I was honored recently when the Sussex Lisbon Area Historical Society had a second grand opening of a local (Sussex, Lisbon and Lannon) history museum at Sussex’s new $14 million village hall/civic center.
There was an original one in my Elmwood Drive basement, and then in 2012, with the help of Roger Johnson and the encouragement of the village of Sussex, and Betty Mindemann, along with Hank Carlson, the Sussex Lisbon Area Historical Society was formed. The abandoned 1910-built former North Western RR local depot was rehabbed into the first society museum. Meanwhile, the scrub backyard was made park like and the lot and building served as the local museum from 2002-16. It was adjacent to the Bug Line Trail and the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.
It was all because I sent a letter to the village of Sussex and the town of Lisbon that, at the age of 70, after a near lifetime of local history collecting, that I would donate it to the village (or possibly town), if they would form a historical society and get some place to display it.
I got an early start collecting as a young boy in the Elm Grove area, and then my father bought Sussex Mills in September 1946, just as I was starting high school (age 14). My father would have me come out to the mill to work on Saturdays. This led me to meeting the farmers, business leaders and politicians and since my father became a Sussex Lions member, I also met what amounted to the male leaders of Sussex/Lisbon and their wives. They were truly a bunch of very interesting people, especially as it was just post-war Sussex, and all the service men and women were returning. I loved to talk to them and ask about their stories.
So, I decided to start a collection of the history of the Sussex area. There were stories that were told to me by old codgers Harcourt Weaver, Alvin Kraetch, John Kraember, and then there were the ladies, Adelaide Weaver Weeks, Nettie Howard, and a dynamo of activity, Isabelle Podolske, among others, and there were also many others.
Meanwhile, I was into world history and a geography student at Marquette High, Marquette University and Carroll College, but the Korean War came along, and I did not complete my studies to become a social studies teacher.
I did serve during the Korean War, but ended up an MP in occupied Germany (four years of German stood me in good shape to work with Deutsche Polizei. I compiled 1350-plus pages in my diary.).
On getting out of service, my father asked me if I wanted a job at Sussex Mills, and I took it, as I was getting married and needed an income.
It was great years at Sussex Mills, as I rose in ownership, to become the principal shareholder, and president of the corporation, but I was always into local basketball (and other sports in a big way). I had been into photography also in a big way since age 18, photo taking and developing.
In 1976, the mill job/ownership was past its prime, and my partner, Gordon Pfiel (old-line Lisbon family), bought me out.
Meanwhile, I was contacted by the Lake Country Reporter newspaper and the about 10-year-old struggling Sussex Sun, by Charlie Delsman and the owner of LCR/Sussex Sun, Jim McCloone, to see if I would be interested in being a part-time sports reporter and photographer.
“Yes I would.”
It was the beginning of January 1976 and in a meeting with the Sussex Sun editor, Phyllis Roth and McCloone, I suggested that the Sussex Sun should have a local history feature with photos and stories of old Sussex, Lisbon and Lannon. McCloone, offhand, asked how long I could go. My answer was “forever.” He came back, “How can you say that?” I said I have maps, pictures, objects and collectibles in my basement, and also particular memories and collectable books (1880 history of Waukesha County and the “1894 Prominent Waukesha Citizens”).
So, I started, writing and illustrating my copy and forever became currently nigh onto 42 years. And a growing collection of directories of old, and modern, artifacts and eventually in excess of 20,000 photos and 200 three-ring binders of local history plus a future collection of all the Sussex Suns in bound books, by the current year today, all in a museum along with the new, local Now.
Meanwhile, I was a 14-year member of the Waukesha County Historical Society, and no less than 150 feature articles appeared in their Landmark Magazine of Waukesha History of Sussex, Lisbon and Lannon.
And then came the day when I started donating to the SLAHS. Everything I had collected, now 15 years later, it is still coming out of my basement shelves and bookcases.