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Kenny Schlitt restores nearly 100-year-old Gosche Store in Oran, Missouri
To say Kenny Schlitt has an appreciation of the past is an understatement.
More curator than collector, his passion for antiques is about preserving pieces of history.
That was evident as the retired MFA regional salesman leaned against the wooden counter at Gosche Store, a piece of his childhood and community history he saved from demolition by moving it more than a mile to his property on the outskirts of Oran, Missouri.
"I always had a connection to this place for some reason," Schlitt says. "I thought at one time I would build a replica of it when I retired; I'd be darned if I didn't get the real thing."
Low-pitched laughter follows from the burly 64-year-old who wears his white hair in a ponytail to go along with a bushy Fu Manchu mustache.
"I got the real thing," he says. "It required a little bit of remodel."
The Gosche Store, which stood only a few hundred yards from his grandparents' home, had been shuttered since 1985, when longtime owner Sam Gosche died.
About five years later, Kent Mangels bought the two-acre lot. His house sat adjacent to the abandoned structure, one time the bustling hub of Caney Creek.
Trains had stopped on the since-removed tracks just outside the store, which fronted a baseball field where the Caney Tigers played.
In the restored building, Schlitt has photo albums on shelves that include pictures of the Caney Tigers as well as family members that stretch back to his great-great-grandfather.
When pointing to a picture of his great-grandfather, he reminded his listeners that the double-wide screen doors at the entrance of his remodeling project came from that ancestor's home, which he dutifully notes was built in 1912.
The photos include pictures of Frank Amrhein, a logger who first built the Cane Creek store around the end of the 19th century, with a mammoth cypress trunk loaded on a horse-drawn cart.
"Look at them logs," Schlitt says. "I don't know how the hell they loaded them. How did they do that? How long did it take them? They're not nearly hurried as we are."
The words again trail off with a laugh.
A fire damaged the first store, and Amrhein constructed a new one during the 1920s, later selling it to Gosche before the latter left for World War II.
Schlitt says Gosche sold the store to Amrhein for $1 before leaving to serve in the war, with the agreement to buy it back if he made it back.
He did, and operated the store for nearly 40 years.
Gosche supplied the farmers with feed for their livestock and seed for their fields. The store's pool tables, card tables and beer helped keep them entertained on rainy days.
"People remember learning how to shoot pool and play pool and losing money to Sam," Schlitt says. "He gave me a life lesson. You need to know not to be betting the guy who owns the pool table."
It's clear Gosche Store consisted of more than wood and nails.
Which is why, after bumping into Mangels after a Sunday church service, he hated to hear the retired teacher and coach intended to raze the building.
"I told him to take a look one last time -- I knew he liked the store," Mangels says. "The next day is when he came back out with the idea of moving it."
Schlitt had remembered his parents moving a house in the late 1960s, and the idea dawned on him as he drove in the Farmington area for work that Monday.
He contacted Johnson House Movers in Senath, Missouri, and formulated a budget to see if it was feasible.
On July 22, 2014, the 25x50-foot building left its old address, carted south on an adjacent gravel road to County Road 266, where Schlitt resides, a 1 1/4-mile journey that took 45 minutes.
"We could have moved it ourselves, but probably someone would have got hurt and it might not have made it one piece," Schlitt says.
The professionals installed an interior false wall for stabilization, and only a few limbs from a neighbors house had to be removed.
"They had a water bottle and they took the lid off it and set it on that counter when they left, and when they got here it was still sitting on the counter and hadn't spilled no water," Schlitt says. "It was a smooth ride. They know something about doing that."
The building and supports were placed on a concrete foundation Schlitt had poured.
He then set about the task of renovating the structure, which contained little more than the original counter and shelves. Some of the window panes were replaced with leaded glass from that era, and furnishings include an AE Smith pool table, the same brand and style used by Gosche.
"That's kind of my job -- try to find stuff that belongs," says Schlitt. "And then display it in a way that people appreciate it."
That would include items like an antique cash register that can create mental images of Gosche punching keys and reaching his hands into the cash drawer.
People in the community have loaned or given Schlitt antique items -- a poster advertising a Fourth of July picnic at the old parish grounds that predates 1962 is among memorabilia on the wall -- and he has many of his own artifacts on display.
"I got it here so people can enjoy it," Schlitt says. "I don't need for me just to enjoy. That's kind of like a lot of the antiques and old stuff here, they've been sitting up in an attic or in a barn or some shed, and nobody's seen them for years, so what good does it do?"
The store, which does not conduct actual business, held its first event on Jan. 1, 2015.
There are card tables and a wood-burning stove to keep gatherings cozy. One such event took place March 26, when a shooting match was held to raise money for Alzheimer's Research. It raised $1,300.
"They want me to keep doing it, so I probably will," Schlitt says about the shooting match. "Any kind of event that I have out here, if we raise money at it, then the proceeds will go to Alzheimer's. It's the store's charity. That's the way I look at it."
Card games, checkers, musical bands and reunions are some of the other activities and events.
Schlitt calls the store a work in progress, still adding new items.
But one central fixture is his favorite.
"Probably this counter," Schlitt says, running his hand over the wood. "It's original, for one thing, and it's hard telling how many times my family and friends put their hand on this thing, you know. I get thinking about it too much and I get pretty emotional."
He laughs and pauses.
"Anyway, just think about all the people and where they came from. This was a hard-working farming community and this was their entertainment."
Mangels says he never wanted to tear down the building, which was still used as an election polling place into this millennium and had most recently served for storage. He knew its removal was going to be an arduous and costly task, and while he never knew about the store until he bought the property, he sensed its meaning to the community.
He told Schlitt the price was free "all day" when asked how much it would take to purchase it.
"He kind of saved me there by taking it," Mangels says. "That way they can still go to the Gosche Store when they want to."
And there they will find Schlitt, as happy as a farmer in a seed store.