John Rapp celebrates ‘legen-dairy’ 97th birthday

July 17, 2023 8:56 am

By Meta Hemenway-Forbes, Hansen’s Dairy Marketing Manager

John Rapp, a pillar of the Cedar Falls community, was thrown a surprise 97th birthday party at the Hansen’s Dairy store in Cedar Falls.

John Rapp pulled into the parking lot of the Hansen’s Dairy Cedar Falls store a little before 9 a.m. Thursday, July 13, just as he does every Tuesday and Thursday. 

“JR,” as he’s known to the fellas he meets there twice a week, received his customary greeting from store employees. 

“I get a hug every morning I get here,” he said, smiling.

John Rapp gets customary hugs from store employees Amanda Grunklee, left, and Marisa Lampman at every visit.

“Yep. We always meet him outside at his car,” said Assistant Manager Amanda Grunklee.

But on Thursday, things were a little different. John still got his hugs, of course. And all of the fellas were there. But instead of shooting the breeze over coffee and breakfast, John’s buddies threw him an early surprise birthday party. More than a dozen friends and family gathered to help him celebrate.

“Holy buckets! Look at this group that showed up here. But they’re all young ’uns,” he said, laughing.

“Hell, everybody’s a young ’un to you, JR,” a guest shot back. Raucous laughter immediately followed.

Born July 14, 1926, John turned 97 on Friday. Asked how it feels to be 97 years old, he quipped: “Hey, same as it did 96! It’s only important because I’m old.”

John Rapp’s historic gas station is now preserved as the Behrens-Rapp Visitor Information Center on First Street in Cedar Falls.

John’s humility runs deep. So do his roots in Cedar Falls. In fact, all who pass through the visitor information center on First Street get a glimpse of the city’s history that John helped build.

John is the former owner of Cedar Falls’ first auto service station, now preserved as the historic Behrens-Rapp Visitor Information Center.

In 1925, brothers John and Williams Behrens built Behrens Filling Station at the corner of 14th Street and Waterloo Road, according to the Cedar Falls Historical Society. The brothers operated the station for 20 years before selling it to Norris Smith.

John began working at the station as a high school student in 1943, making 5 cents an hour. World War II pulled him away, but he returned after the war and was named station manager in 1950. John bought the station from Norris in 1966 and continued operations with his late wife, Beverly, until 1990 when plans for the construction of Highway 58 conflicted with his location. In 1993, several organizations partnered to move and restore the historic station at First and Clay streets.

John Rapp was all smiles during his surprise birthday party at Hansen’s Dairy in Cedar Falls.

Today, John gathers twice weekly with his buddies at our 18th Street store, just a half-mile from where his beloved gas station once stood. The group bonds over donuts, breakfast sandwiches and conversation — mostly about cars, of course. Some of the guys arrive in classic hot rods. On the day of John’s birthday party, one of the fellas rolled up in a black and white ‘57 Chevy with chrome-trimmed tail fins and lines as right as rain — the kind of car that drives conversation.

It was tough to find a dry eye when the group sang a rousing round of “Happy Birthday” to their longtime friend John. 

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m so fortunate.”

We think it’s pretty easy to see why. Happy birthday, John, from all of us at Hansen’s Dairy! See you Tuesday!

John Rapp’s two favorite store employees Marisa Lampman, left, and Amanda Grunklee helped him celebrate his 97th birthday last week.

More than a dozen friends and family showed up for a surprise birthday party for John Rapp, left.