WILLIAMS BAY — My Williams Bay history began in 1936 when Olaf and Hilma Bie came to the village with their son Willy and daughter Dorothy.
Grandpa was the custodian at Olivet Presbyterian Church on Vedder Street in the area of Chicago known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” When Reverend Barr and the board offered grandpa the job of caretaker at Olivet Camp, he and Grandma jumped at the chance to get out of the city.
Their first home was at the camp until they were able to rent the farmhouse owned by Joseph Stam. The old Stam farm was just west of the George Williams golf course. The farm was outside of the Williams Bay School District, so my dad and aunt attended the one-room Bay Hill School (next to the Lighthouse Church) just down the road. Dad was in eighth grade, and Dorothy in second.
I loved listening to my dad’s memories of being a kid in Williams Bay. Two that stand out in my memory included lifelong friend, Fred Kudrna. When Dad entered high school, he attended school in Williams Bay. Since Fred’s family lived on the corner of Geneva Street and Theatre Road, they would walk to and from school together. Often on the way home, they would stop at Yerkes Observatory to check the temperature on the thermometer.
The other involved my aunt, Fred, and my dad. Fred and Dad were moving their ice shanty down to the lake, and Dorothy was begging to go with. Being a nice big brother, Dad finally relented and let her come with. She soon began to complain about having to walk, so Dad told her she could take a little ride sitting in the ice shanty. What Dad didn’t tell her was he and Fred were sliding the shanty down snow-covered Ravinia Drive. Aunt Dorothy screamed all the way to the lake. Needless to say, Grandma was not amused when Aunt Dorothy tattled on her big brother.
Dad and his classmates — Fred Kudrna, Josephine Ambrose, Mel Hansen, Virginia DeLap, Frieda Kohler, Keith Moeller, and Phyllis Blodgett, among others — graduated in 1941 as the 25th class to graduate from Williams Bay High School. Many of the young men who were only school boys months earlier grew up quickly, as they were called to serve their country in Europe and the Pacific.
My Mom and Dad were married in Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1945. After Dad was discharged from the Navy, they made Williams Bay their home. In 1950, Dad built the house my brother Bill and I grew up in and where my parents lived the rest of their lives. Dad was a carpenter by trade and worked on many of the houses in and around Williams Bay. Like most mothers of the time, Mom was a homemaker.
Bill was born in December of 1947, and I was born just over seven years later. We attended and graduated from Williams Bay High School — Bill in 1966 with the 50th graduating class, and me in 1973 with the less auspicious 57th.
My favorite Williams Bay memories involve people, places, and things rather than specific events.
My first friends were the kids who lived in the neighborhood and went to school in Williams Bay. And there were a lot of kids in that subdivision of mostly summer cottages. Summer days were spent playing baseball, hide-and-go-seek, kick-the-can, swimming, and riding our bikes, and winter days sledding and ice skating by the Lions Fieldhouse.
Many of my kindergarten classmates were in my graduating class 13 years later. Some of those kids from the neighborhood and school are still my friends today.
It’s funny how a sound or smell or just the mention of a name can bring a memory to mind. Seeing a French bulldog reminds me of Mrs. Amundsen’s little black and white dog in the drug store. The sound of footsteps on old wooden floors reminds me of the old post office and library. I love the sound of a train rumbling down the track and the haunting cry of its whistle. Those sounds remind me of waiting for the afternoon train to arrive at the depot. The aroma of fresh-baked bread brings back memories of Sunday mornings, sweet rolls and loaves of warm bread from Anderson’s Bakery after church. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Seth and Mary Stacy and their delicatessen next to the bakery.
My family were early members of the Williams Bay Lutheran Church, though not one of the 12 founding families who met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Tolin on Liechty Drive in October 1949. The Ladies Guild actively worked to support the church. You haven’t lived if you never attended one of their smorgasbord dinners. I can still clearly see in my mind’s eye some of the early members, including Arvid and Bernice Thompson, Sam and Gladys Johnson, Les and Rose Anderson, Ted and Vera Casper and their son Teddy, Phyllis Johnson, Mrs. Andell, Ethel Weith, who owned the Arctic Circle, Mac and Rosemary McCarthy and their daughters Kathy and Colleen, and Dewey and Martha Denton. Mrs. Denton was a cook at school; I still remember her to-die-for apple crisp, but have never been able to duplicate it, though I have tried.
I was baptized, attended Sunday school and Bible School, confirmed, and married at WBLC. My son was baptized, attended Sunday school, and was married there, too. My granddaughter was the third generation to be baptized there.
I love old houses, and Williams Bay has many. It’s fun to wonder who built and lived in them. I was lucky enough to live in an apartment in one of those old houses for a few years. I would sit in the bay window overlooking Geneva Street and imagine what it must have been like when it was a single-family home. A few years ago, I came across an old picture of that house at 92 Geneva Street. That find was a real treat. Of all the memories I made there, the most precious also has an amusing twist.
In the fall of 1980, a new renter moved into the apartment below mine. For some reason, perhaps because we both worked third shift, he thought 2 a.m. was a good time to introduce himself. I didn’t think the time was as good as he did. And after listening to him, I said, “So!” and slammed the door. But he was persistent. Less than a year later, Dave and I were married. Thirty-nine years later, we still laugh at how we met.
As Williams Bay’s centennial approaches, I have given some thought to what the village means to me. Treasured family memories remind me what a special place it was to grow up. And even though Dave and I moved from the village in 1982, Williams Bay will always be “home.”
Michelle Bie Love is a member of the Williams Bay Historical Society and co-author of “A Pictorial History of Williams Bay, Wisconsin On Beautiful Geneva Lake.”