Famous Dave pays tribute to his dad
By David “Famous Dave” Anderson
|Photo courtesy of Famous Dave Anderson
Dave’s First Restaurant That Launched Famous Dave’s. From humble beginnings: This Indian Fry Bread Stand is where Dave learned to cook. This picture is circa 1970s. Dave’s family cooked Indian Fry Bread, Wild Rice Soup, Venison Sandwiches for hungry tourists who gathered to watch these Indian celebrations and Pow-Wows. This picture was taken at the Annual Honor The Earth Celebration and Pow-Wow held on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Reservation, Hayward, Wisconsin, and also the birthplace of The Original Famous Dave’s Legendary Pit Barbeque restaurant.
James Walter Anderson, age 91, of Idabel, Oklahoma, went home to be with his Lord and Savior on Saturday, March 31, 2012, at the Oakwood Villa Nursing Home.
“Jimmie,” as he was known most of his earlier life, was born May 18, 1920, at Idabel, Oklahoma, the eldest son of Orsborn Anderson and Ida McKinney Anderson of the Choctaw Nation of the Five Civilized Tribes. Osborne Anderson, a full blood Choctaw member, was an Indian interpreter in the legal department. Orsborn had a special opportunity to enter Kansas University to study law but instead, remained a legal clerk. He married a beautiful Choctaw maiden named Ida McKinney and set up a homestead in the dense woods of Clearwater, OK. James Walter was the second oldest child of a family of five, including Esther, James, Evelyn, Erwin and Samuel. Jimmie’s early life was unique because he had to raise his brothers and sisters as an orphan upon the tragic deaths of his father and dear mother, Ida. James spent harsh winters and summers living in a one room handmade Choctaw hut, caring for his sisters and brothers who depended on him for their food and sustenance. They hunted and trapped by handmade snares and earth traps for rabbits, using pierced-forked sticks for snakes and frogs. Lacking proper clothing, without shoes, their native hut was nevertheless, home.
Their lives were greatly influenced by the kindness of neighborly missionaries who had realized the plight of little James and his family. Unable to keep enough food and with cold weather approaching, the neighbor lady put soups out on the edge of the woods to try to lure the Anderson children out. Jimmie knew the price of being caught but he had to have help. At that time, little Jimmie never had seen a non-native person before. He and his family only spoke their Chahta language. A kind lady named “Ma Sausmann” raised them, and her Southern cooking became an absolute must for Jimmie for the rest of his life. Jimmie often talked about having to catch live chickens out back and having to chop their heads off but there wasn’t anything better than good ol’ fried chicken, cornbread, okra, and a tall glass of tooth-crackin’ cold sweet tea. Jimmie’s favorite dessert... apricot fried pies.
Jimmie attended Jones Academy in Harshorne, OK, an all boys school at the time, established by the Choctaw Nation. He graduated from Haskell Indian Boarding School, where he met his long time sweetheart Iris Minnie (Quaderer) Johnson, an enrolled member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe located in Hayward, Wisconsin. Jimmie studied to be an electrician at Haskell and was very active in sports where he participated in AAU football, basketball, track and field. He was recognized as a very successful athlete and his records in shot put, javelin are still highlighted in the records of Haskell University even today.
| Photo courtesy of Famous Dave Anderson
James served in the Coast Guard and the Army.
Jimmie served the Coast Guard for three years before enlisting in the Army in 1940 and served until 1945. James was certified as a motor boat operator, served in the Calvary, and served as 50 cal. machine gunner in the South Pacific Theater in New Guinea, receiving the AP Service Ribbon and Bronze Service Star for his bravery in battle. He returned back to the states Christmas Day, December 25, 1945, on a Liberty Ship carrying wounded 5th Air Force airman. Jimmie was very proud to be a veteran of foreign wars and of service to his country.
After the war, Jimmie moved to Chicago with his sweetheart Iris, where they were married October 4, 1947. At this time and no one knows why, Jimmie changed his name to a more formal James. After marrying, James was very determined that his new wife learn how to cook “southern,” so he would drive Iris down South several times a year where Ma Sausmann would teach Iris the finer points of good old-fashioned southern cooking. James also loved barbecue and knew where every black-owned BBQ joint was located. It was his love for old-fashioned, real pit barbeque that gave his son David his direction in life to create Famous Dave’s Legendary Barbeque.
David remembers his dad way back in the 60’s going down to the south side of Chicago to pick up ribs, and every black pitmaster knew Jimmie by name. There wasn’t anything better than getting back home and unwrapping these real pit smoke ribs that were wrapped in old Chicago newspapers. These ribs were smoked over smoldering oak coals and slathered in homemade barbeque sauces. David remembers he must have been around eight years old when he determined that one day he was going to learn how to make those smoky ribs! Looking back over his dad’s life and his love for southern foods and barbeque, he didn’t think his dad would ever comprehend how his passion for real barbeque - and not that namby pamby oven stuff - would touch so many lives around the country today as they flock to his son’s Famous Dave’s restaurants.
While growing up, what impressed young David even more was the fact, several times a year, his Dad would drive all the way down south to buy certain foods and sauces that he couldn’t find anywhere in the North back in the early 50’s. Having the right ingredients like certain corn meals, hot sauces, molasses, and peppers were essential to proper Southern eating. When David started his first restaurant before he became known as Famous Dave, David remembered the intense passion his Dad had for high quality ingredients and how important it was to have the right tasting ingredients for making the best tasting food...especially when it came to making great tasting barbecue! These character traits of great tasting southern-inspired, food and Real Pit Smoked Barbeque have been notably passed down from father to son as Famous Dave has built one of this country’s more recognized family of barbeque restaurants.
James joined the Electrical Workers’ Local 134 of Chicago March of 1948. James was the first minority to become a member of what was basically an all-Irish union at the time. He was very active in his electrical union and served as a union steward. James retired Senior Foreman at the Sears Tower, December 31, 1982, after 35 years. James was proud to be one of the few men that didn’t think twice about crawling up those tall towers at the Hancock Building and at the Sears building. Other major projects included the Arlington Park Racetrack, Merchandise Mart, Old Orchard Mall, and he helped hang the massive chandelier at the Watertower Place. After retiring, James and Iris moved up to the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation on Little Round Lake. James loved going to the Senior Citizen lunches at Reserve with Iris. Even though he was a Choctaw Indian, he was embraced and fondly remembered by his wife’s tribe of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe.
While living in Chicago, James and Iris were helpful in the founding of the American Indian Center in Chicago and were life long supporters. James also served as a Deacon at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago and had many friends in American Indian ministries. James cared deeply for the welfare of Indian people and spent many evenings at the Pacific Garden Missions where he would counsel and work with Indians struggling with alcohol addictions. James and Iris working with Duane and Loretta (brother to Eugene) Begay were instrumental in starting the First American Indian Bible Church in Chicago.
James was a hard-working man who often worked weekends and took on extra jobs to take care of his family. Often to earn extra money, the family had an Indian Food Stand at Indian Pow-Wows that were held throughout the Midwest. It is here that young David learned how to cook from his Mom who made Indian Fry Bread, Wild Rice Soup, and Venison Sandwiches, which they sold to hungry tourists who attended these Indian celebrations and Pow-Wows. David often claims this Indian Food Stand was really his first restaurants... before Famous Dave’s ever got started!
James’ wife Iris went to be with her Lord and Savior May 17, 2011 and he is survived by his loving children David (Kathy) of Round Lake, Phillip of Little Round Lake, Rebecca (Rick) St. Germaine, The Boulevard; grandchildren, James (Colleen) of Edina, Minnesota, Timothy of Minneapolis, Rick and Mark of Lac Courte Oreilles; Loving great grandchildren, Cooper and Miles, nieces, nephews, and many other dear family members.
The funeral service was held on Friday, April 6, 2012, at Signor Assembly of God Church in Couderay, Wisconsin. Rev. Gordon Thayer officiated. Burial was alongside his loving wife Iris at the Whitefish Cemetery.
Casket bearers were grandsons James Anderson, Timothy Anderson, Daniel Grover, Ricky St. Germaine and Mark St. Germaine. Pineview Funeral Service in Hayward, Wisconsin, assisted James’ family with the arrangements.