The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Medford Pioneers: William A. Gates


    Every merchant who possibly can should attend the monthly meeting and banquet of the Merchants Association in the basement of the Christian Church Monday evening. They will not only have an excellent feed but will be given some "food for thought" about the mail order business by W. A. Gates, who recently came here from Peoria, Ill., and who has been connected with a mail order house for many years and knows the game. It will be an address that no merchant should miss.
Medford Mail Tribune, March 12, 1915, page 6

    It was with surprise that business circles in the city learned today that William A. Gates has sold out his minority holdings to the C. E. Gates Auto Company to  C. E. Gates and George Gates, who hold the remainder of the company's stock, and is no longer connected with that concern.
    Mr. Gates, who has been a resident of Medford for the past five or six years, during which time he was connected with the Gates auto concern in which he became a minority stockholder when it was incorporated in March 1917, will after a few weeks' rest with his wife and adopted daughter visit for a month at their old home in the East, after which he will return and look over the Pacific Coast with a view to entering business again.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 13, 1920, page 3

    The latest sale of residence property reported was that today of W. A. Gates' fine bungalow home at the corner of North Orange and East Ninth streets to George Hunt, the local theatrical and moving picture man, who also purchased most of the furniture.
    Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, who have been residing at the Hotel Medford, will take possession as soon as Mr.and Mrs. Gates pack up and start on their visit in the East for a month or more.
    It is understood that the consideration for the house and furniture was $6000.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 15, 1920, page 3

    Get acquainted with [the] cash and carry system. This store was built up for the good of the hundreds of people that have been working hand in hand with us, and have learned to live and let live. We are now bringing down the high cost of living. All goods are marked in plain figures--100 cents, that is the value you get for every dollar's worth of goods you buy--just the best of everything for less, at the Spot Cash Basket Grocery, at the Vinson Barn, 226 N. Riverside Ave.
"Local and Personal," Medford Mail Tribune, January 13, 1922, page 2

    While Mrs. Lewis Jenkins was busy shopping yesterday afternoon in the Hutchinson & Lumsden store, her three-year-old daughter wandered away from her side and started out to see the sights. Later when she was missed and could not be found the frantic mother started out to enlist the services of Chief of Police Timothy to reunite the family.
    The chief was just turning away from the street phone police box in front of the Chamber of Commerce building, where he had been summoned by the flashing of the red light to receive a message which he could not get exactly right, but pertained to something to a little girl and the Economy Groceteria, when he was stopped by the frantic mother, who started to tell her story.
    "Little girl gone and--just jump in my auto here with me," said the chief. "The Groceteria just phoned me something about a girl which I did not understand. We'll go down there."
    As the chief's car drove up in front Wm. Gates was seen coming out of the store carrying the girl, who had her features hidden behind a large cookie. Mother and daughter caught sight of each other and both began to cry with joy at the same time.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 14, 1922, page 8

"Peoria Bill" Is Valley Booster
    W. A. (Peoria Bill) Gates was not born in Oregon, but to make up for that error plans to spend the rest of his life in Southern Oregon. A native of Indiana, Mr. Gates came to Medford 16 years ago from Peoria, Ill., where he was connected with a large mail order house in the advertising department. For five years he was engaged in the automobile and accessories business here with his brother, C. E. Gates, severed his connections and a year or so later formed [a] partnership with W. H. Lydiard for the establishment of the Economy Groceteria in a portion of the store room now occupied by the M.M. Department Store.
    Mr. Gates is well known to Southern Oregon residents, is an active worker in the Medford Chamber of Commerce and is behind every move for the betterment of the community. He has the interests of valley producers at heart, and ever since he entered the grocery business he has been devising ways and means of improving local marketing conditions to give the benefits to local growers in preference to growers outside the state shipping in products during the local growing season. He has always been a tireless worker in this direction and is a firm believer in the "buy-at-home" spirit, embodying the thought "By Medford Trade Is Medford Made."
    "Bill" is an enthusiastic believer in consistent advertising, writes interesting and convincing copy for the Economy Groceteria ads that have appeared every Friday for years in the Mail Tribune
    "Bill" was a member of the publicity committee that put over the airport election by 13 to 1.
Medford Mail Tribune, April 18, 1930, page E1

'Peoria Bill' Gates Tight Rope Walker
When Young, He Says
Also Wanted To Be Engineer; Came Here To Enter Automobile Business
With His Brother; Likes To Study History, Archaeology

    The secret is out on W. A. (Peoria Bill) Gates. He used to be a tight-rope walker.
    Furthermore, says he, he can still walk a tight rope, if anyone doubts him. Walking tight-rope was his first ambition, and first accomplishment. He has never forgotten how.
    The trouble with interviewing a man like Gates is that you get more data in a few minutes than you could write in a week, and the information you get extends from tight-rope walking to archaeological research in Southern Oregon and Central America, and from quaint humorous personalities to philosophies of life and a treatise on the history of religion.
Born in Peoria
    Born in Peoria, Illinois (he didn't say when), he spent his youth going to school, learning to walk a tight rope, and wanting to be a railroad engineer. The death of his father when he was 19 set him adrift upon the world, and his occupations have been many.
    "I used to stand by the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and watch the trains go by," he said, "and I used to think that to be a railroad engineer would be perfection. I wanted to run an engine and blow the whistle. I could think of nothing better."
    Leaning back in his chair in his small office in the back of Groceteria No. 1 [100 North Central at 6th Street], where he holds forth, he put his hand to his chin and a broad smile crept over his face. A spot on the ceiling attracted his gaze.
    "The more I think of the ambitions I had as a youth, the more I become convinced that we are nothing but driftwood, cast about by the waves and floated here and there by circumstances. Our fates are sealed by others."
Was Engineer Once
    "I got myself as a job as an engineer," he said, "in a large manufacturing plant in Chicago, when I was 21 years old. I loved to hear the machinery run, and I loved to whistle as it roared. One day the boss said to me, 'Bill, if you don't stop that d----- whistling, you'll have to stop working here.' I quit," he said, breaking into a laugh. "I couldn't think of machinery without some sort of whistle.  
    "I sold merchandise in Medford long before I ever came here," he said, "but always by correspondence. I was chief correspondent for the Larkin Company, a mail order house, of Peoria and Buffalo. I had dozens of Medford citizens on my mailing lists."
    The old question of whether or not C. E. (Pop) Gates and W. A. Gates are brothers was definitely answered.
Joined "Pop" Here
    "Yes," he said, "Sure, 'Pop' and I are brothers. He's a year or two older than I am. That's why I came to Medford in 1914, was to go into business selling cars with 'Pop.' I was with him for about six years, before I went into business in this store, in 1920,  with Lydiard."
    W. H. Lydiard and Gates are the Medford pioneers in modern grocery merchandising. Theirs was the first store that made a specialty of studying foods, and of helping the buyer to select proper, seasonal foods, and at a lower price.
    "I figured out a long time ago that the volume of business in foods was greater than the volume of business in any other line of merchandise. That's why I got into the business. Merchandising of late years has proved my contention. The grocery business has grown away from the old standard," he said. "Then the business of the merchant was merely to supply food to eat. Today's standard of food merchandising places a grave responsibility on the merchant. To supply proper foods, under modern laws of dietetics, and foods that are the most healthful according to the season, is a serious business. Food merchandising must be approached from that angle. The buyer's health and pocketbook must be protected at all times."
Advised Young Men
    Turning from talk of his store, he changed abruptly from Gates the merchant, to Gates the philosopher. His advice to young men is worth taking.
    "Young men should not take life too seriously," he said. "That's the mistake so many of them make. Don't let misfortune get you down. If you'll work, and study, and not think the world rests upon your own shoulders, you'll get along.
    "Getting back to what I said about us all being just driftwood," he said, leaning forward, this time to fix his gaze upon his desk, "let me give you an example of what I mean. Of all the young men I went to school with, only one is now doing the thing he studied and hoped to do when young. He is a doctor." Slowly he enumerated a dozen men, some now barristers, manufacturers, students and clerks, but none of whom is practicing the profession or business he wanted to when a young man.
Fate Isn't Yours
    "Your fate is entirely in the hands of other people," he said. "You might not think it, but it is. You're just driftwood in human form. Say you're working someplace on a newspaper. You don't think your job amounts to much, but you do the best you can. Someone older than you, with experience, will see your work, and if he likes it, he'll just pick you up and put you someplace else, in a different part of the world or in a different type of work, and he, not you, has determined what your life is to become.
Defines Happiness
    "Furthermore," he said, "don't ever think that the things you have are the things that make you happy. That isn't true. The things you haven't are the things that make you happy. Anticipation is more pleasant than realization. I see dozens of examples of that right here in the store every day."
    "How about your theory that the writings on the rocks in Southern Oregon and Northern California are the same as those found in the Mayan jungles of Central America, written in the ruins of the ancient Aztec and Maya civilizations?" he was asked. "It sounds interesting!"
    "It is interesting," he said, "so much so that I doubt if anyone fully realizes, yet, just what those findings in the lava beds [at Petroglyph Point in the Lava Beds National Monument] mean.
    "You see," he said, "the American Indian is of Mongolian ancestry. They crossed over from Asia to Alaska at some time when the two continents were connected. They traveled south.
    "When Cortez first entered Mexico," he said, "the natives said that their ancestors had come from a land of reeds and marshes, and pointed towards the north. There are many lands of reeds and marshes," Gates said, "but the Klamath country is the only one bearing the writings found in the ruins of the Mayan cities."
    That the establishment of the Mayan empire, about 15,000 years ago, and the destruction of Mt. Mazama, about 15,000 years ago, are closely connected, is the theory held by Gates. He explained:
    "Geologists now tell us that Crater Lake resulted from the destruction of Mt. Mazama about 15,000 years ago," he said. [Today's geologists date Crater Lake's birth at 7,700 years ago.] "Archaeologists tell us that the Mayan civilization started some 15,000 years ago. [Now they date the first Maya settlements at about 3,800 years ago.] The writings found in the Mayan jungles and in the Klamath Basin speak for themselves.
    "I believe that a high civilization existed here when Crater Lake was destroyed, and it was driven out, partly through fear and partly because the lands were covered with hot lava and the people killed. These people went south."
    Gates first became interested in archaeology while living in the artists' quarters in Chicago, working in the engine room of the manufacturing plant where he got fired because he wouldn't quit whistling. He attended several of the free lectures on archaeology given at the university there, and has been a student of the ancients ever since, gaining most of his information from research and reading. His library is well stocked with such lore, and he reads everything he can get his hands on.
    "I have studied enough of it," he said, "and talked with enough authorities, so when I started to read this book called 'The Lost Continent of Mu,' I just said 'rot' and threw it away.
    "If you want to get interested in the study of the ancients," he said, reaching for his hat which meant a close of the interview, get 'This Believing World,' by Lewis Brown. You can get it at any of the rental libraries here. If that won't make you want to learn more about it, nothing will. Brown knows what he's writing about too."

Medford News, September 22, 1933, page 1

Medford Mail Tribune, June 4, 1934
Medford Mail Tribune, June 4, 1934


President, Gates & Lydiard, Inc., Groceteria Super Food Markets.
b. Winamac, Indiana, May 16, 1878; son of Jacob and May A. (Hastings) Gates; educated grade and high schools west Indiana; m. Anna Flamme, Pekin, Ill., March 24, 1904; daughter Mary Ann (adopted); began as factory agent (manager) Corn Products Refining Co., Pekin, Ill. 1898-1904; advertising manager Larkin Co. (mail order house), Buffalo, N.Y. 1905-15; partner auto supply business, Gates Auto Co. 1915-20; established present business in 1920, partner until 1939, president 1939 to date; director Bagley Canning Co. (ex-president); Jackson County Chairman bond drive 1942-43; Pacific Coast Industries, Advertising Committee, O.P.A.; member Oregon State Grocers Association, three years president old organization, one year with new; student of Egyptology, archaeology (on cliffs near Medford); has made scientific study of all forms of same; Rotarian (past president); Chamber of Commerce (director since 1925); S.R. Mason; Hillah Shrine; Elks; Republican; Methodist; home 31 Crater Lake; office 6th & Central, Medford.
Capitol's Who's Who for Oregon 1948-49, page 208

30th Anniversary Noted by Groceteria,
Friendship Said Key in Long History
    Friendship is the key to success. That axiom has been tested and proved through the years by Gates and Lydiard Groceteria, which will commemorate its 30 years of service to the Medford community with an anniversary observance starting Friday and continuing until Thanksgiving Day.
    This success is evidenced by the firm's report that more than 600 southern Oregon families have looked to the Groceteria for their food during these 30 years. There is additional proof in the growth of the enterprise.
Staff of 35
Stressing friendship and keeping pace with the most modern trends in merchandising, the business has expanded from a two-man operated store into one employing approximately 35 persons.
    William A. Gates and William H. Lydiard opened their first Groceteria in part of the room now occupied by F. W. Woolworth company in the Medford Center building. Before their business was launched, according to Gates, there was no real cash store in town, and prices were very high. This fact indicated need for a low-expense enterprise, which in turn suggested self-service.
    The two men met the challenge with the first self-service store in the Northwest.
Open Present Store
They occupied the Medford Center building until August, 1923, when they moved into a structure they erected close by on the corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue. In 1930 they opened another Groceteria at their present location, Sixth and Grape streets.
    Lydiard passed away about 12 years ago, and since then Gates has had the principal hand in guiding the destiny of the corporation. He is president of the firm.
    Following sale of the Central Avenue location to J. C. Penney Company in 1946, the Grape Street store was closed for renovations. On Jan. 25, 1947, the Grape Street establishment was reopened, completely modernized with the latest in equipment and fixtures. The other Groceteria was closed and the building later razed to make way for a new J. C. Penney store.
    The present store, with its bakery, "$aving $enter," large meat department, kitchen, fountain and lunch counter, egg candling department, the food departments with many attractive rows of display counters and cases and the friendly atmosphere, is a source of satisfaction to Gates.
Unique Bakery
He maintains that the Groceteria bakery has one claim no other can make. It is that Groceteria cakes, ordered by people in other states or sent as gifts by local residents, have been shipped to every state in the nation. These out-of-state shipments, mostly to Minnesota and Texas, are constant, Gates said. Cakes have gone to Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Cuba and Australia.
    Lowell Iverson, Groceteria director, recalled that a cake was shipped to him to Fort Lewis during the war. Before the delicacy caught up with him six weeks later, he was in Australia. The cake, kept in an airtight container, was still in good condition, he declared.
    A huge anniversary cake has been baked and decorated. It will serve 1,200 to 1,500 people and will be cut starting at 10 a.m. Friday. Gates said that it is full of prize-designating capsules.
    Open refrigerated display cases, with shelves of varying temperatures to suit the requirements of different types of food displayed, are an outstanding feature of the Groceteria.
Use Ultra-Violet
Meat department shoppers can view a portion of the cutting and grinding operation in a back room. The meat refrigeration room is equipped with sterilizing and odor-killing ultra-violet ray lighting.
    One of Gates' successful sales techniques was reported in the November issue of the National Grocer's Bulletin. On the evidence that the housewife is too busy planning meals to think about candy, hard candy has been placed on display shelves within easy reach of the check stands and sells as an "impulse" item. Candy is now a top profit item, he told the magazine.
    The Groceteria axiom of friendliness is further carried out on the "Friendship Circle," broadcast by radio station KMED for 21 years. Gates pointed out that the program has the distinction of being the oldest one in the United States broadcast on one station by one sponsor.
    Gates heads a board of five directors who operate the business. Mrs. Jane Lydiard, widow of one of the co-founders, is vice president; Melvin Hall, with the firm since 1926, is secretary and manager and general buyer; Iverson and Paul Smith are directors.
    Their aim, according to Gates, is to "run a store we, ourselves, would like to trade in." They seek to contribute to [the] home life of their customers. Good, clean, low-priced food brings happiness when the family is gathered together. Gates calls it "dinner table harmony."
    The Groceteria is a meeting place for oldtimers, the veteran grocer said. He added that he knows of nothing he enjoys so much as being at the store among the people he has known so long.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 17, 1949, page 8

William A. Gates, Groceteria Head, Dies in California
    William A. Gates, 78, president of the Groceteria Super Food markets, died today in a Palm Springs hospital. Funeral arrangements are pending through Perl funeral home.
    Youngest of a family of six, Mr. Gates was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Gates. He was born May 16, 1878, at Winamac, Ind., and came to Medford in 1915.
    From 1915 to 1920 he was associated with his brother, the late C. E. Gates, in the automobile business. In 1920 he established the present business in which he was a partner until 1939. Since that time he has been president of the firm.
    Mr. Gates was interested in encouraging athletic activities, baseball in particular. His hobbies included Egyptology and archaeology, and he made scientific studies on the subjects.
    He was a past president of the Medford Rotary Club; was a past director of the Chamber of Commerce; a Scottish Rite Mason; a member of the Hillah Temple of the Shrine; was a member of Elks lodge, and the Methodist Church. He was a former president and director of Bagley Canning Company. For three years Mr. Gates was president of the State Grocers Association.
    His wife died on May 15, 1947. Survivors include an adopted daughter, Mrs. Paul Smith of Medford; and several nieces and nephews, Mrs. A. C. Dean and George Gates, both of Medford; Mrs. Marie Thielman, Bend; Parker Gates, in Illinois; John Gates, in California, and Marian Gates, who lives in the East.
    It is the desire of the family that those wishing to honor Mr. Gates' memory, in lieu of flowers, make donations to the Rogue Valley Memorial Hospital, which can be mailed to the hospital campaign office at 28 South Bartlett St.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 25, 1956, page 1

Services Scheduled for W. A. Gates
    Funeral services for William A. Gates, 78, who died in Palm Springs Friday, will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the First Methodist Church. The Rev. Raymond E. Balcomb will officiate. Entombment will be in Medford memorial mausoleum.
    Medford Lodge 103, A.F. and A.M. will participate in services at the mausoleum.
    Mr. Gates was president of the Groceteria, and has been associated in the grocery business here since 1920. He moved to Medford in 1915.
    The family has suggested that in lieu of flowers donations may be made to Rogue Valley Memorial hospital by contacting Col. Charles Stafford at 28 South Bartlett St. Perl Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
    Active pallbearers will be Ross Minneci, Fred Mast, Darrel Mitchell, Bob Darnell, Morris Boughner and George Holzgang. Honorary pallbearers will be Jimmy Dunlevy, Herb Grey, Joe Jorgenson, Bill Walker, Jerry Watkins and Charles Baucom.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 29, 1956, page 1

(As told by Mel Hall, 1985)

    In the early 1920s, Bill Gates made a trip back east to observe self-service stores, which were new at that time. After extensive research he came back to the Rogue River Valley, searching for a partner to join him in this new concept of the food industry. Someone suggested Bill Lydiard, who owned and operated the Jackson Street grocery store on West Jackson.
    Gates & Lydiard formed a partnership, with Gates, the promoter, doing the selling and Lydiard, more conservative, doing the buying and management.
    November 20, 1920, the first self-service grocery store in the state of Oregon and possibly the first of its kind on the West Coast was opened on the southwest corner of 6th and Central. Previous to that time the clerks filled all orders. In those days many of the stores displayed their wares clear to the ceiling, and the clerk had to be pretty handy at using the sliding ladder to reach many of the items in making up a grocery order.
    In 1922 the store was moved to the southeast corner of 6th and Central into a brand-new building built by Porter Neff and later called Groceteria #1, with Groceteria #2 opening on the northwest corner of 6th and Grape in 1930.
    In the early years of Groceteria #1, where Penneys is now located, Jane McQuat was office manager, affectionately called "Tillie the Toiler" by her fellow workers, in the 1930s she became Mrs. Bill Lydiard. I started my career at the store in 1926 as an "out-boy" carrying boxes to the cars--no nice baskets with wheels then--just lugged them out on the shoulder. I gradually acquired an interest in the business, and after Mr. Lydiard's death a corporation was formed of Bill Gates, Osa Boyd, "Doc" Pope and myself, with me serving as manager of #1 and supervisor of #2.
    In 1961 the corporation sold. Later in 1966 my wife, Dorothy, and I purchased the store back. Groceteria #1 had been gone for some time by then, and we closed the doors of Groceteria #2 in 1975.
Thomasine Swoape Smith, ed., More Than a Cookbook, Medford, 1985

Last revised March 11, 2017