Ozark Daze: Remembering Dewey’s: Part 1

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Ray Speckman

Editor’s Note: Ray Speckman, co-owner of Emme’s Attic in Versailles, enjoys Lake Area history. The first Wednesday of every month, he will deliver some fun facts, unique stories and interesting information about historic places, occurrences and anecdotes relating to the Lake of the Ozarks and mid-Missouri. Enjoy this new addition and guest column in The Lake Today. This is the first part of a two-part series on the history of the Dewey’s Toys for Kids at Lake of the Ozarks. The second part will appear in the Jan. 2 issue. Other than the principals of Dewey’s, Speckman is omitting names of specific people who he writes about in this little piece. He fears that he will forget someone of importance and there were so many. Therefore excuse the non-referencing of names, Speckman said.

My first contact with Dewey’s was happenstance and spur of the moment.

While living at Bagnell, I did a radio gig every Friday morning for an hour beginning at 8 a.m. Of course it was also called Ozark Daze. It was another one of those things I did for nothing but it promoted the newly opened restaurant at Camp Bagnell shamelessly; it was a win-win situation.

One morning following the show I was headed back to Bagnell and thought it would be good to have a morning libation, specifically a Bloody Mary.

On the site where Seebold now operates was a classic rock structure that formerly was a fraternal building that had become a bar. It was called Dewey’s. I had never been there. The light was on, so I pulled in.

I was the only customer and Dewey Phillips, who owned the place with his wife Anne, was sitting at the bar drinking coffee. I ordered my drink, and sat and talked with Dewey, had another or two and then went on my way.

It became a Friday morning ritual. As time passed I became acquainted with more of the ‘crew’ that frequented Dewey’s. It was a place where there were no pretences.

During the years, I frequented Dewey’s I morphed from radio to television, the campground and restaurant at Bagnell was leased, I taught at Columbia College and Marti began working on her degree there.

The TV gig was a heady time for me. I admit to having a bit of feeling of importance when doing shows on the likes of Kenny Rogers, Eddie Rabbit, Andy Williams, the Presley’s and other luminaries who were performing in Branson. After a few days in Branson I would always stop by Dewey’s to join in the conversation (mostly stories of unconfirmed fact). It was at Dewey’s that I would be brought to earth from my feeling of luster from associating with celebrities.

The crew could care less about the celebrities I had been with. They were the salt of the earth – bottom line, good ole boys. My feeling of self-esteem and importance was soon brought to a common denominator by the crew. It was good for me. I enjoyed the fraternization with the group, the numbers varying from time to time but basically the same group of guys. It was in that old rock building that the seeds of Dewey’s Toys for Kids were planted and nourished.

As I recall the beginning (and of course this is always subject to correction), of the kids program, there were maybe ten people sitting at the bar one morning. As we tended to do, we would order our beverage, and for example lay a ten dollar bill on the bar, Dewey would serve our drink, and we would leave our change on the bar as we drank and mostly lied to one another.

I forget the time of year with specific date, but it was in early December that I recall there was some talk at the bar about needy children who were not going to be able to enjoy Christmas because their parents could not afford to buy gifts and that somehow there were people who had slipped through the cracks of social services who had no assistance.

There were a few of those type who were mentioned and then someone, I really don’t recall who, suggested that maybe if those of us at the bar would just put our change in a pot we could help some people. Everyone agreed and the bar change was collected and Dewey’s Toys for Kids was born.

It is legend how the organization grew. Eventually thousands of dollars were raised every year, all year round. Other establishments surrounding the Lake including Eldon, Lake Ozark, Osage Beach, Camdenton, Sunrise Beach, Laurie and Versailles that participated in monthly events where donated items were auctioned and funds raised.

Eventually one of the “crew” had the expertise and know-how, and Dewey’s became a 501c(3) corporation. Literally hundreds of people were helped and scholarships were awarded to local deserving high school students. Businesses jumped on board either giving deep discounts or even donating products to be given to people in order to let them have some semblance of a Merry Christmas. A board from the “crew” developed a questionnaire to determine eligibility and if approved it gave the number of children in the family, their ages and gender.

On a planned day each year, the crew shopped, after a few libations at Dewey’s, and bought gifts for the requisite number of an age and gender group. Then after enjoying the shopping they would return to a selected place and each and every gift would be wrapped. The gifts were put in boxes designated for specific families and members of the crew and other volunteers would distribute the gifts which also included turkeys, toilet paper and other staples and food for the approved families.

There were truly families in need and year-round Dewey’s would get word of someone in need of assistance. For example someone might have the funds to turn on their electricity or would run out of propane. The group would not hand the necessary funds to the needy family but give assistance to the appropriate supplier to alleviate the need. There are tons of heart-wrenching stories of the people the organization helped. One was related to me by one of the crew.

The Christmas delivery pickup pulled up to a rather run down trailer to deliver a box of goodies, food and wrapped gifts for the kids. They were warmly welcomed into a cold home (“The heat is turned down to save fuel.”). The furniture was threadbare, obviously a family in need. The mother was presented the box and she profusely thanked the delivery crew with tears in her eyes. She sat the presents on the floor next to a hole in the floor about three feet in diameter that had been caused by rot.

She yelled to her children that they had gifts and up through the hole in the floor scurried her children, grabbing packages that she give to them and then “like rats” (so sorry to even write this but that was the description), hurried back down through the hole in the floor to the dirt floor below.

As the kids program grew, patrons, locals and tourists alike would leave bills, sometimes even $100 bills, with their names signed to be used for the needy families. Dewey had fashioned a pool cue with a place hollowed at the small end where he could insert a thumbtack. Dewey would then take whatever bill was given by the patron and stick it to the ceiling. The ceiling became literally covered.

But then one year, some bottom feeder cut a hole in Dewey’s Bar roof and slipped in and stole all of the money tacked to the ceiling. The culprit was never apprehended. I would bet if the thief had ever been identified he or she would have turned themselves over to the authorities rather than suffer the wrath of the regular patrons of Dewey’s.

But then there is the story of a man who was sitting at the bar at Dewey’s one day. He had downed three or four drinks and had been talking with Dewey. No one else was in the bar.

“I understand you have an organization that helps needy families at Christmas,” the patron said to Dewey.

“That’s right,” said Dewey.

“Well how do families qualify?”

“They fill out a form, sort of a qualification.”

“I sure would like one of them forms,” the patron said, “We really need help this Christmas. Can you give me one of them?”

“Nope,” said Dewey, “I think you should get your butt out of the bar, go to work and stop spending your money on booze.”

The patron left.

(More next month on Dewey’s a special place at the Lake of the Ozarks.)

Ray Speckman can be found in his Man Cave at Emme’s Attic in Versailles, pouring samples of wine or at rayspeckman@emmesannex.com.

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