An Unexpected Meeting with the Founder of Wall Drug

Most people who RV across the country have seen those cheesy but reminiscent signs for Wall Drug.

 jkeiser at en.wikipedia,
CC-BY-SA-3.0, via WikimediaCommons

Some, like myself, are even lured in by them and as a result get to see a bit of old West fantasy that is unlike any place else in the United States.

Wall Drug is actually a drug store that sits just on the edge of the Badlands National Park in Southwestern South Dakota.

It was started many years ago by a pharmacist named Ted Hustead.  Ted and his wife Dorothy opened their small pharmacy with the hopes of luring in customers from the traffic on Interstate 90.

Unfortunately, in the beginning, they were not getting enough customers to do very well financially.

Then they had an epiphany.  

Ice Water Saves the Day

Since many people were taking the 35 mile drive through the hot, dusty Badlands and exiting near Wall Drug, the Husteads decided to offer free ice water to everybody who stopped by their drugstore.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

A Great Spot for Tourists

Today Wall Drug is a kind of mini mall set in an old West theme. In addition to being an actual pharmacy, their many stores sell souvenirs, Black Hills Gold jewelry, art, leather goods and much more. 

Their restaurant offers the best hot roast beef sandwich in the US, their luscious blueberry pie is to die for, and yes, their self serve coffee really is only 5 cents a cup. 

Magnificent western art adorns the walls of Wall Drug's restaurants, and photos of cowboys and the Hustead family are everywhere.  In fact, Wall Drug has been noted as having one of the best western art collections in the world.

For children, Wall Drug is a paradise. There are Dinosaurs that growl at them, Bucking Bronco stallion statues for them to sit on, and stuffed Grizzly Bears to hug. 

There are also fun statues of dancing girls and cowpokes for the adults who want to take photos with them. 

It's amazing to think that all of this came from the idea to furnish ice water to thirsty travelers. 

Meeting Ted Hustead

I have been to Wall Drug countless times, and always have enjoyed my visits, but one of the most memorable was the day I actually got to meet Ted Hustead Senior.

My husband and I were busy gobbling down one of Wall Drug's delicious hot roast beef sandwiches when I spied an old gentleman sitting nearby.

I told my husband it was Ted Hustead, but he disagreed.  I decided to go and find out for myself, and was glad I did.

Mr. Hustead was 92 at the time.  His wife was ill and in a nursing home, so every day after visiting her, he would stop by "the store" and visit.

We had a lovely conversation.  I introduced him to my husband, we made a video of our meeting, and I made it a point to tell Mr. Hustead how very much we appreciated the joy his hard work had given us over the years.

He was so delighted to hear all of this that he gave us a copy of "The Story of Ice Water" and autographed it for us.

This was his way of thanking me for taking the time to visit with him. 

I left feeling that I had just been lucky enough to have met a great American: humble, hard working, caring and kind. 

Ted Hustead and Wall Drug are what America is all about, and visiting the place that ice water built is something everybody should do at least once.  

I treasure his gift, and am probably one of the few people who got to spend time with this lovely, generous man.

I will never forget him.