When Earland and Freda Rowell closed Rowell’s General Store in 1999, it was the end of an era.
Gone were the days when families could charge groceries at the store, or get cash advances on crops or income tax refunds to help make ends meet.
Also gone were the days when kids could get a handful of penny candy for free.
Earland Rowell died at 89 in 2007.
Freda Rowell died Sunday at a Lewiston hospital, with family members close by, all taking turns saying, “I love you.”
It was the end of a generation. Freda Rowell was 93.
Freda’s daughter, Dianne Corson, 68, said her mother’s voice was always soft and kind, right up until the end.
“She died like she lived — there was no death rattle,” Corson said. “She breathed right up until the end. She died like she lived — quiet, happy and spoke softly.
“She was ‘with it’ every second, until maybe 5 p.m. Sunday. The doctors and staff had conversations with us and her, right up until the last 15 minutes.”
Freda loved her community and found many ways to convey that love, granddaughter Jessica Franzose said.
“There will never be another person like her,” she said.
Earland Rowell and Freda Hayden were married in August 1945, and got down to the business of selling groceries and other necessities from their pickup truck to rural farms and homesteads from Wellington to Canaan, and back along to West Athens village.
They eventually parked the truck and in 1972 began selling groceries from a fixed location — a 30–by–30–foot shop just outside Athens village.
The shelves at Rowell’s General Store held just about everything imaginable, including boats and boots, long johns, televisions, roller skates, rope, shotguns and ammunition, wristwatches, hurricane lamps, fishing hooks, fresh meat and produce, cheese and canned goods.
The Rowells were always the first to get their peas into the garden in the spring, and always had pumpkins for Halloween.
“They had a little bit of everything,” said Nancy Martin, school secretary at Athens Community School. “They had everything from diapers to mayonnaise.”
In 1956, Freda and Earland took over Harold Batcher’s grocery route, eventually moved into their store in 1972 and operated Rowell’s General Store until 1999.
“They would buy things off of people that they didn’t really need to help them out,” Athens farmer and Selectman Guy Anton remembered after Earland Rowell died in 2007.
“They would give families aspirin or Tylenol and cough medicine or extra food to help them out. I’ve seen that happen a lot.”
Mark Franzose, Freda’s grandson-in-law, said the Rowells put community first.
“They spent all their time and money helping other people,” he said. “They were very frugal to be able to do what they did their whole lives for everybody else. It’s so nice to hear all those stories.”
Corson said the general store meant a lot of things to her parents, the word “general” having the most meaning to them and to their community.
“You would not believe the slips that we had behind the counter because Daddy never said ‘no,’” she said. “They would postdate checks, and come the next week someone would say, ‘All I can give you is $10, but I really need $30 because I really need to get this prescription filled,’ and he’d give them cash.
“When we say the word ‘general,’ it means ‘bank,’ it means ‘pawn shop,’ it means ‘groceries,’ it means ‘counseling,’ it means ‘a hot meal.’ ‘General’ means all of those things.”
West Athens writer Anna Freeman wrote this week in her blog, “The Clarion,” that the Rowells were good to the back-to-the-land hippies of the early 1970s.
“Freda and her late husband Earland are well known in the community and especially to us ‘old hippies’ who were treated with such generosity and grace when we shopped at their charming little ‘I Got Everything’ kind of store,” Freeman wrote.
“The name is apt because no matter what you need or wanted or couldn’t find anywhere. They had it! And they’d get it for you. Gracious, solid, generous, good people.”
Scott Mitchell, principal at Madison Elementary School, who was principal at the Athens school in the 1990s, said the Rowells were a cornerstone of the Athens community.
“The school was very important to them,” Mitchell said. “I remember getting many calls asking about any upcoming events, field trips that they could help with. They were constantly donating time and money to our school.
“On a personal note, I would make it a point to go to Rowell’s General Store when I needed something and I always felt as if I had gone back in time — a much-simpler, safer time. The Rowells were hardworking honest folks.”
A memorial service has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Skowhegan Federated Church on Island Avenue.. Burial will follow at the Mount Rest Cemetery in Athens. Family and friends may stop at Freda and Dianne’s house at 38 Hartland Road, Athens, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Arrangements are being provided by Smart & Edwards Funeral Home, 183 Madison Ave., Skowhegan.
Donations may be made in Freda’s memory to the Preservation Fund at the Union Meeting House in Athens, c/o Dianne Rowell, P.O. Box 30, Athens, ME 04912, or to the Somerset Humane Society, P.O. Box 453, Skowhegan, ME 04976.
Freda and Earland Rowell inside Rowell’s General Store in Athens shortly before they closed the business in 1999. (Morning Sentinel file photo)
Freda and Earland Rowell load their 1965 delivery truck to bring goods to customers at Rowell’s General Store in Athens. (Contributed photo)