Some folks find comfort in the expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” For Amana’s Carl Oehl, change is something he’s familiar with, yet in changing, he’s found a way to remain the same. Born at the end of the communal era in the Amana Colonies, Oehl has literally seen it all, at least when it comes to the many changes that have involved the Amana community over the last eighty years.
Oehl was born in communal-era Amana, and was a part of the community concerned with work, church, and hearty food. Shortly after the Great Change, Opa Carl, as he’s affectionately known, took a job at the Amana Meat Shop. He remarks that they custom butchered for many years until home butchering practices changed, and the mail order business had its start prior to the Great Change in 1932.
“Hotels all over were serving our bacon,” recalls Oehl, “and packages were shipped via parcel post or railway express.” Today, the Amana Meat Shop continues that tradition by filling thousands of orders for hams of all sizes, meat and cheese packs, and other specialty items. He attributes the Internet in keeping the business alive and well, referring to the constant UPS semi traffic loading mail order from the Amana Meat Shop seven days a week during their busy time of year.
In 1968, Carl and his wife, Fern, started the Colony Market Place Restaurant in South Amana. Carl’s love of great food and his desire to work ever closer with the public were the ingredients for his longtime success as a restauranteur. It’s even ironic that the building in South Amana the Oehl family renovated into the restaurant was the village meat market, built of locally-produced brick with a domed-ceiling basement and smokehouse, where you could get just a hint of the smoky aroma from bygone years of curing hams. Ultimately, Carl and Fern sold the Colony Market Place in 1995 and retired, though the thought of retirement for the active couple seemed a foreign concept.
Shortly after his retirement, Carl drifted back to the Amana Meat Shop. “It’s sort of been a magnet for me all these years…I was born just four doors down and still live there to this day,” he explains. Oehl works weekends, especially during events and festivals like Amana’s Winterfest. He can be seen visiting with customers, giving samples, and providing advice on recipes and how to properly cook hams, chops, and other items you’ll find at the Amana Meat Shop. Having lost his wife, Fern, just two years ago, he reiterates, “Being here is my safety valve.” Oehl relishes the fact that he recognizes everyone who is a repeat customer to the meat shop. He also served as the Burgermeister for the Maifest and Oktoberfest in the Amanas. He’s currently the ‘retired’ Burgermeister, though he is still very active in his duties to the various festivals.
When asked about Hammin’ It Up this weekend at the Winterfest, the retired Burgermeister reports, “It’ll be fun. On Saturday, we’ll offer ham carving demonstration and make ham and bean soup for everyone to sample. I’ll show folks what they can do with their ham bones. We’ll have a free drawing for a ham.” He also reminded us that they’ll offer specials on ham salad, pickled ham, hams and ham portions the entire weekend Jan 21-23.” You can even look for a hidden Ms. Piggy.
Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same. From a hardworking teenager, to successful entrepreneur, to retiree, to honoree, and back to where it all started for him seventy years ago, Carl Oehl has seen it all, and he’s waiting to visit with you this weekend at the Amana Meat Shop during Amana’s Winterfest.