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Genealogy: Family Histories

Norman "Pepper" Steffen Family

Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 01/15/2014    

'Pepper' Steffen: 85-year Lisbon-Sussex resident

On Pembrook Street, behind the Piggly Wiggly, Norman Pepper Steffen is living out his long life, which began in Lisbon and since the age of 6 has been in Sussex, as the Depression pushed his family off of a two-generation farm holding just off present day Highway 164 east of Jay Lane.

However, a bit of Steffen has returned to Lisbon, as his only living son, Randy "Rango" Steffen has put in his working career as a 23-year member of the Lisbon Town Public Works Department.

There are many people that don't know that Pepper's real name is Norman. As he tells the story, "Pepper" is part of his misspent youth. Hew as a young buck in the Village of Sussex during 1940 and the second World War, when he and his friends saw this wonderful 1936 WPA built Sussex Community Hall in downtown Sussex for about $27,000. The highlight of this massive Lannon Stone Structure was an upstairs basketball gym. The downstairs was for Village rooms and the local fire department.

The boys of Sussex had a driven desire to get into this building and play basketball, but the caretaker John Miller had a mission to keep the boys out of the building.

The Village boys came up with a scheme to thwart Miller. At some evening open house they would secretly leave a window unlatched and sneak in by pushing in the window. Then they'd enjoy an endless game of basketball.

But Miller got smart and often checked every door, every window and would find the unlatched lever. The boys found yet another entry that Miller never thought of investigating.

Out front of the Sussex Community Hall was a round manhole that was to be used to deliver the coal into the basement coal bin. The boys would pry it open and the smallest of the participating boys would drop in, walk around inside and up to the bar opening the door or unlatching a window and letting everyone in. Then they'd lock it up again. When they left they would go through the bar door and the building would be secure, and Miller was never the wiser (other than he had a feeling that he had been used and abused.)

Norman Steffen was a leader of this group of illegal court intruders and he had a sweet tooth. His mother knew how to feed it by making her special pepper-nut cookies, a hard cookie that needed a lot of sucking on before one could finally bite through it. Steffen said the basketball cohorts he played with loved these hard cookies and begged him to bring more each time. He was given the name "Pepper Steffen" and lost his first baptized name.

Getting back to his youth, he was the baby of the family of three boys and three girls, with his parents being Otto and Anna Steffen. He was born April 29, 1928. At age 6, his family moved off the once 80-acre farm. While he was on this Lisbon farm, he attended the Lisbon Sixteen School on the intersection of Hillside Road and Good Hope. Miss Thelma Halquist was his teacher in first and second grade.

His father, to make ends meet, took a job as a milk hauler for Golden Guernsey Dairy. Years later, his son would take over from his brothers and run this business for the first part of his adult life. He actually started in it as a teenager, as he would assist his father and brothers with the family business that put food on the table.

Now the basketball he learned breaking into the Village gym helped him make the Sussex Main Street School team as he matured. IN those days, Sussex Main Street School had a two-year High School, and there was a full-time round of basketball competition for similar two-year high schools like Lannon, Merton and North Lake. Sussex had the best gym.

Steffen grew up and graduated from eighth grade in 1942 and the two-year Sussex High in 1944. He went on to Menomonee Falls for a 1946 high school graduation.

He would join the Sussex Fire Department in 1950, but the Korean War would grab him off in late 1950. Upon coming home in 1952, he rejoined and served 33 years, including the position of fire chief from 1973 to 1975. He left the department in 1984.

The story of Pepper Steffen will be continued next week.


'Pepper' Steffen still lives in Sussex

Last week, we left Norman "Pepper" Steffen just as he was graduating from high school.

The Korean War came along during the summer of 1950. He moved from the Steffen family farm off Highway 164 near Jay Lane in Lisbon to Sussex in about 1936, and is still living in downtown Sussex 79 years later, at age 85.

He had to leave his first big job, a family milk hauling for Golden Guernsey Dairy when Uncle Sam said he was needed about Thanksgiving Day, 1950.

Now he did get back to Sussex for a short furlough as a boyhood friend, Charles Zimmermann, also on a furlough, was getting married to a classmate of Norman, Shirley Schlei.

It was at this wedding that he met Joan Cumiskey who he would come from the service and marry. They would raise of a family of three children, three grandchildren and eight grandchildren together.

During the Korean War, Steffen experienced cold weather training at Wisconsin's Camp McCoy, which started after Thanksgiving in 1950. He was a truck driver for his division. After McCoy, he traveled to North Carolina for big maneuver exercises then back to McCoy followed by another big maneuver practice at Fort Hood, Texas. In the "army shuffle" Steffen never got shipped over seas, as he was back in Sussex in late 1952 after being discharged.

He and Joan bought a home on Main Street, the old Nettie Howard home where today stands part of the Pauline Haas Library.

He went back to his milk hauling job, but also immediately rejoined the Sussex Fire Department, his second home for life. His big deal was operating fire trucks as a driver and water pumper. He served as "steward" lieutenant and captain over the years and was elected fire chief in 1973. He served as chief for roughly three years, until late 1975, when a change in business (no more milk hauling) and a stroke caused him to resign as chief. He did, however, remain on the Sussex Fire Department until 1984 when he had 33 years in.

Wife Joan became an unofficial member of the men-only department, acting as operator-dispatcher and base radio operator.

She also was a coworker with Steffen after his stroke, as he left milk hauling for a side line he developed in the oil business. He became the manager of the North Lake Jacobson Oil Company, which had picked up the former Sussex Hardiman Oil Co. Norman worked there for 16 years until he retired.

Tragically, there were lots of tears in the Steffen family when their youngest son, Jim, died at age 11 after developing cancer.

Joan also passed away from cancer. The couple son's Randy developed cancer in midlife, but a set of operations and treatment allowed him to live on and retain his job at the Lisbon Public Works Department.

In retirement, Steffan never misses a reunion of the Sussex Fire Department or fundraising or celebration event. He holds court as former chief, and with his great memory of names tells the story of how it was "back then."

Steffen said he comes from a "dancing family," and says he would have won a dance competition hands down if the fire department ever had one. His sister, Susy Hart, and her Hart Beats band was almost always present at the Sussex Fire Department events.

In looking back to his youth, Steffen always played on various local Land O Rivers and Puddles baseball teams, and also basketball teams besides his Sussex High School sports teams. He went over the list of his 1944 classmates, and pointed out some of the people he remembers most:

Lonore Dopke married Paul Cain, who became a captain of the Sussex Fire Department, and is in the Sussex Baseball Hall of Fame.

George Kraemer was the son of the "Father of Sussex Fire Department" when it started in 1922. He is also in the Sussex Baseball Hall of Fame.

Elton Lees was the son of the local Lees General Store owner (what is now Piggly Wiggly.)

Betty Fuller married classmate Reuben Mindemann and worked as an antique dealer for 44 years and the president of the local Sussex Historical Society.

Marjorie Schultz owned a large farm and ran it by herself, never getting married.

Francis Fleischmann worked over 60 years for Halquist Stone.

Lloyd Pautzke was a son of the North Western Railroad section manager, and young Pautzke followed in his father's footsteps.

Norman "Pepper" Steffen today lives close to the Sussex Senior Community Building and eats his dinners there. He loves to play sheepshead with his fellow seniors. And he loves it when someone asks, "How was it back when...?"

Part Three


This photo of Norman “Pepper” Steffen shows the final evolution of the Steffen milk hauling company that started back in the depression days, and Pepper in 1943 at age 15 with a milk can pickup route. This is his bulk milk hauling truck that he serviced the Lisbon founded Golden Gurnsey cooperative. The photo was taken about 1960 as he makes a delivery at the then Waukesha Golden Guernsey cooperative. The truck would haul 11 tons of bulk milk from farmers tp the dairy. He left the business in 1968.








Waukesha County was known as "Cow County, USA" as in the 20th century, the county once held the distinction of having more cows than any other county in the United States. they also had more cows than they had people, and they liked it that way. Then there was a sidelight that the Town of Lisbon and the Town of Genesee always had an argument over which township had the most cows.

For the unknowing, there was a rule of thumb that a cow herd usually could be divided by on third, as two thirds were the milking cows, and one third was the dry cows, young stock and bulls.

Just how many farms were in Lisbon? There was also a rule of thumb that for each square mile there was between four to seven farms, and the vast majority had cows. A trip through the seven square miles of today's Village of Sussex (part of the Town of Lisbon) shows a memory count of 47 barns at one time in the early half of the 1900s.

Now the whole emphasis of dairy cows was to get the milk to market. Early on, Lisbon had two butter factories and a cheese factory, plus there was a third factory for butter at the intersection of North Lisbon Road and Town Line Road, thus four outlets for milk. Then to be factored in was the railroads early on became milk pickups for the City of Waukesha and the City of Milwaukee dairies. There is a prominent photo at the Sussex Museum that shows milk cans at the depot on Maple Avenue, where today stands the Sussex Mills Apartments.

Now to get mil fresh to the users Lisbon had a t first farmers who hauled it to their nearby butter and cheese factories. And then there were the few farms that had businesses of bottling their own milk for house-to-house sales routes, mostly motivated by the Zillmer Dairy and the Hartkoph farm.

Then there was the time during World War I when roads and trucks had reached a tripping factor, and men and trucks would go from farm to farm to pick up milk in steel milk cans and deliver it to Milwaukee and Waukesha dairies, where mega dairies would process it and put it on the market, many times by home delivery, but also as a commodity in general stores.

Milk weighs 8.6 pounds per gallon and if it is going to be shipped by trucks, it had to be cooled down to 40 degrees so that it could reach factories safely. Good roads and trucks spelled an end to local creameries and cheese factories. It is said that once Waukesha County had 28 cheese factories, the last one being at Mapleton.

From the 19-teens to about 1960, the milk haulers handled all the milk in 8 gallon steel cans at 68 pounds each and/or 10 gallon larger steel milk cans at 80 pounds each.

Then there was a revolution as it was mandated that after 1955, milk would be hauled in bulk trucks, mostly 10-ton capacity bulk trucks. A few fringe farms still had a market for cans of milk for specialized dairies, but bulk was the king. This meant big-time investment by dairy farmers. should they do the investment and get bigger, or slowly go out of business? This was a huge turning point in Lisbon and farms started to disappear in the township.

The history of milk haulers in Lisbon, first with cans and later bulk has a list of very important men who owned their own milk hauling truck. The Steffen family was a third generation milk hauling family with Norman "Pepper" Steffen actually starting at age 15 with his father and brothers (Pepper got started in 1943 and went until 1968.) Other milk haulers were Milo Hardiman, Anthony Dabel, Fred Linstedt, Hugo and Ted Siewert Jr., Paul Fleischmann, Byron Kerr and an assortment of others.

Today, there are almost no milk haulers in Lisbon, as the dairy farming in the township is now down to less than a handful.

Milk haulers were important people, with Linstedt becoming a valued member of the Hamilton School District board, while Fleischmann became a long-time Sussex trustee and later a Village President. Hardiman was for over 30 years selected Sussex clerk. Steffen became a Sussex fire chief.

Steffen went from a can hauler to a bulk hauler, eventually having a 2,500 gallon bulk tank that would haul 22,500 pounds of milk from his many stops, and he would make two rounds a day for his route. his big routes were for Golden Guernsey, which switched from a Milwaukee 30th Street address to a north City of Waukesha plant. Golden Guernsey was started by Lisbon farmers George and Gavin McKerrow, just as the depression started in 1929, and existed until just a few years ago, when it closed its doors suddenly.

Follow-up on recent three-part series in Retrospect about former Sussex Fire Chief Norman "Pepper" Steffen.

He and his wife Joan Cumiskey had two sons and a daughter, not necessarily in order: Randy, Jim and Pam. Today, Pam is Mrs. Pam Willoughby of Hartland. The extended family has also grown to three grandchildren and now eight great-grandchildren.


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