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Flash From The Past - 1957

The Milwaukee Journal
Sunday, February 10, 1957 

contributed by Cathe Ziereis
Meet the Man Called 

State's Oldest Logger

Mike Zeries (Ziereis) , 101 Got
Legislative Honor
Cake as Presents on His Birthday

By Richard S. Davis

Oconto, Wis - Everybody, including members of the state legislature, believes that Mike Zeries (Ziereis) of this city is Wisconsin's oldest living lumberjack. He is, at any rate, a week older than 101 and the state is challenged to produce another logger of his maturity.

Zereis was visited the other day at the home of Mrs. George Freward in Oconto. She is a widow and an old friend who has taken him in as a boarder. The late Mr. Freward was a tavern keeper anf the old woodsman was a special sort of custoner. For many years when little was stirring in the Holt lumber camos, the old-timer would return to Oconto and divide his time between the Freward oasis and the home.

The reporter's call was timely because Senetor Reuben LaFave(Rep. oconto) had just put through a joint resolution at Madison setting forth the Ziereis record as logger, cook amd watchman. The good humored centenarian was saluted as a champion and he state officially joined in congratulating his on his 101st birthday.

Lost Glasses Not Replaced

All this to be sure, was lost on the little old man who waits for the final call of "Timber". He lost his glasses nine years ago and has found nothing to replace them. He is also very deaf and apparently never quite understood Mrs. Freward's explanation of the honor that had come to him.

Anyway, the old logger was born in Bavaria, Feb 2, 1956. He came to this country at the age of 38 and almost at  once made Oconto his home. He got a job in the woods and from then on shuttled  back and forth until his eyes began to fail and he could no longer serve even as a watchman.

"My husband took care of him quite a while" Mrs Freward said. He lives on social security and a small pension that pays for his personal needs,  food and board. Any money left over out of that he can buy clothes. Mostly he needs pants and shoes.

Keeps Patching His Pants

"It' a funny thing, the way he keeps patching his pants. Like as not, they don't need it, but up there in the woods he used todo his own sewing and it's a habit with him. He puts on a patch, then rips if off and his pants weat out that way much faster tjan the should".

The woodsman threads his own needles and he has a clever little trick for doin it. He pulls the thread through beeswax until it is as stiff as buckram and then he can slip it through the eye of the needle which is , it happens, a darning needle.

The old timer has teeth, but he carries them in a pocket and when the meat on the tav=ble is tender enough, there is no problems, Mrs. Freward confides. The boarder has a good appetite, His breakfast for example, consists of a big bowl of cereal, a doughnut, bread - both taosted and untoasted - and coffee.  He drinks tea at noon and with his supper. He is especially fond of vegetable soup.

Sleeps a Great Deal

"Mike sleeps a great deal" his landlady said. "He gets up in the morning - oh yes, he dresses himself - and has his breakfast. Then he sits in his chair by the window until lunch time. He takes a nap from 12:30 until 2:30 in the afternoon. He gets supper early and pretty soon after that goes to bed."Mrs Freward confesses that she has little idea of what the old man thinks about as he blinks at the outdoors through the south window whch is now his station. However, he was fully aware, she says, of his approaching birthday and looked forward to the visit of Father Earl Barcome, who came on the big day to give him Communion. Mike's rosary , Mrs. Freward added, is always in his shirt pocket.

Newspaper unknown
April 15, 1957

contributed by Richard LaBrosse

Joe Kuehls of Gillett Married Half-Century

GILLETT (PG) – Mr. and Mrs. Joe Kuehl recently observed their 50th wedding anniversary at their home here.

Mr. Kuehl, who enjoys good health at the age of 78, retired in 1942, after 36 years as a furniture dealer and funeral director here.  His wife, who is 69, has been ill for several years and the business is operated by their son, Frank.

The couple was married in Gillett 50 years ago after he came here April 15, 1907, and purchased the furniture and undertaking business then operated by John Wranosky.

Used Buggy, Cutter

In the Early days he made all calls by horse and buggy and used a cutter in the winter.  All furniture was delivered by horse and wagon and the old hearse was horse-drawn.

In 1920 the store was expanded to four times its original size and in 1925 the first “horseless carriage” was purchased to serve as a hearse.

Mr. Kuehl served from 1900 to 1917 on the Gillett Village Board and was community health officer for many years.  He was one of the founders of the Gillett Baseball Club in 1914.  The team started the first year $150 in debt.  Gillett won 24 of 28 games that first season, bought new team uniforms and ended the season with money in the bank.

Was Cabinet Maker

Mr. Kuehl was born in Kewaunee Nov. 14, 1879, attended school there and learned the cabinet making trade from his father, Joachim Kuehl.  When he was 20 he went to Chicago where he worked for two years as a carpenter and millwright and later he worked for six years in Indiana Harbor, Ind.

He keeps busy in retirement in his basement workshop and also is a hunter and fisherman.

Mrs. Kuehl is the former Hulda Foelker.  She was born in Gillett Sept 1, 1889.

The Kuehls have five children, Mrs. George (Ethel) Hidde and Frank, both of Gillett;  Mrs. Everett (Jeanette) Olson, Saragota, Fla.;  Mrs. Vernon (Grace) Landin, Sheboygan, and Joe, Milwaukee.  A daughter, Mrs. Helen Valentine, died in 1942.

There are 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

July, 1957
Submitted by Richard La Brosse

Meta Wagner, 75, Victim Of Stabbing; Had Served As Justice of the Peace

OCONTO FALLS – County and state authorities were baffled today for suspects in the brutal murder here Thursday of Miss Meta Wagner, 75 year old Oconto Falls justice of the peace.

 Miss Wagner’s cruelly mutilated body was found at 5 o’clock on Independence Day afternoon in a wooded area below the power dam on the Oconto River. She probably had been killed about an hour before.

The woman apparently was the victim of a sexual maniac. Most of her clothing was torn off. The body bore eight deep stab wounds. Slashes on her hands indicated that, despite her age, she had put up a terrific struggle.

A state-wide alert was sounded for two men and a gray two-door Chevrolet of about 1951 or 1952 mogel.


Two men were observed speaking to Miss Wagner at 3:15  while  she was fishing near the dam operated by the Wisconsin- Michigan Power Co. Lawrence Junco, an employee of the utility, witnessed the conversation and noticed the car parked nearby. Miss Wagner’s body was discovered by Leonard Pawelczyk; 1254 Willow St. Green Bay .

Pawelczyk was fishing along the river with his wife and another couple from Green Bay, Leonard Kukla, Chicago Street, and Miss Corrine Decker, who boards with the Pawelczyk  family.

Pawelczyk found a broken split bamboo fly rod on the bank about 200 feet below the dam. Investigating, he noticed spots of blood. He showed the rod to others in his party, but they surmised that it had been abandoned by some fisherman.

Not satisfied with so simple a solution, Pawelczyk said, he decided about 15 minutes later to search the brush. He soon found the body, only a few feet from where the fishing rod had been dropped and only about 30 or 40 feet from the road that leads to the power house.

Large Knife Used

The weapon used to inflict the facial and chest wounds was not found. Coroner Clarence McMahan declared the knife had to be a large one to produce the deep gashes.

Miss Wagner’s throat was cut. Other wounds were in the chest area.

Sheriff Harold Reed said one of the men observed by Junco in conversation with Miss Wagner was described as about 45 years old, five feet six inches tall, and about 155 pounds. He was partially bald. (The rest of this article was missing)

October 3 1957

2 Survivors Recall Great Fire Vividly

SURVIVORS — Mrs. Amelia Desrochers and Wesley Duket, both of Peshtigo, talk about the famous Peshtigo fire which both survived.  They had trouble conversing, however,  because both are now hard of  hearing.  She is 92 and he is 93. She remembers going to school with "the Duket boys," but she did not remember Wesley.

To the residents of Peshtigo, the 86th anniversary of the costliest fire  in human life in history will pass almost unnoticed.

 But a 92 year woman still remembers her mother telling her on that fateful night Oct. 8, 1871: "Wake up: The end of the world is coming."

No memorial services are scheduled for the 800 who perished (in the village of Peshtigo).  Nature, it seems, wants the results of its brutality to be forgotten. Each year it makes the weeds grow taller in the Feshtigo fire cemetery. Each passing day makes the shabby little memorial deteriorate a little more.

But nature has not made a 93 year old man forget the vivid details of the day when balls of fire came down from the sky."

Survivors Never Forgot

Yes, the ashes have long been swept away. The Peshtigo river, which so many set out for but so few arrived, rolls on silently a scene of idylic beauty. But in the minds of Mrs. Amelia Desrochers and Wesley Duket, of the Eklund Convalescent home, the memories of that terrible fire will not be erased until the breath of life has left them.

Interviewed Friday, Mrs. Desrochers said: "Why, of course, I remember the Peshtigo fire." "There had been fires all along. The men had been fighting  them. One night a terrible wind storm came; the sky got very red. Mother told father: 'Wake up the end of the world is coming.' You know, a lot of people perished because they though it was theend of the world. They got tired of fighting the fire and gave up. 

 Forgot Her Stockings 

"Mother got us up.  I put my shoes on but forgot my stockings. When we went out the wind was blowing the sand so hard that it punched my limbs. People told us to go to Ihe river. A man at the bridge ordered us to get aboard a flat-bottomed barge.  (The boat was on the Menominee, river, for Mrs. Desrochers lived in  Marinette, which though not totally destroyed, suffered heavy damages).
"On the way down the river, the boat caueht  fire on top."

The Peshtigo Times
October 8, 1957

The Peshtigo Fire as told by Mrs. Amelia Desrochers, 92 and Wesley Duet, 93. 

Mrs. Desrochers was living at nearby Marinette and Pike at Harmony Corners.  Of  Peshtigo’s 2,500 residents, few know or seem to care much about the great fire which 86 years ago tonight snuffed out 800 lives (in Peshtigo Village) — the highest human toll ever taken by a forest fire.  But two Mrs. Amelia Desrochers, 92 and Wesley Duket, 93, know and care a lot because they were there.  And though they were only five and six then, the eight interviening decades have failed to erase the indelible imprint which that horrible night in 1871 left on their minds—a night when “balls of fire” rained down upon the village and people thought the world was ending.  For 800 of the residents of Peshtigo, it did end.  Sitting by the window of her hospital room playing solitaire, Mrs. Desrochers handed the reporter a pad and pencil to write out his questions—because she is deaf.  Both she and Duket live at a convalescent home in Peshtigo.  She is a tiny, gray-haired but well-preserved woman.  “Why, of course, I remember the Peshtigo fire,” she exclaimed.  “There had been fires all along.  The men had been fighting them.  But one night a terrible windstorm came up.  The sky got very red.  Mother said to father: “Wake up! The end of the world is coming.”  “At that time it was thought the world would end by fire.  Because of that many of the men said; what’s the use?”  As soon as they got tired, they quit fighting and perished.  “Mother got us up.  I put on my shoes but forgot my stockings.  When we ran out of the house, the wind was blowing the sand so hard that it pinched my limbs.  People told us to go to the river.”  (The river she referred to was the Menominee.  She lived in Marinette, which though not destroyed was heavily damaged.)  “When we got to the bridge, a man told us to get on a boat.  It was a barge with a cabin.  We sat down at the bottom of the boat.  After the boat was full we went down the river.  The boat caught fire and many jumped out and drowned.  But, the fire was put out before we got to Green Bay.  I remember looking out the window and telling my mother; “Look, it’s snowing fire out in the bay.”  “When the fire was over next day, we came back.  I remember passing a place where there were many bodies laid on blankets by the shore.  Beside them was a little baby crying.  I’ll never forget that.”  None of her family perished.  Her father had stayed in Marinette and hauled all the furniture to the river.  But their house burned.  “Remember the Peshtigo fire? I should; I had my ear burned in it,” replied Duket.  Tall, thin and bent with age, Duket can’t hear or see well.  The reporter had to shout his questions into his ear.  “We lived near Harmony Corners (several miles from Peshtigo).  When the balls of fire started coming down that night, my mother and father took us down to the spring.  We lay down on the ground and they wrapped us with wet quilts.  A ball of fire hit the house and it burned.  But my sister saved the sewing machine by wrapping it up with blankets.  “We had a team of oxen, one stayed with us at the spring; the other ran away and burned.  We had a shed of colts and we could hear them thrashing as they burned.  My brother wanted to open the door but my sister wouldn’t let him.  “Next morning my mother and father were blind.  (Only temporarily, though, he explained).  I went to see our neighbor—Mrs. Reinhart.  I liked her very much.  I found her dead; it really got me.  Part of her shawl—a little corner of it—had not burned and I kept it for many years.  I don’t know where it is now.”  Because of deafness, the two survivors were unable to exchange memories.  Mrs. Desrochers remembered going to school with “the Duket boys.”  But she did not remember Wesley specifically.  Except for these two, and a few others, no one in Peshtigo knows too much about the great fire.  A teacher recently asked her students to write a theme about it and many flocked to the town’s newspaper — The Peshtigo Times — to “find out about it.”