One family with an entrepreneurial spirit created thousands of local jobs, invented the Klondike bar and served up meals and memories to many residents. The Isaly family evolved with the changing times by providing fresh milk during World War I, steady employment during the Great Depression, affordable meals at lunch counters in the 1950s and sweet treats at the Isaly Shoppe until the 1990s.
The Isaly Dairy
In 1914, William Isaly of Mansfield bought the Marion Pure Milk Company to expand his milk business. Milkmen delivered bottles at local homes from horse-pulled wagons each day. Charles and Bertie Isaly married and moved to Marion to manage the local operation and raise their seven children.
The company thrived, providing stable jobs for local workers through the Great Depression and World War II.
New Dairy Plant and Luncheonettes
In 1947, the Isalys opened a plant on East Center Street. This modern dairy plant provided milk across three states.
“When I was growing up, I would run into people all of the time who said, ‘I used to work at the dairy,’” recalled Lorraine Isaly Barker, granddaughter of Charles and Bertie.
The Isaly family added a luncheonette on South Main Street in 1945 and another on Prospect Street in 1950. Customers at the counter ordered chipped chopped ham sandwiches, sodas, and the towering Skyscraper ice cream cone. They also served Klondike bars, which the Isaly family invented in the 1920s and made by hand.
The Isaly Shoppe
John and Nancy Isaly continued the family’s entrepreneurial tradition when they opened the Isaly Shoppe on Mt. Vernon Avenue in 1968.
John Isaly was an Army veteran with degrees from Harding High School and Cornell University. He cared about every detail of the restaurant, from surveying the land to build the restaurant to every aspect of the customer experience.
“My father was there all the time. Nobody ever worked harder at anything than him. He had a lot of attention to detail. He tried to exceed people’s expectations,” Barker said. “My father was a man of really utmost integrity. He was very personable. He liked people. He also liked things being right. Right meant in order, clean, high quality. He was always fair. He really did care about the people who worked with him and for him.”
John Isaly managed the restaurant while Nancy kept the books. The servers included their four daughters. The youngest daughter, Melissa, insisted that if her older sisters could wait on tables, she could, too. The 10-year-old donned a big white apron to serve one or two tables each Sunday.
“Missy couldn’t even reach the food coming off the grill. We all had to help her out,” Barker recalled. “My sister made twice the tips that everyone else did.”
Customers lined up for the all-you-can-eat fish fry each Wednesday. While many enjoyed the burgers and platters, the Isaly Shoppe was known for its desserts including Klondike bars and tin roof sundaes.
Customers with large appetites could try the “I’ll never see my feet again” banana split which was piled high with eight scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, cherries, and four types of syrup. Diners who finished the massive dessert were awarded T-shirts to proclaim their victory in the food challenge.
“I made many of those back in the day!” remembered Tami Galloway.
“It was one of my favorite restaurants. My grandmother took me there often,” another Marion resident said.
Neighborhood children remembered saving their allowance to get sundaes at Isaly’s.
“What could be better, growing up as a kid, than to serve ice cream to people? What a great life!” Barker remembers.
After decades of hard work, John Isaly retired in 1995 and closed the local landmark. John and Nancy celebrated 60 years of marriage before they passed away. Their daughters left Marion after graduating from Harding High School.
“Even though we’re gone now, our roots in the community are very long,” Barker said.