For over 150 years, Milwaukee has been home to a large community of people of Polish descent. The Milwaukee Polonia Project hopes to show the interweaving, intertwining family trees that resulted in this community. It is hoped that, eventually, all the families can be connected to one another. The Milwaukee Polonia Project is also a means to explore our common history and celebrate our shared heritage.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Featured Profile #7 - Louis A. Fons

Louis A. Fons

Louis A. Fons, (1878-1959)

Real estate developer, builder and banker, Louis Fons had a tremendous impact on the south side of Milwaukee where, according to the Milwaukee Journal, "he built hundreds of homes and developed scores of subdivisions". (Two of the known subdivisions are Morgandale and Vogel Park.)  He was born in a cottage on S. 6th Street, near W. Burnham in Milwaukee on August 25, 1878.  He was the first of the twelve children of Frank Fons and Maryann (Piszczek) Fons, who had come to Milwaukee in 1871. ("Fons" is the original name.  It was not shortened.  There is some speculation that this unusual Polish name is due to the fact that the ultimate ancestors had come to Poland from Holland as engineers to build dikes and canals, possibly in the 1600's.)

 Louis was nothing if not energetic and determined.  He was the consummate self-starter and hard worker.  He started his first job at age 13, earning $2/week.  Working days and evenings and counting pennies, by age 21 he had managed to save $300 with which he bought a one-half interest in a realty business. When he started to work at age 13 he had quit school, but he took correspondence courses to gain business skills.  He eventually earned enough to acquire the whole real estate business, then run it with four of his brothers (Edward, Frank, Jr., Stephen and John) as "Fons and Company."  It was this organization that was responsible for building 23 subdivisions (many near "Polish" churches such as St. Barbara and St. John Kanty) and turning larges tracts of undeveloped land on the south side of Milwaukee into comfortable  "Fons Bungalows".

Besides being well-built, Fons also wanted his homes to be affordable.  During the 1920's, he was able to keep the typical sales price of a single family house and lot to about $5,000.  But, he did even more to put people in their own home.  Another Louis Fons-run organization, the National Savings and Loan Association, would also often loan money to the buyers to enable the purchase.  In typical Fons-fashion, the interest rates were kept low (sometimes as much as 2 percentage points lower than their nearest competitor) because of their belief that the homes should remain affordable.  Probably no other person did as much to better the lives of Poles in Milwaukee by giving them a chance to own their own home and move out of their cramped quarters close to the factories.

The Great Depression caused a financial disaster for countless individuals.  At at time before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, many people saw their life savings disappear when the their local banks collapsed, taking their deposits along with it.  The National Savings and Loan Association was also hard hit, but Louis Fons stepped up.  He contributed his entire personal fortune to ensure that its depositors were paid back 100 cents on the dollar.  Moreover, many of the people who had purchased their houses in the 1920's were in dire straights because of the Depression.  There again, the National Savings and Loan Association stepped up and helped many people keep their houses by arranging for refinancing under the federal Home Owners Loan Corp. program.

You might think that running Fons and Co. and the National Savings and Loan would consume all the time of Louis Fons.  Not even close!  He was also the founder of the Berthelet Pipe and Supply Company, director of the Juneau Investment Company, and organized the Central State Bank.  He was also, for a time, publisher of the Nowiny Polskie.

But Louis Fons was not just a one-dimensional businessman. He was also a fine athlete and passionate about that distinctly American national pastime:  baseball.   He excelled at it so well as to play some semi-pro ball, starting at the ripe age of 16.  He played second base, and the teams he played for won the city championship in 1899 and 1900.  In 1908, he and some friends decided to organize a baseball team that reflected their Polish heritage, and the Koscisko Reds semi-professional baseball team was born.  It may not have been the first "Polish" team, but it was the first one in Milwaukee to crack into the City League, the premier local semi-pro circuit at the time.

The Team had its first game, with Fons as second baseman and captain, on April 11, 1909.  The competed under the strange name of the Kosciusko (sic) Monument Cigars.  In just two years, the team won the City championship with Fons still playing second base (at age 33).  Unfortunately, he sustained an injury in the last game of the pennant that would end his career as a player.  No matter, he simply became president of the team, while still continuing as manager.  Fons made at least two important moves in that position in his first year.  First, he built a new ballpark for the team at the intersection of Harrison and Grove (now S. 5th) Streets.  Called the South Side Stadium, it could seat almost 5,000.  Second, he bumped the team up into the Lake Shore League (which only allowed the top semi-pro teams from SE Wisconsin and northern Illinois).   In the next few years, the Reds would dominate that League. They won the Championship their first year in the league. The first Milwaukee team to do so. They won it again in 1914 and 1915.  After that time, Fons would gradually diminish his involvement in the team.

Given all this activity, it is hard to imagine when Fons found time to be involved in local politics, but he was.  The high point of his political career was from 1918 to 1920, when he represented the 8th District in the Wisconsin state Senate.  Although he was technically a Republican, he actually ran with something that is almost inconceivable these days: a joint Democratic-Republican endorsement.  He only had one term because he choose not to seek re-election.

Louis Fons married Cecelia Sonnenberg in Milwaukee on September 23, 1902.  (Louis' brother Frank, would later marry Cecelia's sister, Helen.)  They had seven children.  Louis passed away on May 18, 1959.

Trivia:  When Louis Fons bought his one-half interest in the realty company in 1902, the name of the resulting firm, Wawrzyniakowski and Fons, combined, arguably, the longest Polish name in Milwaukee with its shortest.

Relation to Last Featured Profile (Darlene Lucht Brimmer):  None
Path From Last Featured Profile:  See upcoming Blog entry.

Sources (all references to page numbers in newspapers are to the page on Google News):

Bruce, William George, and Josiah Seymour Currey, History of Milwaukee City and County, The S. J. Clark Publishing Co., 1922, Volume Three:. The biography of Louis A. Fons begins on page 152.

"50th Anniversary -- Both Business and Marital -- Neared by Louis Fons," Milwaukee Sentinel, August 17, 1952, p. 31.

"50 Years Head of Company, Louis Fons Also Reaches 72," Milwaukee Sentinel, September 3, 1950, p. 39.

"Fons & Co. for 41 Years Have Developed Business," Milwaukee Journal, April 26, 1928, p. 22.

Genealogia - FonsTree  (in Polish)

"Housing Market Wasn't Always So Bleak," Milwaukee Journal, May 19, 1981, p. 36.

"Kosciuskos Are Strong," Milwaukee Sentinel, April 16, 1911, p. 11.

"Louis Fons, Builder, Dies," Milwaukee Journal, May 15, 1959.

"Louis Fons Standing Pat," Milwaukee Sentinel, July 18, 1915, p. 7.

"Morgandale Meets Just About All the Needs of Its Residents" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 17, 2000, p. 26.

Pease, Neal, "Kosciuszko Reds, 1909-1919: Kings of the Milwaukee Sandlots,"  Polish American Studies, Vol 61, No. 1 (Spring, 2004) pp. 11-26.

"Polish Alliance Plans to Honor Louis Fons," Milwaukee Journal, October 8, 1953, p. 13.

"World News Told In Brief," The Ingomar (Montana) Index,  January 10, 1918, p. 6.

For a discussion of the first game held at South Side Stadium based around surviving photographs of the game see,  Pease, Neal, "Big Game On the South Side -  A Milwaukee Baseball Mystery Decoded," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring, 2005.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Voting with Your Fists

Sometime, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The following article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal on April 4, 1908, the day before the municipal elections:

Not Yet Connected:  
Richard Gruenwald
George Kadlitz
Charles Kloehn
Judge Unknown Neelen
Joseph Tatera
Jared Thompson


Louis Fons
(He will be the subject of the next Featured Profile.)

At first, I thought the Joe Tatera mentioned in the article was Jozef Tatera, the son of Lawrence Tatera and Cecylia (Zbinik?) Tatera, husband of Weronica (Gruszcznyska) Tatera, and it still possibly could be because you don't have to vote to be passionate about politics.  However, he was not born until March 18, 1888 which means that he was only 20 at the time of the election, and therefore unable to vote.  The next most likely candidate is the Joseph Tatera who was the son of Frank Tatera and Rozalia (Kouice?) Tatera, and who married Wiktorya Malecka. He was born in about 1882, and therefore, would have been of voting age.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Featured Profile #6 - Darlene (Lucht) Brimmer

Darlene (Lucht) Brimmer
  Darlene (Lucht) Brimmer (1938 – 2011)

Milwaukee's sweetheart, the hometown girl who made it to Hollywood. She never quite broke into the leading roles, but she rubbed elbows with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Vincent Price and David Carradine. She even dated Elvis Presley. Through her, all of Milwaukee could live the glamorous life vicariously.

Darlene Lucht was born March 17, 1938, the only child of Gilbert Lucht and Leona (Grosz) Lucht. Her maternal great-grandmother was Frances (Domachowski) Jagodzinski, a sister to Joseph Domachowski (Featured Profile #5) and Michael Domachowski (Featured Profile #3) and a sister-in-law of Andrzej Boncel (Featured Profile #2).

Unlike many girls of that era, Darlene did not start out wanting to be an actress. Quite the contrary. She was so shy that while attending Pulaski High School she did extra work just so she could avoid giving oral book reports. She graduated in 1955 and settled down in as a stenographer in the City's Board of Assessment Office. However, that's not what destiny had in store for her. She would return to a similar position, years later, but in the interim, her life was about to take an interesting detour to Hollywood.

Ironically, it was her shyness that would lead her there. In order to get over her reserve, she enrolled in a self-improvement course at the Rosemary Bichoff Modeling School. She improved so much that she began to earn money in that career. Of course, her striking good looks probably had much to do with that. Moving from modeling to beauty contests seemed like a natural progression, and she excelled there as well. She was chosen as Miss Wauwautosa in 1957 and Miss Milwaukee in 1959. Moving on to a national competition, she was chosen as the first Miss Sun Fun in 1960. (Note: some internet sources list her as being “Miss Wisconsin,” but she was only “Miss Wisconsin” when she represented that state in the Miss Sun Fun competition.)

Darlene Lucht wins the first Miss Sun Fun Contest in 1960.

Her beauty probably also opened doors to her acting chances. However, her start in the thespian profession was a little rocky. Taking a chance, she auditioned to be an extra at a play at the Fred Miller Theater in Milwaukee. Surprisingly, she was chosen not to be just an extra, but to have a speaking part opposite the nationally famous Gene Raymond. Unfortunately, her shyness reared its ugly head, and she turned down the part when she learned that she would have to kiss Gene Raymond, on stage! (Gene Raymond recalled years later that it was the only time a woman refused to kiss him.)

Fortunately, she didn't give up. A modeling friend from Milwaukee, Donna Ehlert, had married actor Harvey Korman. They both encouraged her to throw caution to the winds, and trust on her talent, beauty, and luck to make a career in Hollywood. So, in 1961, she hopped into the Corvair she had won in the Miss Sun Fun Contest and drove west. In retrospect, talent, beauty and luck favored Darlene moderately well. A review of her career on the Internet Movie Database shows a steady stream of roles. They were mostly small. In some movies, she was undoubtedly just “eye candy.” However, she had to have just more than her looks. Given the number of beautiful people that flock to Hollywood every year, Darlene's list of credits shows that she had more going for her than just good looks.

Probably the biggest role in her career was as “Bunny” in Marriage on the Rocks, which starred Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Deborah Kerr. That movie is not available on the internet, but it appears to be scheduled to run on the Turner Movie Classic channel on this coming November 25t.h. (Check your local listings!) 

Darlene Lucht appears on the far left in this promo picture.

 She had a greater success in the “B” movie category. Here she is a a female victim of Vincent Price, walking in a zombie-like trance, in The Haunted Palace  (see appears at about 5:26).

Her largest role ever was probably as “Althea” in the cult classic, Five Bloody Graves. She plays the “working girl” with the big heart whose love almost saves the jaded hero, Ben Thompson. You can watch it it its entirety here. (Darlene Lucht first appears at about 31:22 and her final scene, and the climax of the movie, starts at about 1:11:27.)

In the “Catfight” scene, Darlene, makes eyes at the lead male character, who is played by her real-life husband at that time, Robert Dix (real name: Robert Brimmer). (Robert Dix is the son of Richard Dix, Sr. who was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award in 1939.) Darlene and Robert were married in 1967 or 68 and stayed together for approximately eight years. They had one son together. After her marriage ended, Darlene returned to Wisconsin to raise her son in a more child-friendly environment. She again picked up the steno pad and became a secretary, spending 25 years at the MGIC Investment Corp. However, she keep her hand in glamour, by doing the occasional modeling job.

Darlene (Lucht) Brimmer passed away in Milwaukee on March 5, 2011 of natural causes.

Relation to Last Featured Profile (Joseph Domachowski):  Great Grandniece
Path From Last Featured Profile:  Jospeh Domachowski to his sister, Frances (Domachowski) Jagodzinski, to her son, Anton Grosz, to his daughter, Leona (Grosz) Lucht, to her daughter, Darlene (Lucht) Brimmer. 

Sources (page references on newspapers are to the page on Google News):

“Betty White Has Talent, But Play at Miller Doesn't,” Milwaukee Journal, April 6, 1960, p. 52

“Brimmer Had Movie, TV Career,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 12, 2011

“Looking Good is Routine, Once You've Been a Model,” Milwaukee Journal, September 30, 1980, p. 4
“Miss Sun Fun is Milwaukee Co-Ed,” The Rock Hill Herald, June 6, 1960, p. 1

Scenes from “The Haunted Palace,” Milwaukee Journal, August 6, 1963, p. 69

“Spirits High at Sun Fun,” The [Charleston, S.C] News and Courier, June 3, 1960, p. 1

“Wins Beauty Title,” The [Spartanburg, S.C.] Herald Journal, June 6, 1960, p. 1

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Status Update

Names Added Since Last Status Update:



Chrzan, Czysz

Dettlaff, Drutowski

Fennig, Fromstien

Gaulke, Gorecki, Guss, Gurzynski

Heksel, Homa

Jaga, Januszyk, Jedka, Juda

Kaczynski, Karczewski, Kazmierski, Klug, Kopczynski, Kopke, Kupsik

Lecka, Lenc, Lesniewicz, Lisko, Luczkowski


Padol, Piasecki, Pietrowski, Pinkowski, Pokszywa

Ristau, Rudzinski, Ryczylkan

Schallitz, Senkowski, Singer, Skudlarczyk, Slaski, Stasiak, Starszak, Szomberg,

Tetzlaff, Trebatoski

Wanta, Wilewski, Wiznerowicz, Woyci, Wrzesinski



Also  Corrected:  Maliszewski to Maliszeski

People Added Since Last Status Update:  398
Now, just for fun, Milwaukee's Own Don Gralak, Master of the Concertina, performing  "Under the Double Eagle":