Continuing where I left off in my last column, I have sketched below the lives of five more prominent Lake Geneva residents who played key roles in shaping the city in the 20th century.
First and foremost among these five residents is Emil Johnejack. Johnejack was born in Kenosha on Oct. 9, 1909, the son of Emil and Pauline Johnejack. His parents moved from Kenosha to Lake Geneva when he was a small child. He graduated from Lake Geneva High School in 1927 and then graduated from the University of North Dakota where he also earned his law degree. He later did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During World War II he served in the U.S. Army where he was in combat in Europe. He was discharged with the rank of captain.
In 1962 he was elected mayor of Lake Geneva, a position he held until 1978, except for the years 1970 to 1972. In 1981 he was elected municipal judge in Lake Geneva.
His tenure as mayor of Lake Geneva came during a particularly dynamic period in the city’s history. He established the Lake Geneva Bicentennial Commission, which celebrated the nation’s 200th birthday, the Lake Geneva Parks Commission, which acquired four new parks in Lake Geneva and the parking board. He was member of the Governor’s Commission on Taxation and a director of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities. He also was instrumental in establishing the Geneva Lake Transit Commission, which attempted, unsuccessfully, to prevent the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad from abandoning its line to Lake Geneva.
Johnejack was a president of the Lake Geneva Lions Club, a director of the chamber of commerce and a member of Frank Kresen Post 24 of the American Legion, of St. Francis de Sales Church and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
Johnejack was especially interested in the development of low cost senior housing complexes in Lake Geneva. During his tenure as mayor, he laid the groundwork for the Havenwood apartment complex on the north side of Main Street on Catholic Hill. He also supported the construction of at least 10 other housing complexes in the city.
For many years Johnejack worked as the purchasing agent for Albert Trostel’s until he retired in 1969. After his retirement he played an important role in furthering the goals of the Geneva Lake Development Commission. He died in Madison on June 28, 1982 at the age of 72.
While Johnejack’s achievements as mayor of Lake Geneva are indeed impressive, many older residents of Lake Geneva today perhaps will remember him better as a well-known tavern owner (his tavern was located on Center Street across from the U.S. Post Office) rather than as a distinguished civic leader. His love of Lake Geneva is memorialized by a plaque on a boulder near the shore at the west end of Library Park.
George L. Allen
George L. Allen was born in Lake Geneva in 1911. He was a graduate of Lake Geneva High School and, after graduation, attended Beloit College and Ripon College. In 1933, he joined the staff of the First National Bank in Lake Geneva (which was located where Champ’s Sports Bar is today) as a bookkeeper. His father, James G. Allen, was president of the bank, a position he held from 1924 until his death in 1951. George rose in the bank as an assistant cashier, cashier and vice president. In 1939 he was elected as a director of the bank and in 1962 he was elected president of the bank. He and his father served for a combined 37 years as president of the bank.
During his long career at the bank, George also served as a member of the Oak Hill Cemetery Commission and as its treasurer. He was a member of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors for 15 years and was the chairman of the board’s finance committee for eight years. He was also president of the Board of the Lake Geneva Y.M.C.A. and chairman of its building fund, a member of the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Lake Geneva Lion’s Club and its treasurer, a director of the Lake Geneva Water Power and Lake Level Protective Association, a member of the sportsman club, a member of Lake Geneva Toastmasters and a member of the First Congregational Church-United Church of Christ and a trustee of the church. He was also president of the Walworth County Bankers Association, president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, president of the South Central Wisconsin Safety Deposit Association, director of the North-West Telephone Company and a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. George Allen died in a hospital in Madison on April 24, 1972 at the age of 61.
Ernest A. Roeker
Ernest A. Roeker was born in Delavan on May 22, 1911, the son of Max and Augusta Roeker. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (then Whitewater State College). He and his wife Naomi moved to Lake Geneva in 1939.
She gave piano lessons in their home at 812 Center St. and he became the principal of Fontana Elementary School.
He was a member of the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Walworth County Agricultural Committee, chair of a citizen’s advisory committee that studied the needs of the Denison Middle School (then a junior high) and a member of the Lake Geneva City Council, serving as an alderman for the third ward. He was also a charter member and president of the Lake Geneva Kiwanis Club and a member of the United Methodist Church.
But it is as the adult leader of the Boy Scouts in Lake Geneva that Ernest Roeker will be remembered. He served as the scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 35 in Lake Geneva for 40 years and was a mentor to generations of Boy Scouts in Lake Geneva. Ernest Roeker died at the age of 72 on May 1, 1984 in Lakeland Hospital after suffering a heart attack at his home.
(Robert) Bruce Arnold was born in Lake Geneva on Sept. 12, 1920, the son of Edwin B. and Edith Stolpe Arnold. He graduated from Delavan High School in 1938 and from the University of Wisconsin in 1946 with a degree in pharmacy. During World War II he was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Air Force in the China-India-Burma theater.
Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Bruce returned to Lake Geneva to run Arnold’s Drug Store on the north side of the 700 block of Main Street, which his grandfather, Robert Bruce Arnold, had established in Lake Geneva in 1849. Bruce was a member of the third generation of Arnolds to own and operate Arnold’s Drug Store. He also owned a drugstore in Delavan. He was a member of Frank Kresen Post 24 of the American Legion, the First Congregational-United Church of Christ, Masonic Lodge 12 (in Delavan) and Sigma Epsilon fraternity. He died on Jan. 8, 1987, of Huntington’s disease at the age of 66.
William S. Hammersley
William S. (Bill) Hammersley was born in Lake Geneva on July 9, 1921, the son of William S. and Kathleen Grier Hammersley. He graduated from Lake Geneva High School in 1939. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1948 with a degree in pharmacy. With his father, he ran Hammersley’s Drug Store on the north side of the 700 block of Main Street until his father died. In 1981 he retired and closed the drug store which had been run by the Hammersley family for 115 years since 1866, when it had been established by his grandfather who had been born in England. He also served as a member of the Lake Geneva School Board. He died in Lake Geneva on Feb. 9, 2001 at the age of 79.
I knew four of these five prominent 20th century residents of Lake Geneva. Ernest Roeker was my Scoutmaster in Boy Scout Troop 35. I recall him as being very avuncular. He knew the Boy Scouts handbook from cover to cover.
I remember the numerous camping trips that he led us Boy Scouts on and I recall his joy when my Boy Scout partner and I won the semaphore telegraph contest at the State Line Boy Scout Jamboree at Beloit College. I recall his efficient chairing of the monthly Boy Scout meetings held in the American Legion Hall upstairs of the fire station on the north side of the 600 block of Main Street.
I will also always treasure a memory of the day after I graduated from Badger High School in June 1960 when George Allen came to my house on Maxwell Street where I lived with my grandmother, sat on our sofa and offered me a job as a teller at the First National Bank. Much to George’s regret, I had to decline his kind offer because I was to begin working at the Lake Geneva Post Office in August of that year.
And I will long remember the many days during the 1950s that I sat at the counters of Arnold’s Drug Store and Hammersley’s Drug Store, drinking Cherry Cokes or Green Rivers. Bruce Arnold and Bill Hammersley would invariably pause in what they were doing to ask me how school was going or if I thought that the Milwaukee Braves would win the pennant that year.
The five individuals whose lives I have sketched above are admirable examples of civic leadership in Lake Geneva in the mid-20th Century.
Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.