Business acumen

Former businessman Muster
has long history in area

Many remember Muster’s Fruit Market
or even worked for him

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (September 2004) – Don Muster’s home sits on the top of a hill about six miles north of Hanover in Lexington, Ind. Nearby are a barn, silo and field, where Bandit, Muster’s 24-year-old horse, grazes peacefully.

Don Muster

Photo by Ruth Wright

Don Muster poses
with his horse, “Bandit,”
at his farm.

Many who have lived in Madison for some time might recognize Muster’s name. His produce business, Muster’s Fruit Market, was a staple here for nearly three decades.
Muster, 85, was born in Dupont, Ind., where he lived until 1937 when his family moved to Madison. His father, Hugh Muster, was an astute entrepreneur. After operating a general store in Dupont for several years, he parlayed his knowledge of livestock trade into a full-fledged auction business.
In 1935 he opened a sale barn in downtown Madison where now sits the American Legion. Auctions were held every Saturday, and hundreds came to buy and sell livestock, their vehicles lining Jefferson Street until there was hardly a parking space left in sight, Don Muster recalled. “Madison, in those days, was a farming town,” he said.
During the ’40s and ’50s Hugh Muster grew his business to include two additional barns in Vincennes, Ind., and Christmas, Fla. He eventually moved his Madison auction to the west end of town in a building near the former Madison Country Club.
In addition to learning from his father all about livestock and trading, Don Muster was also at heart an entrepreneur. In 1946, he opened, with younger brother, Tunis, Muster Bros. Fruits and Vegetables. The first store was located on Second Street across from what is now JayC Food Store. Tunis Muster eventually quit the business, leaving his older brother to build a name that was soon well-respected in the area.
Muster moved his fruit and produce market a couple of times but always stayed on Jefferson Street. Family members, including sister, Francis, often helped out. Muster also hired young people from the community to work in his store.
J. D. “Skeeter” Long of Milton, Ky., recalled working for Muster when he was 18 years old, unloading seed potatoes, which Muster bought by the train car load, and taking care of the store. “At the end of the week, if we had a good week, he would always give us a bonus,” said Long, who worked for Muster for a little more than a year. “He was an extraordinary guy.”
Trimble County native Dave Burkhardt also worked for Muster, beginning in 1959 after he returned home from the U.S. Army. “He expected stuff done, and it got done,” recalled Burkhardt, who worked nine years for Muster. “I learned to be particular with everything that’s done and to get the best to sell to customers,” Burkhardt said.
Madison’s Mary Jane Hillard, who went to work for Muster in 1969, said Muster and wife, Joan, were like a second family to her. “Don and his wife both were wonderful to work for,” Hillard said. “He’s a wonderful man, and she was a wonderful woman.”
Hillard has worked off and on for Muster for the past 35 years and still does his bookkeeping.

Don & Joan Muster

Photo provided

Don and the late Joan Muster are
pictured in this 1946 photo in front of
Muster Bros. Fruit Market in Madison.

In the early days of his market, before he had a fleet of young people at his command, it was feast or famine, Muster recalled. When his produce truck needed a new bed and money was short, he was forced to sell at auction his favorite riding horse, a mare named Jodie. A picture of the animal now hangs Muster’s dining room.
Horses have always been a big part of Muster’s life. Beginning in 1939, before the Regatta became Madison’s trademark event, Hugh Muster’s rodeo brought people to town. Bronco and bull riding and horse, pony and mule races attracted them in droves to the Muster family farm, where Don Muster helped his father run the show. After setting up for the rodeo, he ran the ticket counter, announced the events and even participated in a few.
“Talk about being Jack of all trades,” Muster said, “I had to move in those days.”
A stubborn horse which, according to Muster, did not enjoy running circles around the 1/2-mile race track, put a painful stop to his horse racing adventures. While he was riding it in a race, the animal to decided to head for the gate, where it came to an abrupt stop, throwing Muster several feet into the air and beyond the gate. Muster landed hard, painfully sustaining a compound fracture in one of his legs. “It took me a year to get over it,” said Muster, adding that the leg hasn’t been the same since. After that, Muster rode only for pleasure.
In 1944, while at a horse show in Scottsburg, Muster met Joan Fry of Iowa City, Iowa. The couple married a year later.
In 1968 Muster earned his real estate license, but it wasn’t until after the tornado of 1974 that his new business venture began to boom. “I didn’t have to hunt (business), it hunted me,” Muster said. He remained active in real estate until the mid-1980s.
In addition to selling produce and real estate, Muster concurrently purchased, remodeled and leased seven farms, each with a herd of cattle. Muster sold his last herd in 1994.
Although semi-retired, Muster remains busy with his real estate holdings. He still sells land, although now just his own.
In the early 1990s when Joan Muster became ill, Don Muster devoted most of his time to caring for her until her death in 2001.
“I think that is remarkable in itself,” said Muster’s friend and home health aid, Marilyn Hunt of Madison. “He took care of her for over seven years. He was very devoted. He doesn’t give himself enough credit.”
Muster speaks fondly of his late wife, who he said was a great help in his businesses. “Everybody liked Joan,” he recalled. “She was better (with people) than I was, really. If you couldn’t get along with her, you needed to go look in a mirror.”
As he looked at his extensive collection of framed photographs of friends and family, many of whom have passed away, Muster pondered his future optimistically. “I guess I’ll be around for a while,” he said.

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