Monday, January 15, 2007

From Sliced Bread to Razorback. From the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Man who first used bread slicer turns 92


At the 92nd birthday party for Richard Rohwedder on Saturday, two tables held a wealth of food: cakes, punch, pigs in blankets, chips and dip. But no sliced bread. While normally not a party food, sliced bread seemed a fitting snack at a party for the man who held the first loaf of bread ever sliced by a machine.

“I put the first loaf of bread through the bread slicer,” said Mr. R, as everyone calls him. “That was 1928.” Mr. R was 13 then.

His father, Otto Rohwedder, had worked on a slicing machine for several years before perfecting the device in Iowa. It then gained fame through use at the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Mo. Previously, all bread had come from bakers in whole loaves.

“I was just a youngster,” Mr. R said. “I didn’t know what it really meant. ... Sliced bread was needed.”

That invention went largely forgotten until recent years, when a newspaper editor for the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune discovered an article on the slicer while doing research for a history book, according to the Web site

In 2003, the residents of Chillicothe flew Mr. R in from Alexander, where he had moved in 1990. The mayor gave him a framed golden key, emblazoned with the words: “Chillicothe, home of sliced bread.”

But all this attention and fanfare - Mr. R traveled around Missouri in a white stretch limousine - didn’t return with him to Alexander. He never mentioned the accomplishment to his neighbors, and it wasn’t until one of them stumbled upon an article at his house that they became aware of the celebrity in their midst.

“It took me 15 years to figure that one out,” Alexander Mayor Shirley Johnson said. “We have interesting people.”

Mr. R also serviced submarines in the South Pacific during World War II, including working on the USS Razorback, another old secret that his granddaughter revealed at Saturday’s party.

In Alexander, Mr. R is known as a cantankerous but generous and caring neighbor. His other nickname is “old goat.” Bob McKeon, a neighbor, spoke at the party, held at the Alexander Municipal Building, of the troubles Mr. R faced while recovering from heart bypass surgery.

“He’s the only one I’ve ever known that got kicked out of rehab,” McKeon said.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” said State Rep. Shane Broadway of Bryant, who attended the party. He had been the recipient of many phone calls from Mr. R, demanding funds for community improvement.

Sitting at the front of the room, dressed sharply with a turquoise adorned bolo tie, Mr. R pleaded, “Oh, say something nice.”

Broadway obliged, telling about how he began hearing from Mr. R about 10 years ago as he was trying to get a park built in his neighborhood to give the children of Alexander something to do.
“It was the best thing that happened to the area in some time,” Broadway said. Other neighbors spoke, mentioning how Mr. R would provide food when they weren’t well, or would go out of his way just to check on them.

He’s also known for questioning the judgment of any and every government official. Broadway and Saline County Justice of the Peace J.R. Walters openly wondered who’d received more phone calls from Mr. R.

“We call him the old goat because he’s very, very, very contrary,” McKeon said. Mostly, they said he’s just community-minded. It didn’t surprise any of the crowd of about 20 when Mr. R interrupted his own party to say that the park he helped push into existence now needs a path around it to keep children safer.

Both Alexander and Saline County presented Mr. R with certificates praising his “commitment to the community.” They did not, however, mention his involvement with creating the greatest thing since, maybe, the wheel. And that seemed just fine by Mr. R.

“What is now a park was nothing,” he said. “That was the proudest thing I’ve done here.”

This story was published Sunday, January 14, 2007
Copyright © 2007, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.


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