Humorous Area Stories

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Humor in Sussex-Lisbon

Maybe the word, humor, is the wrong word. Maybe it should be “something different,” or a whole bunch of other words such as, comedy, jesting, facetiousness, fun, banter, jolliness, amusing, diverting, droll, unusual, odd or even suspicious should be used for a series of things that I have mentally stored away in my 64 years (since I was age 14) when I self appointed myself as the “Historian of Sussex-Lisbon.” Incidentally I became the official by proclamation as the Sussex area historian by a village board decree in 1976, so here they come.


Alvin Kraetsch had a 70-acre farm with his wife, Maude, that he called Ten Oaks Farm. Today it is Sussex on the Main shopping center, the Birchwood Apartment and adjacent Locust, Ivy, Westchester and Grogan subdivision.

He had lost his hand to a corn chopper accident. One day he loaded his pickup truck with field corn and oats and drove to Sussex Mills (about 1947) to have it ground up and mixed into cow feed. His turn came to unload into the mouth of the hammer mill. I noticed that with his steel hook on one hand that he was having trouble manipulating it. I was young, about 15, and I jumped onto his pickup asking if I could assist him. He wiped his brow, handing me the shovel. I quickly removed the contents of the pickup truck into the grinder pit and caught up. Now I had a chance to engage Mr. Kraetsch in a conversation. We talked about the weather, etc., but my curiosity got the better of me as I turned the conversation over to how he had lost his hand and now had a pirate’s hook.

He was quick with an answer.

“Young man that is what happens when you continue to chew your fingernails.”


In October-November 1900, the Town of Lisbon had a gold rush.

A Lisbon farmer, August Nemitz, had a small 20-acre spread north of the intersection of Plainview Road and Maple Avenue.

Inn the summer of 1900 he had a friend out to his place and in walking over the small farm he showed him some shiny quartz stones he had unearthed as he dug some gravel out of a small hill. The friend and Nemitz decided to take it to Milwaukee and an assayer, a Mr. Ruschhaupt. In all the samples were about 60 pounds taken from the small pit. In another story from this period said that the samples came from a well pit that was being constructed. News came back from the assayer that $20.67 worth of gold could be made from each ton of the gravel sample. In addition, 60 cents of silver was also available in each ton of gravel. This was a time when an ounce of gold was priced at $16 and silver was $1 an ounce. It was a rule of thumb that deposits that panned at least $5 per ton were worthwhile developing.

Now the news got out and is even later mentioned in a Hartland 1976 history book about the gold rush over in Lisbon. However it was never panned out and it was later found out that the gold-bearing gravel was a glacial mini transport from the period of 10,000 years ago when Lisbon was under a 1,000 feet of glacial ice. It had probably been picked up in Canada and transported to Lisbon by the glacier.


Then there is the Lisbon landowner on Highway K who took over the family farm just west of Roberta Drive within an eye shot of the spires of Redeemer United Church of Christ. Francis “Sonny” Mehringer acquired the farm from his parents and uncles who had a thing going on for them during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s.

It seems the parental predecessors got into making illegal booze. Their method to hide it from authorities was to tunnel into the raising hill that gave access to the main barn floor. They put the still into this secret tunnel under the hill. Access was through a secret door in a solo room.

A batch would be made and boiled off. Now the smoke stack would follow a line that went through the hay mow with hay above the smoke exit that would catch the moisture. The result would be booze in a container and some smoke and water soaked hay that could be swiftly eaten by cows and new hay put in its place.

More historic humor in Sussex-Lisbon

Last week in Retrospect there was a series of old historic humor of local happenings. It seems that national happenings such as wars and prohibition and the ensuing restrictions and busy body rationing boards brought out the best – or worst – in area farmers.

Special hiding place

Ray Semrow, a long honored Sussex community trustee, past Lions Club president and likable guy had a run-in as a youth with the “feds” as the Semrow-Hart family got into a little booze making to satisfy the need to quench the local thirst during the 1920-32 prohibition era.

The Semrow family lived on what is the back acres of today’s Silver Spring Country Club off Mill Road east of Whiskey Corners. Ray, in his life, frequently told of his youth as a “rum runner” in a jalopy to various spots of need, most frequently mentioning Butler and Marcy runs.

However, his top story was just how the Semrow-Hart family got out of business.

One day Waukesha County Sheriff officer Redford stopped at his friend’s Mill Road farm and incidently let slip that the Semrow-Hart farm was going to be “paid a visit” by the feds the following day, but the sheriff stated that he knew this family was not involved with an illegal still.

Well, the Semrow-Hart family had a clan meeting and the boys dismantled the still and carried it to the cow yard where there was a big manure pile from cleaning out the dairy barn. The boys figured that the feds would search high and low, but never dirty themselves by digging into the manure pile – and the boys were correct.

The following day the feds descended onto the Semrow-Hart farm almost like a modern-day SWAT team. They knew what they were looking for and searched high and low for the evidence, but not low enough. Finally, defeated in their search, they excused themselves for being over-zealous and vacated the farm. The boys didn’t dig out the still for future use as they had a “scare” and they were cured and lived exemplary lives after that.

Sun bathing patrol

Then there is Carl Stolper a longtime Sussex Village Trustee and probably the key man in finally getting the village board to OK the $36,000 purchase of the future Village Park in 1958. Stolper built two rather different houses in Sussex during his life. There is a flat-roofed home on Elmwood Avenue just north of the Elmwood-Old Mill Lane intersection.

Why is it flat-roofed in snowy, rainy Wisconsin? As the late Carl told me the story:

He was an up-and-coming executive at the Mammoth Spring Canning Co. He needed a home for his wife, Janet, and their boys. However he had only a certain amount of money and when the builder-architect came up with a plan, he told him the price must go down. The builder hemmed and hawed and went back to the drawing board trying to figure out how to save money. His solution was to cut off the steeped roof and put in a flat roof with a very slight pitch. And today the new owner has spent a summer rebuilding the almost flat roof.

Another story about Carl Stolper that needs telling is during the time he was an accounting student at UW-Madison just as World War II got cooking. He was inducted into service and had some hard time serving in the Pacific. He was made an officer in a military police battalion in Hawaii. His primary duty was to project the Army, Navy and Marine nurses that had a private section on the Honolulu Waikiki beach.

The picturesque Diamond Head mountain overlooked the scene where the military police office protected the sun-bathing nurses from intrusions by the enlisted men.

It was a tough wartime job, but someone had to do it, and Stolper was the man.

Quad history

The extended Quadracci family started Quad/Graphics in Pewaukee on old Highway 164 then also called Duplainville Road. Father Harry R. and son Harry V. had experience. Son Harry V. Quadracci well-educated at Marquette High, Regis, then law school. Initially he was a lawyer and then legal counsel for the W. Krueger printing company in Pewaukee. So successful there the family decided to make a major new plant in the Sussex area and later decided to make it a corporate office.

The initial move to Sussex was in 1970 when a land mass of the former Art Mamerow farm was purchased. This land mass had in prior times been the Harvey Mamerow farm between Main Street and Silver Spring Drive and before that, the William-Emma Viergust farm. However, the most famous owners of the spread were the extended Buck family, a line of people from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea called “Manx.”

The other thing the Isle of Man is famous for was its tailless cat called the Manx Cat.

Charles Buck Sr. was the original Buck owner, but in turn his son, C.B. Buck became the owner of before the Viergust family. Charles Buck Sr. served as Town of Lisbon chairman in 1878-79 and then his son, C.B. Buck Jr. served as town chairman for a term in 1900-02 and later again in 1903-04.

When the Viergust family got the farm from the Bucks their daughter, Elsie, married Harvey Mamerow and thus it became the Mamerow farm until Quad/Graphics (Harry V. Quadracci) took it over in 1980 acquiring all 67 acres.

There was a protracted hassle against Quad/Graphics coming to Sussex (old Templeton area of east Sussex). The hassle was that Quad/Graphics in its prior printing life had printed some racy publications that a certain faction of the local community wished to never forgive the company for. This faction was led by the very first woman elected to the Sussex Village Board, Gloria Mutchler. This led to a somewhat racy political cartoon in the Sussex Sun at the time, but in the end Harry V. Quadracci had his permits to build in Sussex.

There were a lot of hurdles to go over, lots of measuring, permits and lots of plans. Finally on Oct. 5, 1982 Harry V. and his father Harry R., were on the scene to have the first shovel of dirt dug to build the proposed 180,000-square-foot initial building that was just part of the 750,000-square-foot future expansion. The newspapers were called, signs put up asking the public and interested politicians to be present for the ground-breaking ceremony.

There was an emcee for the event but the program was quickly taken over by Harry V. and he had a prepared, memorized dedication speech that included memories of how far the family and Quad/Graphics family-owned corporation had come since it came to America.

However, Harry V. noted that something was wrong. No one was listening to him. No one was looking at him. He brought his speech to a sudden stop, haranguing the assembled people asking, “Why aren’t you people watching or listening to me?”

The reason they were pointedly not watching or listening was directly behind Harry V. about 150 feet in the distance was a deer running. It first went north, the reversed going south, and then back north. The assemblage was watching the wild deer go back and forth almost like in a carnival shooting gallery. And the attendees continued to be fascinated by the misguided deer.

Historic humor of former Sussex farmer

In my final installment of a series of “Humor in Sussex-Lisbon” I related the story of a true character that once was a frequent visitor to the active Sussex Mills in the 1950s. he would haul in cob corn, oats and what have you to be ground and mixed for his chickens and hog and cattle farm. When he would appear for service, there would be a buzz at the mill as he waited his turn at dumping his load into the mow of the hammer mill and up into the mixers. This customer, Henry F. Lavine (Lawein in German) had the waiting farmers listen to his stories and then tell among themselves old “stories” of prior meetings with this character.

He was raised on Lisbon Road and had a 30-acre farm. He married a farm girl named Martha Kolberg, had three children and by his own admission said he never got out of first grade and couldn’t read or write, but he was clever as heck and no one could cheat him. But he in turn might just get the better half of the deal at times.

At his small farm he had an attached building to his mini barn that had a slaughter and butchering room. It was illegal, but handy for Lavine’s World War II thumbing of his nose at the war rationing Office of Price Administration. The high spot of his butcher room was a “hole” in the floor where he would dump the guts down to the waiting pigs to devour.

The tale is that he had a beautiful white-faced Herford steer on his front side lot. City people would go by and see it and inquire if they could illegally buy it with Lavine butchering it. Sure he could, Lavine would say, just come back next week Friday to pick up the no ration card tickets for your wrapped choice steer. However, Lavine would have an old beat-up cow that he would butcher and wrap. Meanwhile he would haul the choice Herford to a neighbor down the road who would hide it for a month so Lavine could complete the transaction.

Then a month later, Lavine would pull the trick yet again on the next city slicker who came by and saw the beautiful white-faced Herford.

Now Lavine also butchered pigs, chickens and rabbits in his special room. The government (OPA) got wind of his illegal operation and sent agents out to pick him up for interrogation. When they arrived, Lavine was on the far side of the cow yard and they summoned him over saying, “Henry Lavine, we need to take you in for questioning about illegal rationing and butchering problems we’ve heard about.”

Lavine started to come over to the waiting investigators, but on the way had to pass a wallow that was full of “soup” mud, water and pig slop and he “accidentally” fell into it and then to compound the problem, rolled around in it until he was a perfect stinking mess.

At this investigators threw up their hands abandoning any thought of picking him up as the OPA agency car would be an ecological mess if Lavine got to sit in it.

Now on his trips to Sussex Mills one never knew what he would have to grind and mix besides cob corn and oats. Often he would have baskets of old bread, boxes of 5 cent candy that was too old and wormy and even spaghetti. It would all go into the mow of the grinder, paper wrappers and all. A Lisbon proper farmer chided him for not taking the paper wrappers off before he fed the items into the grinder.

Lavine’s quick reply was, “Well when the cows and pigs eat this mix, their gut will separate out the bits of paper and use it to wrap their droppings into paper bags which makes it easier to get rid of.”

The coveralled Lavine always had new stories for the Lisbon farmers each time he visited Sussex Mills. A favorite one was the city slicker who wanted this big buck breeding rabbit Lavine did not want to sell, but he finally figured out a way to make money, please the customer and retain the use of the rabbit.

He got the big barn cat, butchered it, cut off the tail and wrapped it in butcher paper for the customer. He retained the buck rabbit for breeding and no one was the wiser.