The history of Magnolia Beverage Co. is the saga of the John family - overflowing with the foam of human laughter and tears, deeply rooted in a tradition that stretches back 69 years.
In particular it is the story of Edna John Davis, who joined her father's beer business in 1936 and has been actively involved in management of the distributorship since 1944.
Mike John, Mrs. Davis' father, immigrated to this country from Lebanon when he was 12-years-old alone. Mrs. Davis doesn't recall why he chose to settle in Meridian.
Although he was still a child, John immediately went into business for himself as a peddler. Using his feet for transportation, he put a pack on his back and walked all over the area and surrounding counties. He'd knock on doors and ask, "Do you need any fabric, shoelaces, thread, socks?" He had no formal education, but he could out-figure me any day in the week" Mrs. Davis said.
When he was 18, John made a trip back to Lebanon to visit his family. He returned with a bride, Carrie Sheehan, Mrs. Davis' mother.
Mike John formed his beer distributorship in 1934 with two trucks and two salesmen. He named it after the official flower of his adopted state and located the business at the corner of St. Andrews Street and Fulton Avenue, directly opposite its present location.
The first shipment of beer John received was part of a carload of Red Top from a Cincinnati brewery. Several local distributors shared the shipment, "which shows how small the demand was here at that time," said Mrs. Davis.
Through the years Magnolia handled a number of brands that no longer are being brewed, such as Spearman and Twenty Grand Ale. The distributorship for Miller Brewing Co. products was acquired in 1951.
As a youngster, Mrs. Davis worked part-time for her father. But as soon as she graduated from Meridian High School, she said, she "headed straight for Newberry's a 5 and 10 cent store. I clerked there for a couple years for $12 a week, which was good pay in those days."
"Then I got married. When Papa got over the shock, he asked me and Erskine (her husband, Erskine Davis) to come into the beer business with him."In 1945 John retired and put the business in his daughter's name. Her brother, Albert, was a sales manager until his death in 1959.
Erskine helped his wife in all phases of the business- even hauling beer from Milwaukee at one time. When he died in 1978, he was vice president of Magnolia Beverage.
In 1968 the company moved to its present site, which now covers almost the entire 2600 block between St. Andrews Street and A Street. The warehouse has been enlarged three times.
In 1970 Miller Brewing Co. became a wholly owned subsidiary of Philip Morris Inc. giving impetus to Miller's rise in popularity.
Magnolia Beverage Co., which always had operated as a family partnership, incorporated in 1977 with Edna John Davis as president.
In 1979 Mrs. Davis' son Michael joined the firm as vice president and manager. He had been employed for 16 years as a engineer by Martin-Marietta Corpoation, an Aerospace company, where he worked on NASA's Viking spacecraft, (Mars project), and the Titan launch vehicle.
During her many years as a "beer lady", Mrs. Davis recalls being stung by a chauvinistic slur only once.
"During World War II, Lauderdale County voted dry, which was quite a blow to us. So we had the train deliver our beer to Hickory because Newton County was wet. Beer was scarce in wartime and cars would line the roads to the train station. Customers were so anxious to get beer, they'd unload the cases themselves.
"But one man came over to me and grumbled in a voice everyone could hear, "Hickory has a woman mayor and now we've got a woman beer distributor.' I decided he meant it jokingly. Anyway, Lauderdale County was declared wet again within a year on a technicality.
Today Mrs. Davis is retired and Michael Davis now is the president of Magnolia Beverage. His son Michael Davis II is now working part time at Magnolia Beverage and attending the University of Southern Mississippi.