One thing — maybe the only thing — upon which this country can today peaceably unite is soft-serve. Even America’s most lactose-intolerant still hold the fondest memories of their childhood ice cream stand. They are our national treasuries.
The White family, owners of White’s Dairy Bar on Creek Locks Road in Eddyville, has been handing kids soft-serve ice cream cones through the window since 1970 — that’s 47 years ago.
Charlotte, 92, and her late husband, George “Pop” White, bought the dairy bar from her brother, Frank Grommel, who built the original structure in 1962. They made an addition with indoor seating to the dairy bar in 1973.
“George was a janitor at IBM when we first started it,” she said. “He would go to the ice cream stand, open it up, go to work for the day, come home, wash up, and then to the stand to work.”
It was this work ethic that had George eventually work his way up through the ranks at IBM, eventually becoming manager of the cafeteria, and later “working with ‘confidentials.’” Charlotte said she worked at Rotron spinning wire, and nights at IBM in the core plane division. The couple’s sons, Ronny and Kenny White, both ran the dairy bar while their parents were working at their other jobs.
“The only reason I could be involved in extra sports and activities was because my parents worked like that,” said Kenny, who still works at the dairy bar to this day.
Charlotte and George started dating at age 14. When he went away to the service during World War II, Charlotte worked as a machinist in the DeLaval factory in Poughkeepsie. “I was a real-life Rosie the Riveter.”
The dairy bar interior still looks exactly as one would expect any dairy bar should look; video games, a pinball machine, orange vinyl-coated chairs, a line of reach-in beverage coolers with compressors working hard to battle the summertime humidity and handwritten daily specials. There is a rack of fishing lures that’s a window to an earlier era when kids would regularly come get an ice cream and go fish across the street at the creek.
The ice cream menu is simple and straight-forward, soft serve, vanilla, chocolate or a twist. One may also get a flavored soft-serve (this journalist was pleased to order her first ever banana ripple soft-serve with cookie crumb toppings), hard ice cream and of course, toppings. White’s Dairy Bar is known for its food menu, with Texas hot wieners, Reubens, meatballs, homemade chili for $3.25, or chili mac for $4.25. Charlotte makes the roast beef, turkey, baked beans, everything. Ronny spends 12-14 hours smoking the pork for the pulled pork sandwich, using a secret recipe he acquired on the circuit as a food judge. The sandwich is a modest $4.95.
George passed away several years ago, and in his honor, a beloved customer and friend of White’s Dairy Bar launched an annual car show that typically sees 30-50 cars. The most treasured car is a 1942 Jeep from Normandy that shows up to the car show every year to honor William White, who was killed in the Battle of Normandy.
No rest for the weary
Kenny and Charlotte both work over 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Kenny begins between 6:30 and seven in the morning and sometimes doesn’t leave until after 10 at night. The stand is open from the beginning of April until the end of November and sometimes even longer, if there is a strong lunch crowd. Even in the winter, Kenny says, he is mostly doing work on the ice cream stand. Charlotte still gardens and maintains the grounds, and keeps the books as well.
The Whites say their customer base hails from near and far — Kingston, Port Ewen, Accord, Rosendale and Rhinebeck, with Little League players coming for their post-game cones from Rondout Valley, Kingston and Port Ewen. Kenny said he gets compliments from people who frequented the dairy bar as children, moved out of the area, and drop by with their own children or grandchildren to share a piece of their childhood magic with their families. There are five and 10 cent candies on the counter for kids, “But if they’re running short, it’s OK,” said Charlotte.
They said they see more people from out of town now than ever before — many of whom are customers returning to their cherished childhood ice cream stand.
Debbi Reis of Saugerties said her husband grew up down the street from White’s Dairy Bar in the ’70s. “He used to tell me that as a kid they would go swimming in the creek and jump off the Eddyville Bridge,” she said. “Afterwards they would go hang out at the dairy bar and Mr. and Mrs. White were like second parents. When we were married we continued to take my kids there on weekends and I became part of the family like Bruce [her husband] and so did my kids. When my husband passed 11 years ago, Mrs. White was very sad — she use to call him her Brucie.”
Mary Bishop recalled she and her husband had their first date at White’s Dairy Bar in 1976. Donna Nageli and Donna Whitman both recalled how they took alternate forms of transportation to get their cones. “We use to ride our horses there also,” said Whitman. “I boarded my horse down on Salem Street what was known as Amron farms. We would take them swimming down in the creek and then go across the bridge for ice cream. I remember my horse did not like going over some of the grates on the bridge. We would also go to Bradford’s store that was across the street.”
Della Faroute Erma Peters of Kingston said she and her mom and sister used to go to a nearby spring to fill up gallon water bottles, and would stop there for hot dogs and ice cream. “Loved the video games and the foosball table,” she said. “Started bringing my kids when they were little, need to bring grandkids there soon.”
“People come back and tell us that we are a part of their family,” said Kenny. “That is my favorite thing about what we do.”