Mahtowa area residents are quick to remember Tom Bislow, co-owner of TJ's Country Corner, not only for his role in shaping the community, but his character.

Bislow, who died at age 74 on Jan. 31, was known to many in the township of just over 600 people.

"He was a great guy to everybody, and so kind," 16-year Mahtowa resident Marcy Wedan said. "He was always happy when you went into the store. The sun was always shining for Tom."

Wedan was one of several people to drop off monetary and food donations outside the store Tuesday, Feb. 5, for a memorial food shelf drive hosted by the Mahtowa Fire Department.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the Moose Lake Food Shelf, so the department decided they take that request one step further and set up a food drive, per the families permission, department member Trevor Erickson said.

"Mahtowa wouldn't be what it is today if it weren't for Tom. He was very community oriented," Erickson said. "He was just a very caring individual and like to give people a chance."

When Erickson started a coffee company he previously co-owned Bislow would make sure he sold their product in a location with a good chance of selling, despite their lack of a business sales or track record, Erickson said.

From putting on the Sunday flea markets outside TJ's Country Corner and music events in the Wurst Dome to Halloween tours and Santa Claus visits during the holidays, Bislow's reach in the community extended far beyond the confines of the grocery store.

Joanne and Tom Bislow bought the storefront in 1977 that has since went through many phases of evolution. Some remembered the restaurant that used to be in the back, before Bislow started specializing in making fresh sausages. Many remembered the spontaneous publication Bislow used to put out for more than twenty years.

A table of four friends hanging out at Rob's Mahtowa Tavern Tuesday night remembered reading the publication regularly for recipes, happenings in the neighborhood and store updates. They laughed about the time Bislow published news of a neighbor's cow tipping over.

Linda Werner of Barnum said she still has a bunch of copies stored away in drawer. She keeps them for the recipes

Across the table Darla Skramtad of Barnum reminisced on old jokes her and Bislow

exchanged in the shop.

"He had a good sense of humor and he always called you by your name," Skramtad said. "If he didn't know it your name he'd ask you."

Wedan, the Mahtowa resident of 16 years, said about the shop her daughter rents out an apartment. When she found out she was going to need a new place to live Wedan said her daughter asked Bislow to let her know if the apartment ever opened up, to which he promised it was hers whenever it did.

"He put a lot of heart and soul into the community," she said.

At the end of Tuesday night's food drive, Mahtowa Fire Department raised $1,457 and packed two vehicles full of nonperishable foods to donate to the Moose Lake Food Shelf.