Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, March 1, 1998, pg. 6

If Albion ever had an "official" soft drink, it would have to be Pepsi Cola, for two Pepsi corporation presidents had Albion ties.

One family which left a legacy in Albion was the Steele family, well known in Methodist circles during the 19th century. Rev. Newland M. Steele served as a minister at the local Methodist Episcopal Church during the 1860s. His father, the Rev. Salmon Steele was one of the original Methodist ministers in this part of the country.

Edgar Steele (1867-1936) (a son of Newland) was born in the Methodist parsonage here in Albion and was an 1898 graduate of Albion College. During his college days he worked as a clerk at the Howard & Burnett grocery in downtown Albion. Edgar served as a secretary for the international YMCA for 25 years, including in the Panama Canal Zone. Edgar also taught college in Nashville, Tennessee, and in Abdingdon, Illinois. His wife Fannie Bartram (1874-1935) was also an 1898 Albion College graduate, and was active in women's clubs during her lifetime. The couple returned to Albion during their retirement years, residing in the family home at 1207 Jackson Street. Both are buried just east of the small Buehler family mausoleum in the southern portion of Riverside Cemetery.

Edgar and Fannie's son Alfred N. Steele (1901-1959) was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but lived here in Albion as a boy with hismother while his father was overseas. Alfred graduated from Northwestern University in 1923. In subsequent years, he established himself as a rising, talented businessman. He was employed by the Chicago Tribune, the Standard Oil Company, and the Columbia Broadcasting Company. In 1949 he was hired by the Pepsi-Cola Company as a first vice-president, and built that firm into a multi-million dollar concern. He became its president in 1951, and CEO and Chairman in 1955.

Steele is best remembered locally however as being the fourth husband of movie-star actress Joan Crawford (1904-1977). Her real name was Lucille LeSuer. The couple eloped on May 10, 1955 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alfred Steele died in his sleep in his New York home at the age of 57 on April 19, 1959. In addition to his wife, he was survived by a son and daughter by a previous marriage. Joan took over many of Alfred's Pepsi responsbilities after his death.

Joan Crawford was a featured "Founders Day" speaker at Starr Commonwealth on Sunday, October 4, 1970 along with Olympic track star Jesse Owens. There she paid tribute to Floyd Starr, and gave a dramatic reading. She ended her portion of the program by giving Floyd Starr a kiss on the face.

Albion's other "Pepsi connection" is through that company's president during the 1970s, James Bentley Somerall (1918-1975). A career Pepsi person, Somerall became executive vice-president of the firm in 1965, and then was promoted to president and chairman of the board before leaving the firm in 1973. Somerall's wife was Dorothy Jane Fiss, an Albion native and 1932 graduate of Washington Gardner High School. Somerall visited Albion on numerous occasions including during Crawford's 1970 Starr visit, staying at the home of his mother-in-law, Mimi Fiss (1882-1980) at 305 Irwin Avenue. Somerall's daughter, Candace, served as a trustee at Starr Commonwealth and was the goddaughter of Floyd Starr. She is pictured on page 257 of the book, "Faith Made Visible."

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the Steele family monument in Riverside Cemetery and in this internet version a photograph of Mr. Alfred N. Steele. Pepsi, anyone?

Steele family monument.

Alfred N. Steele 1901-1959


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