In 1995, Marvin Goeke made one of the more difficult decisions of his career and closed Golden Drugs, his small-town pharmacy at the corner of Harlem and Madison. The store was an institution in the community, it opened after all in 1923, and had served generations of families.
But while that wasn’t the end of his career as a hometown pharmacist, today is. After 39 years, today Goeke will fill his final prescription, having spent the past 15 years behind the counter at Forest Park’s CVS Pharmacy.
Goeke, who will be 72 years old Oct. 1, is retiring from the work he’s done since earning his degree as a pharmacist in 1968. “You get used to people,” Goeke said of his customers. “You’re more than their pharmacist, you’re their friend.”
His wife, Patricia, recently stopped punching a time card as an employee for the District 97 elementary schools in Oak Park. She had also worked as a nurse and spent several years managing the books for her husband when he owned the business in Forest Park. With more time together, the couple said they plan to do a little traveling, putter with a miniature model of their Oak Park home and spend time with their grandkids. Goeke also has an old TR6 sports car in his garage that needs some attention.
When Goeke was a senior in high school he had decided that a career in engineering would be a good fit. Meanwhile, he was stocking shelves at a pharmacy in Roseland, on Chicago’s South Side. Customers’ faces became familiar and he appreciated the way people appreciated his boss.
“The more I worked in the pharmacy, I decided to be a pharmacist,” Goeke said of his decision to abandon engineering. “It’s a whole different industry. It’s more personal.”
The connections he saw in that Roseland pharmacy are what inspired him to own his own small store. He managed a pharmacy on the South Side until 1981 when he bought the business in Forest Park. He enjoyed the work and bonding with his customers, but soon found himself up against a changing marketplace. Mail-order druggists and discount retailers cut into his profits.
“There’s no money in it,” Goeke said of his years as a business owner. “I’m working all these hours and making $40,000 a year. Give me a break. A successful pharmacist should be making two to three times that.”
So, in April 1995 he began closing shop. He sold his prescription files to CVS and joined the chain’s Forest Park location. At first, the transition was somewhat difficult and Goeke struggled with corporate regulations and no longer being in charge. But he always he enjoyed his customers, he said.
“Some of them I’ve known 38, 39 years,” Goeke said.
Lisa Walsh is the lead pharmacy technician at CVS and has worked alongside Goeke for more than eight years. Customers remember him, she said, and vice versa. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to call the pharmacy desk and, if Goeke’s not working, wait until they can speak directly with the man they’ve come to trust.
“Everybody loves Marv,” Walsh said. “He’s just so friendly and is a loveable guy.”
Among coworkers, Goeke is known as “Dr. Grandpa.” He also has a penchant for corny jokes, they said.
“We’re all going to miss him to pieces,” Walsh said.