When Betty Ellis Golub turns out the lights and locks the doors at Kennebunk Village Pharmacy for the final time next Tuesday after 22 years, she will have cared for generations of families as a community pharmacist in downtown Kennebunk.
She will also have fulfilled a legacy that began with her great grandmother nearly a century ago in the small town of Rudnik, Poland.
Golub announced last week that she would be retiring and the pharmacy at 18 Blue Wave Center would be closed as of Aug. 22. She searched for nearly two years for a buyer, but independent pharmacies can’t compete against the “Goliath” conglomerates and mail-order companies today, she said.
“I got to practice pharmacy the way it should be. I’ve been practicing pharmacy for 40 years, and for 28 of them right on Main Street in Kennebunk. I am the lucky one. My life is richer for having been able to do this,” she said.
Golub is emotional when she talks about the trip to Poland in 1982 that lit the spark that would lead her to open her own pharmacy and offer her personal, heartfelt service for over two decades to the townspeople of Kennebunk. The mortar and pestle in the Kennebunk Village Pharmacy logo is part of that story, too.
Golub’s family are Holocaust survivors.
Her grandfather was the oldest of 11 children in one of the only Jewish families in the tiny town of Rudnik, Poland. When World War II broke out he was already grown and married to her grandmother with two daughters. But the rest of the children, including the four brothers who were serving with the Polish army, were in great danger, as Nazis began to hunt Jews.
Knowing they were in peril, either her great-grandfather or one of the older daughters, brought a few family heirlooms to a neighbor for safe keeping, hoping they would one day return and retrieve them.
Golub said that it’s believed that her great-grandfather and his daughters who remained at home were killed immediately by the Nazis when they invaded Poland. Her four uncles were more fortunate, they escaped and hid and were eventually saved by the kindness and bravery of the woman who also kept the family heirlooms.
The neighbor, Jadzia Szybowska, a catholic schoolteacher, bravely hid Golub’s four surviving uncles in the attic of the village schoolhouse. In 1982, Golub, at 25-years-old and looking for direction in her life, walked into the village of Rudnik and found Szybowska, who was then in her 60′s.
As they talked about her four uncles, and the more than 30 family members who were alive because of her loyalty and bravery, Golub told Szybowska that she had just completed pharmacy school, but she was a little bit adrift, and unsure what path she wanted to take.
“That’s when Jadzia began to cry, and she said ’I have something for you from your great-grandmother. And she brings out this mortar and pestle, something that was so dear to me as a pharmacist. It would become our logo for the pharmacy.”
Her great-grandmother, Chana Tiefenbrunner, was an herbalist and natural healer who used it to grind herbs and tinctures to minister to the sick in her village.
Golub’s path to becoming a business owner was a reluctant one. She moved to Kennebunk from Maryland in 1990 with her first husband, John Ellis and started working for Brooks Pharmacy on Main Street. Brooks was eventually bought out by Rite Aid and Golub found herself in the role of a floating pharmacist, going between Rite Aid stores, something she didn’t want to do.
In 1993, her husband died suddenly. She found herself alone, and miserable working for a big pharmacy. There were no community pharmacies in town, they had all been bought out.
Golub called everyone she could think of and tried to get them to open an independent pharmacy on Main Street in Kennebunk. She even tried to coax her early mentor in Maryland, pharmacist “Doc” Leslie Feldman, to come up to Maine and open a pharmacy that she could run.
“He said ‘you don’t need me.’ But he helped me get the ball rolling.”
Rachel Rioux, a former Laverdiere’s pharmacist, went into business with Golub, and the two opened the only women-owned pharmacy in Maine together in 1996. Rioux sold her half of the business to Golub in 2008, but still works there, doing the books.
The pharmacy has always been located right where it is today.
“It was a little mound of dirt with a sign on it that said ’build to suit,” Golub said. She called the number on the sign and talked with Tom Joyal, owner of Old House Parts Co. in Kennebunk.
Joyal planned to move a Victorian house and barn from downeast and reassemble it. That didn’t work out, so Joyal built the building to look like an old house that would go with the barn, which housed Old House Parts Co. for many years. The counters, doors and several other architectural elements of the pharmacy were crafted by Joyal from old house and barn parts.
Loyal customers of the pharmacy have reacted with mixed emotions to news of its closing — they’re happy for Golub, but sad for themselves and the quality care they will lose. Customers commented on social media saying they will miss the personal service, and felt that “Betty was like a security blanket, I always knew she checked everything.”
Kennebunk Village Pharmacy prescriptions will be transferred to the CVS pharmacy in Kennebunk, and Golub said they have worked hard to make sure that her customers will be well cared for. She will work for a while as a consultant, and customers will also see some other Kennebunk Village Pharmacy staff members at CVS as well.
It was a difficult decision to close, but Golub is looking forward to retirement. She wants to spend more time with her husband Andrew Golub, who has worked as the Dean of Libraries at the University of New England for 34 years. She hopes he will follow her lead, and join her in retirement soon. They have twin 15-month-old grandsons, Sol and Leo, and Golub wants to have time to enjoy them and watch them grow.
She will miss her customers and the relationships she has built over the years.
She’s quick to point out that she would not have had the success or staying power that she did without her long-time, loyal staff.
“I didn’t do it alone. It was always a team effort, and we always led with our hearts.”
The mortar and pestle in the pharmacy logo is a symbol of Golub’s legacy, coming full circle.
“This is my legacy from my great-grandmother, and I passed it on to this community as best I could. She took care of her little village in Poland, and I took care of mine here. I hope I honored her,” she said.
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