'He was top-notch': Geneseo remembers Don Klavohn

Lisa Depies
Don Klavohn pauses in the showroom of Klavohn Furniture Store in this 1988 picture. The longtime Geneseo businessman and community supporter died 
Monday, Nov. 26.

When a death in the family left one Geneseo woman in need of a twin mattress and box spring for a house guest visiting for the funeral, Klavohn Furniture Store owner Don Klavohn didn’t hesitate to help.

“Our delivery book was full, but that didn’t stop Don. He and I made the delivery on our lunch break,” remembers Joanne Newton, who worked at the store for 25 years. “He was incredible. For him, the customer always came first. His passion was for Geneseo and the people of Geneseo.”

Klavohn, a longtime Geneseo business owner and civic leader, died Monday, Nov. 26 at age 95.

A native of Geneseo, Klavohn entered the furniture business in 1942 at age 19 when he was put in charge of the furniture department at Wagle Appliance.

He became the sole owner of a furniture business in 1946 and remained a downtown Geneseo fixture for 56 years.

Klavohn once told the Geneseo Republic he operated by a set of rules, “Number one, be honest; number two, work long hours and everything seems to turn out all right.”

“He was an anchor in the community,” said interim Geneseo Chamber of Commerce director Dawn Tubbs.

Klavohn Furniture Store was located on the corner of State and Second streets (today the building houses Geneseo Home Furnishings).

“His shop was a cornerstone of the community,” said Tubbs.

“Don’s passion was all about Geneseo,” said George Kutsunis, a fellow downtown businessman and friend and contemporary of Klavohn’s.

“He loved Geneseo and the business he was in. He was very dedicated and very customer oriented,” said Kutsunis.

“He was top-notch,” said Newton. “He was the kindest, gentlest, most compassionate man. His workers were part of his family. Those who worked for him, stayed with him.”

When Newton’s youngest son was in college and had the chance to play football in a college pro game in Minnesota, she remembers Klavohn offered his car — a Cadillac — for Newton and her husband to drive. “He also had pop and candy for us,” she remembers.

“He was a total gentleman and an incredible businessman. I’ve never met anybody else like him,” said Newton.

In a 1982 interview with the Republic, Klavohn said he had a “passion for furniture.”

“Furniture styles change rather slowly, but there’s a never-ending changing cycle. Every five years, there’s sort of an evolution of color changes. We can ask people the color of their furniture and know how old it is in many cases,” he remarked.

In Geneseo, furniture and Klavohn went hand-in-hand.

“Even today, people in the grocery store will say, ‘You sold me my mattress or you sold me my dining room set,’” said Newton.

His furniture can “absolutely” still be found

in numerous Geneseo homes, “including mine,” said Kutsunis.

“He was a very level-headed person,” said Bill Schoop, who spent 45 years working at Klavohn Furniture. “What he sold was quality at a reasonable price, and then we stood behind it.”

“He would do anything to encourage people to come into Geneseo,” said Newton.

In the 1960s, Klavohn was part of a group of Geneseo businessmen who worked together to create the off-street parking located behind the downtown shops.

“We decided if we were going to survive as a downtown, we needed to accommodate with off-street parking,” said Kutsunis.

The land behind the downtown stores were occupied by homes and buildings. Systematically, the group worked to purchase and demolish those structures to make way for parking.

“I think it really saved our town. Had it not been for the off-street parking, I don’t think we’d have the businesses we do. I think our town looks better now than it ever has,” said Kutsunis.

He said Klavohn was “very proud” of what had been accomplished in the downtown area.

“He was always working on something,” remembers Schoop. “He was very conscious of what was going on (in Geneseo) and what was probably going to happen.”

“He helped set the stage for the successful business community we have,” said Tubbs.

In 1997, Klavohn’s efforts were recognized as he was named the Geneseo Chamber of Commerce’s “Business Person of the Year.”

“It’s an honor that shows you’ve not just had success in business, but have also shown leadership qualities,” said Tubbs.

“He always went above and beyond. That’s just who he was. He was one-of-a-kind,” said Newton.

“After he retired, we’d have lunch together and talk about the old days. We always had a good time,” said Kutsunis. “He was a great guy, and I’ll miss him.”