An old, local photo taken 66 years ago turned up recently from my friend John Schoenkecht, a Waukesha historian, showing an event pertaining to Sussex.

The photo was taken July 26, 1951 at the Sussex airfield where Quad Graphics and Quad Tech stand today.

The title of the photo is “distributing leaflets,” and shows a young man handling a box of printed announcements of the upcoming Sussex downtown picnic that would raise funds for the Sussex VFW Club (started in 1946) for World War II veterans and the Sussex Volunteer Fire Company (started in May 1922).

The event, raising money for the two community-oriented groups, was a sort of annual affair during the 1940s and 1950s.

The event was held on Main Street, which was blocked off from Orchard Drive to Outer Circle Drive. There was also an annual baseball component of the event, as the Sussex Land O’ Lakes baseball team would be at the Sussex Main Street School playground for a scheduled league game.

The event was a long weekend, from mid-day Friday to late Sunday. Sussex Lions Daze would not come around until the summer of 1967 in the newly opened Sussex Village Park.

This 1951 event had a home talent contest, large meals served in the 1937-built Sussex Community Hall, carnival rides, gaming tents, indoor dancing in the Community Hall, raffles, beer and lots of carny food delights such as hot dogs, hamburgers and cotton candy. The biggest hits were fish fry Fridays and chicken dinner Saturdays.

At various times, the Sussex Lions Club, the Sussex Athletic Club and the adjacent Sussex Masonic Lodge would get in on the fun and events.

The featured photo of the event 66 years ago shows WWII soldier Al Zillmer in the pilot seat, according to the caption.

Zillmer was from a large Lisbon family that had a farm on Maple Avenue. His father was the distinguished William “Bill” Zillmer.

Today his farm would stretch from Clover Drive at Maple Avenue and east a half mile — 80 miles in all.

Al (Almond) W. Zillmer prior to the war had started a fresh-from-the-farm milk business. When he left for the service, his sisters took over, but by the war’s end, the business disappeared — all but for the embossed glass bottles which are highly sought-after as collector's items today.

Zillmer’s father served as Lisbon town chairman from 1924-55, and also spent those years on the Waukesha County Board (one year also as chairman of county board).

Upon coming back from the war, Al worked for the Mammoth Spring Canning Co. and was the “fair-haired one” to become a big executive in the future. In 1954, he grabbed the plum of a new business venture by the canning company, canning Kewpie soda. It was a disaster before its time, and the canning company sold it and Zillmer left the company and started a very successful Menomonee Falls company.

Years later, in 1972, he became an outstanding member of the Sussex Lions Club while living in eastern Lisbon in Wooded Hills.

In the featured photo, the young man handing pilot Al the leaflets is George W. Kraemer, son of John Kraemer — the owner of Mammoth Spring Canning, the founder of the Sussex Fire Company in 1922, signer of petition (with 16 men) for the incorporation of Sussex as a village in 1924, a member of the village board for more than 30 years, school director, co-founder and president of the Sussex Lions Club and the man behind the large park system in Sussex.

George marched to a different drummer. He graduated from Sussex High School in 1944 and was a great basketball and baseball player. He went on to Waukesha High School, graduating in 1946, just in time to be drafted into the U.S. Army during the occupation of Japan. He also was in Korea before the Korean War started.

His discharge came in 1948, and he played on the Land O’ Lakes baseball team that year, with league championships as a pitcher and second baseman.

In basketball, with the Sussex Land O’ Lakes team, he was third in league scoring for the 1950 grand championship team that also won three tournaments.

Married to Nancy Stier, he left the canning business because of family health issues headed for Arizona and the trucking business. But breathing problems because of the Arizona cotton dust led him back to the Midwest. He lived in West Bend once back in Wisconsin, then Columbus and West Bend at the end.

In 1994 he was entered into the Sussex Baseball Hall of Fame for two reasons — his all-around sports accomplishments in basketball and baseball and championship Army fast-pitch softball in Japan.

As a historian, I have to wonder if anyone ever saved one of those airdropped 1951 Sussex picnic notices.

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