The “C” in C&D

Story by Jeannie Stone

The pendulum has swung,” retired pharmacist Charles Oates of Pottsville said with a great sweep of his arm. “We used to stock salt tablets in our drugstore, thousands of them. All factory places provided them for their employees. But nowadays, too much salt is bad for you.” 

Oates is a man to reckon with when considering the growth of the community. He was one half of the founding force behind C&D Drug Store in neighboring Russellville. Oates enjoys reminiscing over the generations of people whom he served.

He tries to keep abreast of changes in the profession and is mindful of the passing of time when he visits the Drugstore Museum he and his wife Jean have created in the historic district in Pottsville.

“Nothing has impacted the pharmacy profession more than computers,” Oates said. “All that information is at the fingertips of today’s pharmacist.”

Technology allows pharmacists to counsel patients, maintain patients’ profiles, and research the side effects of drugs Oates said.

“Of course, the regulations and insurance rules are a lot different, but computers have made pharmacists so much better prepared than we were. We were prepared for our time, but even college requirements are greater than ours were. Back then, you could get a pharmacy degree in four years. It can easily take seven now.”

Oates, whose great grandparents settled in the area in 1852, takes pleasure in growing deep roots. His great grandfather, a Confederate soldier, survived a shot in the neck only because his grandmother took their children in an ox cart and drove to Jenkins Ferry. “She nursed him back to health,” Oates said.

Oates studied Pre-Veterinary Medicine at College of the Ozarks before going into the service. When he returned from WWII as a surgical tech, he continued with his college plans, but his studies were thwarted.

“They’d changed all the requirements while I was away, so I switched to pharmacy,” he said. “I practiced in Waldron for six years, where I met and married Jean, and then practiced in Mountain Pine for a couple of years before coming home.”

“My family has a rich history with Charles Oates,” pharmacist R.D. Walker said. “He joined my uncle, S.A. Walker in 1958, about the time my dad did. It was called ‘Walker’s Drug’ back then. After awhile, the present building came up for sale, and Charles and my dad decided to go in together.”

“I think S.A. had a reputation for being really strict – or kind of old school. Anyway, my dad and Charles were anxious about letting him know of their plans to fly the coop, and Charles told my dad, ‘You tell him. He’s your brother.’ Oh, we have a lot of stories, and it’s been a wonderful relationship,” he said.

“My dad died when I was 18, and Charles always provided me the same warmth and compassion he paid to everyone.”

“Both my parents were wonderful role models, both so kind, gentle and quietly giving,” said son David Oates, a local veterinarian. “The whole time I lived at home I never heard a cross word between them.”

David’s decision to practice in the medical field was directly linked to his privileged childhood.

“We had everything a kid could want,” he said. “We had both wild and domestic animals – horses, all manner of injured birds, even crows and skunks. Even though we lived in town it wasn’t unusual for a horse or calf to be in the backyard. Dad would even bring home turtle eggs and place them in a jar to hatch. It was wonderful. I have the greatest family.”

His father’s interest in the animal kingdom was not solely focused on the healing arts.

“He had the habit,” David said, “of teaching our horse tricks. Then, he’d gather the neighborhood children and perform for them.”

The Walkers had three children, and so did the Oates. The Oates’ children, Brenda, Bonita and David all have memories of playing and helping in the drugstore as children.

Brenda Oates Harrison, Community Relations director for Saint Mary’s Hospital, remembers the drugstore as a place that never closed.

“My father would go out in the middle of the night, and do it cheerfully. We’d wake up and want to go with him,” she said.

Harrison remembers the drugstore was open all the time. “The store would close for a one hour lunch on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she said, “and it closed half a day when Dale Walker passed away.”

“Dale and I had a fantastic relationship,” Oates said. “Banks weren’t real fond of lending money to partnerships because so many times it didn’t work out,” Oates said. “They used us as an example of how it could work.”

The motto of C&D Drugstore was and still is Courtesy and Service, Harrison said.

“And they lived those words,” she said. “Growing up in the drugstore, there was nobody better than you or less than you. My parents would say that we were grateful for the people who traded with us. They are still passionate about supporting local businesses.”

Harrison has carried the spirit of the homey drugstore motto which hung over her play area into the corporate world.

“When our hospital administration attended a retreat to hone our vision and mission statements, I told them the same story,” she said. “I learned courtesy at an early age, and that was a valuable lesson for me.”

“Getting to watch them work together was the best education I could ever receive,” Walker said.

“The special thing about Charles is just the way he treats people. He is so nice to everyone. That impressed me. If I needed to seek advice he’d be the first person I’d turn to.”

Walker wasn’t the only one impressed with the courtesy learned at the hand of Oates.

Local businessman and childhood friend Jim Bob Humphrey paid Harrison a compliment she holds dear to this day.

“He told me that he always appreciated me when he was growing up because I was always so nice to everyone,” she said.

Besides volunteering for Potts Inn, Oates spends his days bush-hogging, tending to cattle and growing poultry for Tyson’s.

“When I got around to living my second childhood, I broke my first team of oxen,” he said, with obvious satisfaction. “I am spending my second childhood right where I spent my first.”

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