Esther McMurray IS the Dairy Queen

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The Northeast's Esther Saladino McMurray will be honored on Wednesday

If you've traveled east on Independence Avenue recently, you may have seen the sign, above, on the side of the Avenue's venerable Mayfair Cleaners. And you might have wondered: Why is Mayor Funkhauser celebrating Dairy Queen?

Well, it's not just any Dairy Queen, but the city's oldest Dairy Queen -- my favorite one, in fact, at 2535 Independence Avenue -- which opened on July 4, 1952. No, this wasn't the first Dairy Queen to open in Kansas City, it was actually the fifth. Yet the first four have been torn down over the years, giving this particular venue a special importance.

But it isn't the Dairy Queen that the mayor and the northeast community are honoring on Wednesday, from 5 to 7 p.m. It's the lovely lady behind the counter: Esther Saladino McMurray. Esther and her husband John celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on September 12; this month also marks the 43rd anniversary of Esther working behind the counter: Esther was the store's first employee in 1964 and bought the DQ from its original owners 16 years later. She and John have run it ever since, mostly by themselves: the bullet-proof glass window is a more recent addition: "The neighborhood is on the upswing," Esther told me back in 2001, when the glass and metal screens were installed, "but you still have to have security."

Esther turned 75 this year, John turned 80. "But age is just a number," Esther said today. "If the Lord provides you with good health, age has nothing to do with it. That's what I tell people when they ask if John and I will ever retire. As long as the Lord gives us the energy to get up every day and open the store, we're going to do it."

And maybe eating an occasional classic DQ treat helps too. After all, the McMurrays continue to sell a lot of DQ items that other Dairy Queen stores dropped years ago, like Crunch Cones and Banana Supremes. They refused to give up on those treats and, damn it, so have I. I'll be there on Wednesday to honor Esther's four decades of queendom ... and to eat a Crunch Cone.

 

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