ELDRIDGE — Thursday’s fire that destroyed the former Eldridge Turner Hall hit many people hard and was especially emotional for the children of Leo and Marie Tombergs.
Gwen Tombergs and Jayne Hermiston could barely keep the tears from their eyes as they recalled what the property meant to their family and the community of Eldridge. The Tombergs owned the property for 53 years. It’s now Del’s Eatery & Pub, the DelVichio family having bought the business property in 1996.
“It felt like losing a piece of Dad again,” Tombergs said of her reaction to the fire. Tombergs of Bettendorf joined Hermiston and another sister, Susie Stark of Blue Grass, in sharing memories Thursday of the business that their father and mother began and operated.
“It was like a second home,” Stark said of the onetime Turner Hall. “I’ll never get to show my grandchildren where we grew up.”
Leo Tombergs died in 1995 at 74 years old. Beyond being a business owner, he was a civic leader in Eldridge for decades, serving as mayor, clerk, justice of the peace and a volunteer firefighter. Marie Tombergs, 89, his wife, is a resident of an assisted-living facility in Davenport.
They married in 1946 in Chicago. Leo’s father, Henry, purchased the Eldridge Turner Hall and ran the place until he was diagnosed with cancer. Leo then came home with his young wife to take over the business, said Hermiston, who still lives in Eldridge.
The women remember how hard the family worked to keep up the reception hall, restaurant and bar areas.
“My mom made sure that the rooms, and everything, were very clean,” Hermiston said. “We had the cleanest place in the country.”
As soon as they were old enough, the Tombergs children went to work at the establishment. That includes Sandy Bowen, the eldest sister, who lives in Little Rock, Ark.
Much of the work was done in the upstairs hotel area of the building. That included rooms that could be rented. At one time, construction workers who put up the Caterpillar plant in neighboring Mount Joy stayed there.
The sisters all worked in the restaurant, washing dishes, serving food and helping their mother.
“I never saw the Saturday morning cartoons on television,” Hermiston said. “I was always working.”
Tombergs, Hermiston and Stark were waitresses during activities at the hall, and there were lots of those. The hall was the site of wedding receptions, bowling banquets, dances and too many special events to count.
May 1 was always the popular Bockwurst Day (named for a German sausage invented in the 19th century), Hermiston said. It was a very busy day for the Tombergs as hundreds of people would come to Eldridge to celebrate.
The Shriners Band played, and there was a time when all four of the sisters — each of whom played percussion instruments in the North Scott School District bands — joined the Shriners.
“That made Dad cry,” Hermiston said.
The hall was an important Eldridge location as the largest property in town with a bar and a restaurant, Tombergs said.
“It was the biggest place for the kids to gather,” she said.
Leo Tombergs, who served as mayor for eight years, loaned the hall to the congregation of Faith Lutheran Church when its place of worship was under construction on LeClaire Road, a few blocks to the west.
The Eldridge American Legion stored equipment at the Turner Hall site, and the Lions Club met there. A typical 1975 event included 800 people at a spaghetti supper put on by the Legion and the North Scott High School Boosters Club.
Tombergs recalled that her mother used to open the restaurant at 6 a.m. daily for breakfast and that it was a popular meeting place for local farmers and business owners.
“This is just so sad. It’s a loss for so many people,” she said.