Siebert’s: Love, family, community and legacy

Sourced from Dubois County Free Press

It’s hard for Jim Siebert to talk about the stack of letters and cards he received without tearing up.

Soon after returning home from his six weeks in the hospital, with a nudge from his wife Jane, he sat down to read them.

“Two hours later I came into the kitchen with tears in my eyes, and Jane asked me if something was wrong,” Jim said. “I told her to read those letters and see if she had a dry eye.”

It was a devastating fall for the couple on a day that was already tragic. Jane’s sister Kathy Jahn had passed away, and they had been at the funeral home most of the day. That evening, some of the family had decided to go to Snaps for a bite to eat.

For the record, Jim had only had a single drink when he got up to use the restroom. “I remember I felt for the light switch, didn’t find it,” Jim explained. “So, I grabbed for the railing, didn’t find that. I took a step, and that’s the last thing I remember for six weeks really.”

Jane and her daughter Rachel were close to the door and heard him fall. When they opened the door, Jim was against the wall unconscious.

He was taken to Memorial Hospital where they insisted he get to a neurosurgeon. The decision was made to transfer him to St. Mary’s by helicopter.

“The bad thing about the whole thing was that I missed my helicopter ride,” Jim joked.

“And they cut your good sport coat up,” Jane added.

“Yeah, after I got out, I found a bag with my pants and my coat in it,” Jim said. “They were in pieces.”

Joking aside, the two weeks that Jim lay in the bed in the coma were nerve-wracking for Jane. Her sister’s death had come about after her husband had to make the decision to remove her from life support.

Each day, Jane wondered if the next doctor coming in the room would tell her she would be facing the same decision.

But they didn’t.

As the sole owners of Siebert’s, the 95-year-old clothing store on Jasper’s Square, Jim and Jane’s absence had an immediate impact on its operations.

Testament to the family ties that bind us together, Jim’s brothers John and Mike immediately volunteered to help. Former employees came in to work and helped fill in the gaps left by Jim, Jane and their daughter Rachel being absent. The business community offered help as well.

“That’s what’s so cool about the businesses downtown,” Jane explained. “He was in the hospital six weeks. Those guys brought food in. They brought in gift certificates for our employees. They were watching over and helping our help.”

Jim’s doctors marveled at his recovery after the traumatic fall, but for him, the recovery is overshadowed by the people that came forward to help with the store as he was in the hospital with Jane by his side.

“Our community is extra special that way.” Jim said referring to the letters and help. “They made me feel special. So much so that I wondered, ‘how do I deserve all those kind words.’”

Maybe it’s because of Jim and Jane’s dedication to continuing the legacy of the Siebert name in the business and community.

“We don’t just sell, we try to assist,” Jim explained noting that they are there for their customers’ happiest moments as well as their saddest moments. “I feel that my grandfather Wilbur and my dad are still proud of the way we do things because we do it the same way they always did. We haven’t changed. We go overboard.”

It’s how they create customers for life as well as make an impression on the community and local business environment. It’s because of the little things they do like the free hemming and gift wrapping as well as the personal touch with each person who walks through the door that brings people back for advice on a new tie or shirt or to just say hi.

The respect, kindness and attention to detail are also what brings customers back to Jasper from Chicago, Cincinnati and Manhattan.

Jane and Jim have upheld that legacy for 43 years. Over those years, the relationships that have been built have even given the Sieberts insight into their customers’ preferences. It’s not uncommon for them to order in a certain shirt because it might be something a particular customer would prefer. “It doesn’t always work out though,” Jim laughed.

The store turned 95 this year. Jim’s grandfather Wilbur and great-uncle Clifford Siebert opened The Modern-Clothes for Dad and Lad in March of 1922.

Wilbur bought it from Clifford a few years later and continued building the business bringing his son Bob on in 1950 after he graduated from IU. When Wilbur passed away in 1956, Bob took over as a partner with his mother, Bernadine.

Bob and Josie lived upstairs and Jim grew up in the store. He began helping out cleaning windows and vacuuming the floors when he was about seven years old.

By the time Jim had reached high school, he had noticed Jane. Jane’s dad Joe Rowekamp, a longtime coach and teacher, knew Jim and the Siebert family. Fortunately for Jim, Joe and his wife Betty gave their daughter some dating advice.

“They said, ‘why don’t you date someone nice like Jim Siebert,’” Jane explained.

“One night, Jim brought me home so I walked up to dad and said ‘guess who brought me home?’” she added snarkily.

It worked out. The two began dating their junior year. After graduation, the couple was split by distance; Jane headed to Indiana State while Jim continued the family legacy of attending IU. When he graduated in 1974, they got married.

At the time, Jim had two jobs lined up in Atlanta with competing department stores, Davison’s and Rich’s, but Jane, who was working at The Modern, wanted to stay in Jasper. Jim’s dad also talked to him about joining the family business, so Jim decided to honor Jane’s wishes and take his dad’s advice to return home.

Jim was later joined by his brother John at the store and the two co-owned it for awhile until John decided it best for him to pursue other passions. So Jim and Jane purchased the business in the early 80s. It has remained in their name since.

It was also around that time that the multiplicity of the business began making marketing difficult. There was the young children’s store called Jack & Jill, the clothing store operated as The Modern and sold young menswear as The Squire Shop and then there was women’s fashion under Siebert’s. So they decided to consolidate everything under one name, Siebert’s.

It was appropriate since anyone coming into the store was met by one of the members of the family. Jim’s dad always insisted that since the Siebert name was part of the store, a Siebert should always be available for the customers.

These days, you’ll almost always find Jim and Jane or one of the two of their children, Ben and Rachel, or Jim’s brother Mike working the floor at the business.

Clothing styles change, the store has changed and adapted, but the customer service has remained the same.

The suit and tux business remain the backbone of the company but Siebert’s features casual and sportswear brands that may surprise a few customers coming to the small rural city. They pride themselves in having a broad selection of mother’s gowns and also feature prom dresses. There are shoes and accessories as well.

And you’ll alway find a Siebert when you walk in the door. For the hardworking family, it’s hard to stay away from the legacy business.

Even with the fall and Jim’s recuperation, he couldn’t sit still long once he was released from the hospital. It took Jane about three days to realize she wouldn’t be able to keep him out of the store. It was after returning home from work and finding him roaming the countryside searching for his two escaped beagles that she realized the futility of her efforts to keep him sedentary.

Jim came back to work.

It hasn’t been easy, and they have some added perspective brought on by the fall. Jim and Jane want to cut down on the 60-, 70- and 80-hour work weeks but Jim has a goal of still being at the helm when the store turns 100 in five years. His best friend will be there as well.

They’ll be 70.