Luther strong: Community rallies after fire destroys historic building

Sheriff Martin: 'You can never take away the spirit that Luther has'

LUTHER — As flames tore through part of downtown Luther last week, destroying Luther Grocery as well as the Luther hardware building, the fire couldn't destroy the resilience of the community.

On Tuesday, July 12, as fire departments were fighting flames, people were already setting up fundraisers and Go-Fund Me pages to help offset the costs of cleanup. A fundraiser and silent auction at Purchase Pavilion hosted by the North Bar took place the following Saturday. 

The fire was thought to have started in the ceiling somewhere at the store, but the cause has not been determined. In a statement on Facebook from Luther Grocery, appreciation was poured out by owner Scott Lucas.

"We appreciate the outpouring of support from our community. Everyone has been so amazing. I honestly don't have the words to express our gratitude," Lucas wrote. 

Lucas said the store had some insurance, but not a lot, and the property needs to be released for a go-ahead from the insurance company before it can be cleaned up. The cost to clean up the grocery is expected to be about $50,000. 

"We are hoping to rebuild, but that will be a little ways down the road," he said, also asking people to not trespass on the property or remove anything from the site.


The community has been rallying around Scott Lucas, while mourning the loss of so much history of the buildings. But through the stories the community members are sharing, these memories live on.  

The Luther community was invited to share memories with the Star at the Luther Area Public Library. Alicia Campbell, along with Christopher and Christina Raymond, met with the Star, and some shared their memories on Facebook who weren't able to make it to the library.

Alicia Campbell and Christina and Christopher Raymond share some of the memories of Luther Grocery and that corner of the west side of downtown Luther.

Alicia Campbell and Christina and Christopher Raymond share some of the memories of Luther Grocery and that corner of the west side of downtown Luther.

Star photo/Shanna Avery

"A lot of comments on Facebook said history repeats itself, and I did not know what they were referring to," Alicia said.

"Luther has burnt before," Christopher responded. "Way back in history, the exhaust from trains had sparks in it, and both sides of Luther had burnt before. So this is history recurring. As far as the community, it's devastating, but people are really rallying. It is hard to get Luther down. This isn't going to keep us down.

One of the times Luther had a fire was July 3, 1929, according to the Lake County Star, which began from a house fire and burned several other dwellings.

"It was a nasty fire. Starting well out in the western part of town, and fanned by a heavy wind, it threatened to sweep the three blocks toward the business section, and wipe out a big portion of town, if not all," the Star account from July 5, 1929, read. "The fact that Luther folks are fighters to the last ounce and the fortunate presence of mobile equipment saved our sister town from one of the worst of many hard blows."

"This is a horrible sadness for everyone, the history of it, and all that's lost, and like you say, here we are, burnt again — it's not even a train," Alicia reflected. "Part of Scott's family owned Luther Grocery at one time also. Joe Raymond, his grandpa, owned it at one time, so it's really back in the family when he bought it. So, I think that was part of the excitement. He wanted to restore it to its original look inside."

Alicia shared a couple pictures of the store from the 1930s. Her late husband Barry Campbell's parents, Larry and Helen Campbell owned it at the time. 

"Larry Campbell came from Scotland through Canada to Detroit and that's where he met Helen. Helen was raised in Luther, so during the Depression they moved back and bought the Grocery store on Sept. 13, 1932, and sold it in 1945," Alicia said. "There was a gas station outside with three pumps. Barry treasured these photos. He didn't let them out of his hands.

"One of our residents, Don Robbins, who lived to be 101, worked at the grocery store for Larry and Helen Campbell," Alicia continued.  When Larry and Helen were going to Canada to visit family, they would be gone for about two weeks. They left Don Robbins in charge of the store and he was 17. Like we said, back then everyone was honest and you didn't have to worry about the age of someone. If they were a good worker, you knew it would be alright."

The exterior of Luther Grocery in the mid-1930s with Helen Campbell, who owned the store with her husband Larry.

The exterior of Luther Grocery in the mid-1930s with Helen Campbell, who owned the store with her husband Larry.

Courtesy photo/Alicia Campbell


Alicia has kept the traditions of the Luther Grocery alive with her descendents. 

"When I bring the girls to church on Sunday, I tell them if they sing every song, we can stop at the grocery store and they can pick a treat out. So that is pretty cool." Alicia laughed. "And they would always sing every song."  

Christopher recalled George's Restaurant next to the store. 

"My mother (Mary Raymond) worked in the store about the late 60s," Christopher said. "My grandmother lived a couple blocks down so we were always in there terrorizing. Beside the store was George's Restaurant. Back in the day when I was a kid there was a pool hall, store, George's Restaurant, the Hardware, then the post office. The restaurant was always a big spot to be."

 On Facebook, many folks left memories. 

"Don Woodbeck owned it in the 60s and 70s, wonderful people. Also, George's Restaurant was next door. I worked there for four years. Many wonderful memories," said Bonnie Povilaitis, director at Pathfinder Community Library in Baldwin, and who was raised in Luther.

Cara Tipton shared more recent memories.

"For the last 15 years or so, my kids couldn't wait to get to the Luther Grocery so they could get their Jones drinks — excitement every time. I always wondered if they knew that they were sold everywhere or if they just made that tradition themselves. We loved Betty. She was the soul of Luther Store," she said.

Alex Stevens remembers who locals call "Aunt Betty," who ran the cash register, once gave his son two quarters so he could buy a toy from the vending machine by the exit.

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin, a Luther area resident, said the events of the fire made him think what Luther is all about.

"Luther is more than a town, more than a community, but more like family," he said, describing how Luther always "keeps it real" and holds on to old time values that are hard to find in the world anymore. "Regardless of what happens, you can never take away the spirit that Luther has, and will always have."