When Bill Frederick, a young farmer in southern Greene County, won the state championship in the game of 8-ball pool in early April, it undoubtedly made a lot of old pool players around the county start recalling their heydays on the green felt tables in the generally-dark pool halls of yesteryear.
Who were the best shooters? Where did they play? What were those “recreation parlors,” as they were often called, like? Did my little town of Cooper even have one? In fact, E.B. Stillman’s esteemed 1907 history of the county notes that among Cooper’s businesses then were “C.F. Johnson, barber and pool hall.”
“I know Bagley had one, too, and if you’ve found that Cooper did, then I guess every town around here must’ve had a pool hall,” says Frederick, who does most of his local shooting at the Elks Club in Jefferson and his serious shooting in a pool league on Wednesday nights at the Corner Pocket in downtown Ames.
“And for good shooters? From what I hear, my grandpa Bob Safley and Norm Lane were probably the best in Jefferson. People were real scared of playing them,” he says.
When I told that to Safley, who now lives at Ever Greene Ridge in Jefferson, he said, “Thank you! That’s an honor!” When he was farming near Cooper, “I’d get up real early every morning to do chores and work until about 11 o’clock,” he said. “Then I’d go to town and play pool. I did that almost every day.”
His wife, Fran Safley, noted “we bought our groceries with his pool money the first few years” they were married. Bob Safley confirmed that he and Lane were good players, and so were Merritt Duncan of the Greenbrier farm neighborhood and Warner Bane from the Farlin area. Duncan’s obituary noted that he once won the Iowa Elks Lodges’ state 9-ball pool championship.
Probably the best and most enduring of the county’s recreation parlors was the Kendall Pool Hall on the south side of the square in Jefferson, just west of today’s Lincoln Square building. Brothers L.B. and Fred Kendall opened it around 1900 and were later joined by L.B.’s son Sandy Kendall. L.B. lived until he was 93 in 1964. When his son, Sandy Kendall, died just a year later, the family closed the pool hall and sold the building. It became a Mode O’Day dress shop.
Betty Kious of Jefferson, daughter of Sandy Kendall, said that “L.B. and my dad taught a lot of younger fellows how to play pool. It was a tavern, with the bar up front. Then there was a billiards table, several 8-ball tables and then a snooker table in the back. There were strict rules. There was no swearing. They made everybody toe the line.”
Women were not allowed.
“When I saw it the most was on Sunday mornings after Mass,” Kious said. “Dad would always say, ‘Well, let’s go to the pool hall — I’ve got to clean the tables.’ ”
The author of this story, Chuck Offenburger, is a member of the Greene County Historical Society board of directors and lives outside Cooper. You can write him at chuck@Offenburger.com.