Ice cream, soda, and Rx
Penn Drug Company, the oldest pharmacy in Iowa, has served its patients since 1863.
The small town of Sidney is home to one of the only remaining old-fashioned soda fountains in Southwest Iowa. It resides in a place the locals call “Penn’s,” along with coffee, food and a gift shop. It even has a soft-serve ice cream machine.
Penn’s, officially named Penn Drug Co., is the oldest pharmacy in Iowa and a staple of the town.
Patients and providers are like family
“Penn Drug is very unique,” says Angie Ettleman, current owner and pharmacy technician. “We’re independent, so we don’t have to adhere to corporate regulations. We’re accessible 24 hours to our patients, and we have really good relationships with all of our local providers.”
Ettleman began working at Penn’s in 1990 behind the soda fountain as a front-end clerk. As a veteran employee, she has learned everything during her time there.
Penn’s goal is to keep medication as accessible and affordable as possible in order for their patients to maintain good health. The pharmacy serves not only Sidney, but nearly all of Southwest Iowa and even parts of Nebraska with its free medication delivery system.
According to previous owner William Penn, the drugstore has been delivering medications for at least the past 50 years.
“I think as prescriptions evolved and there was a need to deliver, they did,” William says. “They still do it now, deliver to towns and deliver anybody’s medicine in the community that needs it delivered, they take care of it. Every afternoon, they send medicine out.”
Being in a small town, Penn’s maintains close relationships with its patients.
“We try to visit with our patients, we know our patients,” Ettleman says. “If we are alarmed about a health issue, we will contact their provider. We have patients that we have direct contact with their families. I think that aside from being a community gathering place, we’re family.”
A great place to settle
Penn Drug began in 1863 when William’s great-grandfather, John Newton Penn, moved to Sidney from Washington County, Penn., and set up his medical practice.
“He saw the rich soil on both sides of the town from the two rivers and he thought, ‘Well, this has got to be a great place to settle because there will be farmers with money,’” William says.
William explains that in that time, Dr. Penn was often paid in chickens, eggs, or produce.
“He would ride 15 miles on horseback to see patients in surrounding towns where there weren’t any doctors,” William says. “He would think it was necessary to go there and see them, which he would do once a month or something like that.”
Still in 1863, Dr. Penn went to Des Moines for training during the Civil War. He could not pass the physical due to failing eyesight, so he moved back to Sidney where he purchased the drug stock of local Dr. O. W. Sykes, who was moving to Hamburg, Iowa.
The IOOF lodge soon after purchased the building where he kept the medications, now a floral shop. In 1864, Dr. Penn built a new drugstore, the same building that houses Penn Drug Co. today. In 1946, a new soda fountain replaced the previous one, which still remains.
Keeping history alive
After being owned by multiple generations of the Penn family, Penn Drug was purchased in 2015 by Ettleman and her husband, Leo, along with pharmacist Mark Vogt. They have kept the history alive within the community.
Ettleman explains how larger pharmacies such as Walgreens and Hy-Vee had been looking to purchase Penn’s records after Jeff’s passing. If that had happened, the patients’ prescriptions would have been transferred to the pharmacy that had purchased it, and the store most likely would have closed.
“It’s very nice to see people supporting small town businesses like Penn Drug,” says employee Lindie Strickler. “The nursing home in Sidney gets all of their residents’ medications from Penn’s along with so many other people.”
Strickler has worked at Penn’s since her sophomore year of high school. Now a college freshman at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, she comes home on weekends and breaks to work at the store.
“We kept (Penn’s) so the rural history would stay here and the community would have it,” Ettleman says. “I think Sidney would be crippled without a pharmacy.”
Penn’s is currently completing major renovations, with new flooring, shelves, paint, lights, and soft-serve machine. The soda fountain, cabinets, and homey feel have remained intact.
Strickler’s favorite part of working at Penn Drug is the people — particularly a group of 10 to 12 older men and women who come in each morning known as the “coffee guys.” According to Strickler, they sit down for coffee and talk everything from football to politics. Her grandfather is one of them.
“It’s so cool that they have all come together after years of living completely different lifestyles,” Strickler says. “We have an insurance agent, farmer, auctioneer, truck driver, factory worker, teacher, and coach, and all sorts of other smalltown, hardworking people that show exactly the type of wonderful people we have in the small town of Sidney.”
Penn Drug Co.’s legacy lives on today as a staple of their rural community, including its veteran employees and patients who have utilized it for health care needs for generations.
“There certainly has been a meeting place at the drugstore for as long as I can remember,” William says. “That’s where people go to get a cup of coffee or an ice cream sundae and sit and visit for a while, besides providing a quality, professional place to get prescriptions filled. We’ve been lucky to be able to provide a friendly service to all the people in the town for all these years.”
“[Penn’s is] where people go to get a cup of coffee or an ice cream sundae and sit and visit a while, besides providing a quality, professional place to get prescriptions filled.” – William Penn