For 36 years, Terri Lucas and her dad Jim Whited owned and operated Jamie’s Soda Fountain, named after Whited’s two grandchildren Jason and Michelle – combining “Ja” from Jason and “Mi” from Michelle. When Whited passed away in December of 2018, Lucas wasn’t sure if she had it in her to keep the business going.
Ultimately, however, it was the community support that prompted her to keep the doors open. She now runs the beloved establishment with the help of Beth Cain (her cousin on her dad’s side), Kylee Pitner (her cousin on her mom’s side), and her husband Jimmy.
Customers come for the old-fashioned, hand-pumped fountain Cokes – especially the marshmallow and vanilla flavors. Sometimes they try other flavors. Lucas is tickled when young kids come in and sample an old-fashioned drink called the Green River, which is made of lime syrup and carbonated water.
“They try it and rave about this new drink,” Lucas says. “I don’t have the heart to burst their bubble and tell them how long the drink has been around.”
People also love the breaded tenderloin, along with the homemade ham salad and egg salad, which Lucas makes fresh daily. What draws customers to Jamie’s Soda Fountain most, however, is Lucas herself, because she not only serves great food and drinks, but also great love and respect. Like her dad, Lucas is devoted to the community, donating her time and money to organizations like We Care and Toys for Tots.
“I like helping any organization that has to do with children,” Lucas says.
Each holiday season, she invites customers to drop off a new, unwrapped toy, and in exchange they get a $5 gift certificate and a free large drink. In December of 2019 the staff filled up five boxes.
Lucas also gives a lot of gift certificates to local organizations for kids, and has helped with the BobKats this year by not charging them for their meals. She also refuses to let a veteran pay for a meal – ever. This includes military, police and first responders.
“I feel that they put their lives on the line,” Lucas says. “Feeding them for free is the least I can do to thank them.”
Sometimes these customers try to refuse the hospitality, but Lucas won’t hear of it. As times got tough for restaurants during the pandemic and Lucas was forced to close the dining room for a stretch of time, customers made sure Lucas knew how much they appreciated her by rallying around her. They regularly ordered takeout. Some loyal patrons frequented the establishment daily. In addition, one of them set up a GoFundMe account to help keep her afloat.
Lucas was touched by their allegiance. She thinks of her customers as family. A handful of them have keys to the building. One of them comes in early in the morning to fill her ice. Two other people always replace the Coke boxes that are too heavy for Lucas, Cain and Pitner to lift. Customers also take out the trash and supply Lucas with their phone numbers.
“They tell me, ‘If you need anything, call us and we’ll be here,’ and they are,” Lucas says.
After his bride of 72 years passed away, a customer named Bernie continued to come to Jamie’s Soda Fountain to be nourished by food, fellowship and free hugs.
“After his wife died, Bernie handed me a Coca-Cola bear that belonged to her,” Lucas says.
“She would want you to have it,” Bernie said at the time.
Lucas put the bear on the dining room shelf so that Bernie can see it whenever he comes in, which is usually three times per week for a meal and a hug.
Lucas has a Christmas tree up year round, which she decorates for different holidays. On the top she keeps the angel her mom gave her.
Lucas not only loves people, but she also has a soft spot for animals. In fact, Jimmy says there is no creature that crosses her path that doesn’t get fed. That may be true – just ask the woodchuck, affectionately named Woody, who has lived beneath their shed for the past four years.
“I throw corn out there for him and he’ll get on the roof of the shed to eat it,” Lucas says. “We have a huge acorn tree in our backyard and when it produces, he eats what the squirrels don’t eat when they crack them open. It works for me. It clears up the yard before I have to mow.”
Though friends have warned her that it’s not a good idea to let a woodchuck enjoy squatter’s rights beneath a wooden shed, she assures them that he doesn’t eat wood.
“Believe me, I’ve researched it,” says Lucas, who also has pets of her own including cats, which she inherited after her mom passed away. “Having pets makes me laugh. I can have a really rotten day and I’ll go home, and they’ll do something funny to get the grumpiness out of me.”
Lucas doesn’t spend much of her time in grumpy mode, and that’s intentional. As she has navigated her way through life, she has learned lessons that took a while to sink in. One of those lessons is to not worry about what you can’t control.
“I say enjoy life because you don’t know how long it will last,” Lucas says. “That lesson really hit home when my grandson Ethan died when he was only three days old.”
Losing her mother seven years ago was also gut-wrenching. She was in a car with her mom when suddenly her mom suffered a massive heart attack. Now, any chance she gets, she encourages kids to regularly tell their parents that they love them.
“I just want people to realize that if your parents are still here, say those words,” Lucas says. “You’ll be glad you did.”
When her father died nearly three years ago, it hit her that his death meant that she represents the oldest generation in the family.
“That’s a strange feeling,” Lucas says. “All I know is that life is precious. Be serious when you have to be, but otherwise have fun.”
Jamie’s Soda Fountain is located at 307 North Main Street in Kokomo. For more information, call 765-459-5552 or visit jamiessodafountain.com.