In 1941, a scared 15-year-old boy from East Prussia was shipped off to the icy horrors of World War II’s Russian front. To keep his spirits up, young Rudolph Stober sang as he marched.
Decades later, Rudy Stober put his singing talents to happier use, regaling the regulars at Stober’s Bar on East Michigan Avenue in downtown Lansing.
“He had the most beautiful voice,” Stober’s daughter, Linda, said. “He told me that when you’re a soldier, and you can’t hardly walk, singing really keeps you going.”
Stories about Rudy Stober and his wife, Heidi (short for Anheidl), are legion, and they will stay alive, thanks to a recent gift in their name of $35,000 to the Capital Area District Library’s Local History.
Linda Stober worked at her father’s bar for 33 years.
“After high school, I went there and just never left, and I don’t regret a single bit of it,” she said. “The people I knew, everything about it was wonderful.”
She took over the bar when her father died in 1996. (Her mother is still living at home at 93.) She sold Stober’s and retired about 15 years ago. Her husband, Greg Humbert, is responsible for many of the bar’s most striking features, including its restored stained glass frontage and a spectacular image of Merlin the magician over the bar.
“We did everything we could to inspire magic in there,” Stober said.
One afternoon a few years ago, she walked into the bar and asked after the whereabouts of some memorabilia she left behind, including the original “Rustic Village” sign (Stober’s first name) and some scrapbooks she had put together.
Nobody knew where they were. Distraught, she went straight from the bar to the downtown library — perhaps the first time that route has been taken — where she had already entrusted some scrapbooks to local history librarian Heidi Butler.
Over the years, Linda Stober collected all kinds of photos, documents and memorabilia, much of it from earlier owners. (A preserved log from the 1930s notes daily deliveries blocks of ice at 67 cents a pop.)
She was happy to see the scrapbooks were safe and sound at the library.
“I told Heidi that nobody cares about my stories,” Stober recalled. “She said, ‘I care.’ It made me want to do something to contribute to keeping it all safe.”
The $35,000 gift will help Butler and library staff build up, organize and display materials relating not just to Stober, but to immigrants, small businesses and builders like him.
Butler said the Stober donation will help the library build a collection on community sports, an area she has been hoping to move into for years.
In 1963, Stober bought the Rustic Village bar, which stayed in family hands for almost 50 years.
The clientele was mainly working class — milkmen, bakers and employees from nearby Oldsmobile, John Deere and the Adams Potato Chip Co.
“They greeted everyone and treated them as friends. They really cared, and I guess that’s why it lasted so long,” Stober said.
Heidi Stober opened the bar in the morning and was a mainstay in the business.
“She would come into the bar with pot loads of meatballs, homemade chili,” Stober said. “She had her own pickled egg recipe. His thing was building; she loved to feed people. They were a unit, and they left their mark in Lansing.”
As a highly skilled stonemason, Rudy Stober helped build many Lansing-area buildings, from parts of the Eckert Power Station to Dwight Rich Junior High School, for which he was project foreman.
Much of the Stober memorabilia recalls the heyday of softball leagues, a big part of Lansing life from the 1950s through the 1970s. Stober was a coach and sponsor of many teams and loved the camaraderie of the sport.
“He built buildings, but he built people, too,” Stober said. “He always tried to get people to be their very best self.” In the 1970s, manufacturing jobs dried up and Michigan Avenue evolved into a seedy sin strip, but Stober hung on and welcomed everyone into the bar. He hung a disco ball and turned the piano bar into a disco to make ends meet.
“During the time when it was a sin strip, he befriended everybody who came in,” Stober said. “It was a neighborhood bar, and you can’t separate yourself from your neighbors. I learned from him to love everybody.”
Stober said the CADL donation was made in the same spirit of generosity.
CADL’s director, Scott Duimstra, said donations this generous are “very rare.”
“We were very glad to work with her,” Duimstra said.
“Our local history department is meant not just to tell the story of city departments, like the police, but also the life of the Lansing area.”
CADL’s local history collection is built overwhelmingly on donated materials. Butler said it’s “pretty rare” for the library to get funds to purchase archival collections.
“This gives us the opportunity to look for an estate where the material would fit,” she said.
The donation will also help Butler and her staff put materials into proper archival boxes and folders, scan them and make them accessible to researchers on the Internet. A new display case in local history room the will be devoted to Stober and the bar at first, and evolve into exhibits on small businesses, sports and other Stoberrelated topics.
“We’re not trying to be a museum down here, but we can highlight some of the artifacts that go with some of these research areas,” Butler said. The display won’t be limited to photos and documents. Watch for one of Rudy Stober’s loudest bowling shirts to materialize in an otherwise quiet room.
Linda Stober speaks almost as reverently about the library as she does when reminiscing about the bar.
“Libraries are invaluable,” she said.
“They’re sacred. They tell us who we are and where we’ve been, for better or for worse.”