MOUNT CARMEL — A longstanding local pharmacist hung up his white coat for the final time last week.
Phil DeWolf, a northwest Indiana native, has retired from the business after 39 years of serving the community of Mount Carmel.
Many know him from Shopko. Others, perhaps Buehler’s or Denton Rexall Drugs. But regardless of where he has worked, everyone knows him as the smiling face behind their prescriptions.
DeWolf didn’t grow up knowing he wanted to be a pharmacist, but he knew he enjoyed math and science. His mother, a registered nurse, suggested the career to him and the rest is history.
DeWolf received his degree from Butler University — College of Pharmacy in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he graduated in May of 1978.
“I worked in the dispensary at the college and at the time Pam Imbler was in charge,” DeWolf said. “Her dad had an opening down here in Mount Carmel — that’s how I ended up here.”
He interviewed with and began working for Russell Imbler Jr., who owned Denton Rexall Drugs.
“I started working here in Mount Carmel June 12 of 1978,” DeWolf remembered.
Two months later, he married his wife Mary Jo, whom he had met at Butler.
“Butler taught me the science of pharmacy, but Russ taught me the business of pharmacy, the business of true customer service, which I embodied and carried through the rest of my career,” he said.
DeWolf continued to settle into Mount Carmel and worked for Imbler for the next 10 years.
“On Oct. 1, 1988, my wife and I purchased the pharmacy from Russ,” DeWolf said. “We retained the Denton Drugs name just because of its familiarity and I ran it with my wife until Feb. 28 of 1998.”
At that time, Buehler’s had just opened on Ninth Street in Mount Carmel.
“They wanted to have a pharmacy and I agreed to sell my assets to them, move the pharmacy out there and manage the pharmacy on their behalf,” DeWolf said.
He operated Buehler’s Hometown Pharmacy for 15 years before the company decided to get out of the pharmacy business altogether in October of 2013.
“They just shut all of the operations down one day and said they were out of the pharmacy business,” DeWolf said. “So I closed the doors here in Mount Carmel at Buehler’s on Halloween, went across the street to Shopko and spoke with Patti Knox, the store manager.
“I felt Mount Carmel and Wabash County needed a choice in pharmacies, so that’s why I first approached Shopko, to continue to provide that choice for people.”
Then on May 9, 2014, DeWolf opened a local Shopko Pharmacy, where he has spent the remainder of his career.
“My favorite part of operating a pharmacy in Mount Carmel has been serving the grandchildren — sometimes great-grandchildren — of my original customers and patients back in ’78,” he said. “Several generations have passed by me — where I had young kids in ’78, I’m now treating their grandkids.
“I’ve had one young lady that used to come in with her mother at Denton’s — she was probably only 3 or 4 — and she’d always hide behind mom’s legs and wouldn’t say a word to me. Now, she’s an adult married lady and she’s a great conversationalist,” DeWolf laughed.
He had been thinking about retirement for the past several years and finally decided to take the leap to spend more time with family.
For years, managing pharmacies have taken time away from DeWolf’s family life. Mary Jo, who is also retired, has been able to visit family while DeWolf had to be at the pharmacy.
“She has been able to go on trips to visit the grandchildren and I had to stay home and work. One of the biggest deciding factors in my retirement was that I didn’t get to go see the grandchildren with grandma,” he said.
Dewolf plans to spend a lot of time with his four grandchildren, one of which lives in Mount Carmel while the other three live overseas in Germany and Africa, and his children, Jacquelyn, Marie and Phillip.
“We’ve enjoyed our time raising our family here — it is a good place to live,” DeWolf said.
He and Mary Jo said they intend to stay in Mount Carmel, while enjoying overseas trips to visit the family they started here.
“My career could not have been possible without the love and understanding of my wife. She has supported me through this whole 39 year career,” DeWolf said.