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Joan DeLorenzo, Frosty Boy owner, remembered

MEDFORD — Serving up burgers and locally famous shakes for a half-century, Frosty Boy owner Joan (pronounced Joanne) DeLorenzo is remembered as generous and kind with a legendary work ethic and trademark sass.

DeLorenzo was a familiar presence at the little eatery off Stewart Avenue and King Street in south Medford, serving burgers, fries and malted shakes to generations of locals. Initially purchased by a friend on her behalf, Frosty Boy opened Oct. 10, 1967. Burgers cost 20 cents back then, and the Frosty Boy Special included burger, fries and shake for under a buck.

Known for telling picky customers, “This isn’t Burger King, you can’t have it your way!” DeLorenzo opened before there was a McDonald’s in town and closed only during holidays and due to a broken ankle in 1981.

While menu prices and the valley around her would grow and change, Frosty Boy remained much the same — cash only and bus your own table — with DeLorenzo serving as cook, janitor, waitress and occasional bouncer, save for a handful of employees, kids and grandkids helping out over the years.

Interviewed for Frosty Boy’s 30th anniversary in 1997, DeLorenzo was serving 200 burgers per day — an estimated 1.5 million after three decades. When she closed shop in August, it was cancer — and not a global pandemic or struggling economy — that closed her doors.

The octogenarian, who never drove a car and could still remember a long list of orders without writing them down, passed away June 3.

Born Barbara Joan Wilkerson on Aug. 23, 1935, DeLorenzo was born in Indiana to parents Fremont Wilkerson and Hazel Russell. After losing her mom at a young age, DeLorenzo and siblings were raised by various relatives. Moving to Washington in the 1950s with first husband, Lester Merriman, the family made their way to Oregon in 1961.

“It wasn’t an easy life when she was younger, so she was a really tough lady,” said DeLorenzo’s daughter Cathy Vaughn. DeLorenzo would outlive two husbands and two of her children — daughter Judy Michael and son Larry Merriman — while amassing a community of family who walked, biked and drove to Frosty Boy over 53 years.

“She was a hard worker and she always worked. She was never a stay-at-home mom. That wasn’t her. Even her last day at Frosty Boy was right after her birthday, and she was only closing because she got sick. I think, even then, she figured she’d open back up,” said Vaughn.

“When she found out she had cancer, she had surgery and they took a tumor out, but she opted not to do treatment because the reality was she was so frail. … She did really well until the last two weeks. She went downhill really quick at the end, but she still stayed home in her own bed — no hospital bed — completely on her own terms.”

Those who recalled favorite stories of DeLorenzo this week said “on her own terms” was the way she ran Frosty Boy.

“She told me she had the second-oldest food serving permit in Jackson County. The only one that was older was Omar’s in Ashland,” said longtime friend Bill Leavins.

“She’d always tease that she wasn’t going to renew her permit and that it was time to retire. She’d get to the end of the year and she’d always say, ‘Oh, I went ahead and renewed my permit again.’ What was cool about her was she was just a genuine person and she didn’t really take any nonsense. If people went in there, like high-schoolers being too loud or disrespectful, she’d tell them to leave and not come back.”

Leavins said his father and brothers, who ran Whitelaw Candy Company, sold Coke supplies to DeLorenzo for over 50 years, adding, “She was very loyal to Coke. I’d go in and say, ‘Joan, I’d like a Pepsi,’ and she’d say, ‘Ew! We don’t serve Pepsi here. We serve Coke!’ She was a joy to be around.”

Medford resident and longtime friend David Dyer said he looked forward to ensuring his friend had rides for work, errands and shoe shopping at her favorite Fred Meyer.

“I’d pick her up and take her shopping and take her home from work for the past nine years. She was the kindest person and she had the best memory, even in her 80s,” Dyer said.

“She’d have three or four batches of customers give their orders, and somebody would say, ‘Aren’t you gonna write down our order?’ But she didn’t need to. She had customers come in who she’d know know what they always ordered without them telling her. She was really something.”

Medford resident Wendell Smith said a burger and shake at Frosty Boy was akin to lunch with a favorite grandmother.

“My mom first took me there when I was 11 or 12, so I’d been going there over 50 years. Joan was very dear to my heart. We all went when we were kids and then we took our own kids there because Joan made the best shakes in town,” Smith said.

“She was a sweet person who just really cared about people, but she demanded respect. If you got out of line, you’d be asked to leave. And you cleaned your table when you got done, because if you didn’t she’d let you know about it.”

Dane Smith, owner of Mr. Smith’s Sports Bar and Grill since he opened it in 1971, shared five decades of friendship with DeLorenzo.

“I would cook at Mr. Smith’s and then, after the lunch hour, I’d take the Mail Tribune and go to Frosty Boy for lunch. We were great friends. I like fry sauce with my fries, and she didn’t like doing that for most people, so I think I was the only customer to get fry sauce,” he said.

“And then she loved to come to Mr. Smith’s on Friday nights with her daughter. They had their spot in the middle booth they always sat. She liked to seem like she was pretty ornery — and she didnt put up with much so you’d better behave — but she was really a sweetheart.”

Granddaughter Angie Anstett said her grandmother and Frosty Boy were a part of the fabric of Medford. Not one for fuss, her grandmother didn’t want a memorial or an obituary and declined publicity after closing Frosty Boy, Anstett said.

“She could be ornery and she didn’t like a lot of fuss, but I wish she knew how much the community loved her and how much they loved Frosty Boy,” Anstett said.

“She was always for the underdog — that was her heart. As feisty as she could be, she had this compassion for people who were down on their luck or struggled a little bit more. I think she loved some people a little harder than others because she knew they needed it.”

Anstett added, “She had a hard life, but she didn’t complain. She worked six days a week even at almost 85 years old. I think it was all she knew. I think she felt a sense of commitment because Frosty Boy was such a big part of the community for so long. ... And so many people really did love her.”

In lieu of flowers, family members asked for donations to the American Cancer Society or the Southern Oregon Humane Society.

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.