To write anything about Vilas and not mention my Uncle Tony Havens would be an affront to him. Through many years, when I have met people and told them I was from Vilas, they have said: “Oh, are you related to Tony Havens?”
After Mr. Wheeler died my Uncle Tony and George Stice put in a small grocery store. Mr. Stice moved from Vilas soon after that and my Uncle Tony and Aunt Ruth took over the store and called it Tony’s Market. They worked side by side in that story for forty years.
During the drought and dust bowl years people came from quite a distance to trade at Tony’s Market. For those who were not able to pay, Uncle Tony extended credit, making it possible for farmers to purchase their groceries. He also sold ice in one hundred pound blocks, and farmers could leave their cans of cream there to be picked up by a creamery.
As the hard times continued many farmers found it difficult to pay their bills. So on Sundays Uncle Tony would get in his pickup and go visit those farmers whose bills were mounting up, and he would settle their account by letting them give him a pig, or a calf, maybe some chickens or turkeys. He would come home with his pickup loaded with his assortment of animals, then on sale day at Lamar he would take whatever he had collected, sell them at the sale, then load his pickup with groceries and bring them back to the store.
I never heard of him pressuring anyone to pay their bills. But during the hard times he and my Aunt Ruth helped make it a little easier for many farmers.
Uncle Tony was also the community fund raiser. As Christmas approached, Uncle Tony put a pen and tablet on the counter, then asked everyone who came in the store to make a contribution toward the fund to purchase treats to be given out at the annual program.
Also, if there was a death in the community, again he placed the tablet and pen on the counter, and no one escaped being asked to make a contribution for the purchase of flowers for the funeral. Usually there was a large wreath with a ribbon stating it was from the Vilas Community. When the list of names was given to the family there were names of people they never heard of, salesmen, deliverymen and everyone else.
For several years Tony and Ruth lived in a small one-room structure which had been built as a garage. Then a farm house several miles South of Vilas came up for sale, and much to my Uncle Tony’s surprise Aunt Ruth was able to pay for the house and its moving with quarters she had saved over the years. It was moved into town and for the first time in their lives they enjoyed living in a five room house with indoor plumbing.