Denfeld News

Dec. 1, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

The passing of the Pasek era
By Peter Passi

After more than a half-century behind a pharmacy counter in Duluth, Don Pasek finally has called it quits. The 81-year-old founder of Pasek Pharmacy worked his final shift last week.

The pharmacy world has changed greatly since Pasek entered the business in 1953. He recalls that at the time Duluth was home to 33 independent pharmacies. Now, Pasek puts that number at just four.

Although Pasek has retired, Pasek Pharmacy will continue to operate under the ownership of Charley Korsch, who bought the business in 1998. Despite the change of ownership, Pasek has continued to work as a pharmacist at the drugstore for the past decade.

The pharmacy has retained the Pasek name, but as of today, it has moved from 116 W. First St. to 113 N. Second Ave. W., less than a block away from its original location.

Korsch says there's still great value in the Pasek name.

"To realize that Pasek is the last surviving corner drugstore in downtown Duluth really is amazing," he said, adding that the pharmacy's longevity is a testament to Don's hard work.

"In order to survive in this business, you have to find a niche and do what you do better than anyone else," he said.

Pasek logged some mean hours to build his business.

"It wasn't unusual to work from 9 a.m. to midnight, 15 to 17 hours per day," he said.

Don's wife, Judy Pasek, said she never knew her husband to grouse about work, however. She described his decision to retire as tough.

"Don's been working at the pharmacy for forever and a day. It's who he is," she said. "That's why it's so hard to leave. It breaks my heart."

Judy Pasek worked alongside her husband as a pharmacy technician until last week. The two met on the job.

Don Pasek, a 1945 graduate of Denfeld High School, served a few years as an Army infantryman and then attended Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where he earned a pharmacy degree with the aid of the GI Bill.

He returned to Duluth and landed his first job as a pharmacist at Paul's Reliable Drug in 1953. Judy, who is several years his junior, initially came to work at the business as a bookkeeper. In 1964, Pasek purchased the drugstore from Paul Winer and renamed it Pasek Pharmacy.

Pasek's name is nearly as synonymous with music as it is with service.

A great fan of polka music, particularly the snappy Slovenian variety, Pasek has sponsored local polka broadcasts for years. He also sold polka music out of his drugstore.

"To my knowledge, he operated the only retail polka outlet between the Iron Range and the Twin Cities," said Pat Cadigan, a KDAL radio personality and well-known polka show host. He noted that Pasek was a great polka promoter, supplying recordings to local radio stations, as well.

"Some of the band leaders would go to Don for advice about what types of music would sell. That's how respected he was," Cadigan said.

Pasek is a musician, as well. A member of the Pasek Bros. Band, he began playing accordion professionally at age 15.

"Our father had to accompany us to nightclubs, because we were too young to be in there alone," Pasek recalled.

In 1998, Pasek earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Iron World Polka Hall of Fame.

Now that he's retired, Pasek expects he'll dedicate more time to enjoy his extensive collection of polka music.

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