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Surviving Spanish flu, now COVID-19

Surviving Spanish flu, now COVID-19
Posted at 10:18 PM, Oct 22, 2020

GREEN BAY (NBC26) -- For some local businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic isn't the first time they've battled a global virus.

Schroeder's Flowers has been around Green Bay for 121 years. Charles Schroeder and his wife, Peggy, are fourth-generation owners. Their son works at the store too, making five generations of Schroeders.

Within a century, the Schroeder family experienced both Spanish Flu and COVID-19.

"I remember a conversation with my father that at one point during the Spanish flu, he was the only person in the family that didn't have it," said Charles Schroeder.

Fast forward to 2020, and Schroeder said his son tested positive for the coronavirus.

Schroeder's family survived the Spanish flu and his son recovered from a mild case of COVID-19.

While business was slow at the start of this year's pandemic, Schroeder said it's been better than previous years lately. That fact gives him hope that the flower shop will make it through the pandemic, just like his grandparents.

"I think it'll survive this one too, but it has changed things," Schroeder said. "I don't know if it'll go back to the way it use to be, but I think it'll survive."

A clipping from the Green Bay Press-Gazette dated Sept. 24, 1918 describes how a traveling band with the Great Lakes Naval Station came to Green Bay to recruit people into the navy. Many bluejackets were lost along the way to the Spanish flu.

Some experts believe it's likely the band introduced the virus to the area. Four members went to St. Vincent Hospital and had their throats sprayed by a doctor and 23-year-old nurse, both of whom died two weeks later from Spanish flu.

They stopped at several places after that, including the Union Hotel.

"My great grandparents, August and Antonia, actually treated them to dinner," said McKim Boyd, co-owner of the Union Hotel.

Boyd is a fourth-generation owner of the Union Hotel, but there are now five generations working there. His great-grandparents traded their farm and some cash for the building in August 1918, just one month before Spanish flu wreaked havoc in Wisconsin.

His great-aunt's husband died from Spanish flu.

With schools closed, events canceled, stay at home orders and mask requirements, there are many parallels between the Spanish flu and COVID-19 pandemics.

But there is at least one major difference.

"There were no antibiotics," said Mary Jane Herber, local history librarian at the Brown County Library. "People were more familiar with having that kind of disease that transferred easily, whereas today, because of inoculations and vaccines, there's a lot of things that we don't ever see anymore. That's why to some degree it's hard I think for us to understand what's going on now, because we're so use to those things that were highly communicable just don't happen that often anymore."

But that doesn't make the financial strain on some businesses any less.

As COVID-19 cases began to spike, Boyd said they closed in-person dining at the Union Hotel. They've been operating on curbside pick-up for several weeks.

Boyd said as it likely was during the Spanish flu, this pandemic has been difficult for business. He expects revenue to drop up to 60 percent by the end of the year.

"The curbside business just isn't enough to keep the doors open," Boyd said. "At this time we do need people, in our industry, we need customers to continue to support us and others to try and get through this."

It's another plea to shop local as the same businesses battle another pandemic five generations later.

Boyd said they'll be opening in-person dining in the near future.

Schroeder's Flowers is offering in-person shopping, curbside pick-up and delivery services.