Skip to content

Ed Fontaine: providing a nice Christmas for others

By Cara L. Dempski

BOYCEVILLE — When Ed and Jeanette Fontaine of Boyceville still owned their grocery store, it was open 365 days per year.

Yes, that means the store was even open on Christmas day.

Fontaine and his wife explained they retired from working at their store in 1986, but prior to that, they were open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m on Christmas, and local residents knew not to call the store for any last-minute holiday emergencies after that four-hour window.

“They knew we would be there (in the store) from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., but not to call us after 2 p.m., because we wouldn’t come to the phone,” Fontaine explained.

The couple felt it was more important for store employees to be home with their families on the holiday, and so worked the store themselves for a few hours each Christmas. When daughter Michele came along, the family would head to an early breakfast before opening the store for the day.

Once the two retired, they still spent time making the season a little merrier for people with handmade gifts such as beverage can fish and wooden benches and garbage can holders.

The Fontaines

Fontaine grew up in Northern Michigan during the Great Depression, and had an early start in the grocery business. According to Jeanette, Ed often assisted a family member with grocery deliveries via horse-drawn cart.

According to Ed, families could order groceries from the store one day, and he would deliver them the following day with the horse and cart or wagon.

Ed Fontaine was a member of the Air Force during World War II and served at Kwajalein Atoll, in what is now the Republic of the Marshall Islands. At the age of 93, he still remembers a great deal about the reels of film from fighter planes he was in charge of looking after and developing.

He met Jeanette, age 84, in LaCrosse after World War II, and the duo were married in 1959. The couple moved to the Boyceville area in the early 1960s when Ed accepted a position as a sales manager for Sweet Tooth Jams.

“They sold sweet jelly and jams,” he explained. “I was one of their salesmen, and I kind of enjoyed that really.”

It did not take long before the couple purchased a grocery store.

The store

The Fontaines were in the habit of keeping their store open every day of the year, but staffing it themselves on Christmas to let their employees be at home with their families.

The couple even started a new family tradition with daughter Michele when she was approximately two years old.

“As a family, with our daughter, we’d go out for breakfast at the truck stop at Highway 128 and interstate 94 because it was open,” Fontaine explained. “Then we’d come back and we’d all work until two o’clock. Everyone knew we would be there then.”

Jeanette said the store was the only one in the area open that day, but she and Ed never felt comfortable asking their employees to work that day. Instead, since it was their store, the Fontaines worked themselves.

One year, though, someone called just a few minutes past two o’clock looking for 7up. The Fontaines responded simply, telling the customer the store had closed at 2 p.m., and they would not be able to help him.

Ed said the two retired from the grocery business in 1986, and Jeanette said they traveled for a year before returning to Boyceville and starting up some new ventures.

The next adventure

Ed joked there must be some people in town who think he and Jeanette drink too much beer or soda because of the number of aluminum beverage cans they used to keep in their garage. While Jeanette agreed it was odd to sometimes have one or two thousand cans in bags in the garage, they were often supplied by friends or family to fuel handmade gifts.

Fontaine explained they made fish decorations out of the cans. He would trim the wood for the heads and fins of the fish and take care of puncturing holes in the cans, but then Jeanette would assemble each fish. The couple sold the items at holiday and craft fairs, and in storefronts along with other items Ed made.

Woodworking was one of Ed’s talents, and he also used to sell deacon’s benches and garbage can holders in a store in Menomonie.

Often times the couple’s items were purchased as gifts, and both seemed disappointed when health issues effectively ended their trips to fairs.

Nowadays, Ed Fontaine is content to spend Christmas in the company of his family, Jeanette, his daughter, and son-in-law Brad Rindfleisch. The family eats the things he remembers from his childhood – items like the traditional miner’s lunch of pasties, which were common in Michigan – and enjoying the day.