There were times in Jeff Longstaff’s career he could tell what time of year it was without needing a calendar. His customers did it for him.
“Allergy season and flu season,” he simply replied about what he learned from his customers during his career as a pharmacist that started 43 years ago. But the time came for him to end his work at the end of 2023 as he transitioned his Medicap pharmacy store.
“I just thought it was a good time,” he said about leaving his work. “The technology got over my head,” he laughed. “And insurance companies and product shortages.”
His technology comment shows what has happened since he started work in January 1980 after graduating from Drake’s pharmacy school the month prior. His first job was at the pharmacy in Easters, which is now True Value hardware. Labels for bottles were prepared on typewriters.
“My first upgrade was a typewriter with autocorrect,” he smiled. Receipts and other office information was written on forms and filed.
The Creston native had intentions to return home to work. Made sense because his interest in becoming a pharmacist happened in Creston. His senior year of high school he had a conversation with neighbor Gary Weckerlin who was a Creston pharmacist. Weckerlin told him about the industry.
“It sounded interesting,” Longstaff said. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll be a pharmacist.’” He didn’t have any other major interests at the time.
His college years started at Southwestern, which included playing basketball, and he transferred to Drake. Longstaff said the basic fundamentals for pharmacy work include chemistry, math and he said some biology wouldn’t hurt either. His college education was put on hold for a year because of back surgery.
An advertisement in the newspaper explained the need for a pharmacist in Creston for the Medicap chain of stores.
“I wanted to be my own boss,” he remembered. “I didn’t want to work for anybody else.” He opened the Medicap pharamcy in march 1983. The Creston location was the 34th in the state. Based in Des Moines, Medicap locations were more than 100 before a company buyout changed. With his own business and getting to know his customers even greater, the networking was a benefit.
“Medicap had annual meetings and you go to know others across the state. The Iowa Pharmacy Association also had annual meetings. You got to know others from Mount Ayr, Lenox. We all talked. You became friends even though you were competition.”
Longstaff’s customers were a different environment.
“You do get close to them,” he said. “You tell them about the possible side effects with something and how something may interact with something else they are taking.” He said if a parent was not confident a child would like the taste of something, he suggested how to blend the prescription with something else.
“Mix it with applesauce,” he said as one suggestion. “Mountain Dew really masked the flavor of some drugs, but you are giving them caffeine,” he said about the popular soft drink.
Amoxicillin in a bubble-gum flavor was popular for various child ailments. “It’s still around, but it’s not as good as it used to be,” he said.
Those conversations were two-way streets. Longstaff said there were customers who called him to talk about the side effects.
“It happened all the time,” he said.
Sometimes, the customer phone calls came after hours. Longstaff may have been at a family or a public event and he was located to fill a needed prescription. Longstaff also respected the conversations with doctors after they had seen a patient and ordered a prescription.
“You knew the doctors and you knew everybody,” he said. “I think technology has taken away the personal part of that relationship.” With some typing, prescriptions are electronically sent to the store rather than heard over the phone.
“I got to the point of having the second or third generation of families as customers,” he said. “And I was always blessed with having a good staff and others who worked with me. They were all really good to me. Without good help, you can’t run a good pharmacy.”
Longstaff said retirement will include more time with his two daughters and gr
andchildren who live in Creston.
Alex Pettit takes over the store. He graduated from Drake University in 2017 and has been working at Medicap Pharmacy for seven years. He lives in Afton with his wife and four boys. He and his wife both grew up in Union County and look forward to raising their children here as well. Outside of work Alex enjoys spending time with his family, camping and golfing.