I must confess, I am a junkie that reading obituaries everyday in the local newspapers. On Feb. 10 and 11, there was a very large one that attracted my review, one Roberta "Bert" Jean (Brown) Duckett. I had met her in July of 1996 when she and four others in her extended family asked me - as the Sussex historian - to give this group a tour of the historic St. Alban's God's Acre Cemetery and the adjacent church built between 1864-75.
Roberta Brown was born Sept. 24, 1927, in Waukesha and lived all her life in Waukesha, dying on Feb. 8, 2010. However, her roots were with Sussex pioneer James Weaver and his third son, Sussex millionaire Richard Weaver.
James Weaver is considered the "Father of Sussex/Lisbon." He was born in England and came to New York in 1830 and then Sussex/Lisbon in 1837. He and his wife, Betty Fielder, had 16 children - six in England, four in New York and then six more in Sussex/Lisbon.
James Weaver is the great-great-great grandfather of Roberta through his third son, English-born Richard Weaver (1827-1906). Richard and his wife, Rhoda Stone (1828-1900) had two daughters, Serena and Rhoda II; however Serena was the only one who survived. She became the wife of Sussex general store keeper David Topping (1842-1921). His store still stands and the Topping home is a prominent fixture at the southwest corner of Maple and Main, the store west of the Sussex Best Reality building. Today, the store is the Jon Debelak Plumbing business.
Richard Weaver became Sussex's first millionaire as he was in business with his father James and brother William buying and selling hops. The beer-flavoring ingredient once was the foremost agricultural product in Lisbon.
In 1882, he detected a crop failure in Europe and the eastern United States of the hop plant. He got information via telegraph and used it to buy all he could of the Wisconsin, Missouri and Washington state hops for 15 cents a pound, and when the world realized the crop failure, he had the majority of what was available. Richard had a small corner on the world supply and sold it at $1 a pound making a reported $600,000 in 90 days.
Meanwhile, he was a big bank executive at the Waukesha State Bank and large land owner in Lisbon and northwestern Missouri (Empire Prairie) and a walking banker in Sussex/Lisbon.
A distant relative of his, Adelaide Weaver Weeks, once told me that "Richard was quick to loan out money, and just as quick to foreclose."
Today, Richard and his father and brother, William, have prominent grave stones in St. Alban's along with an estimated 100 other close relatives that predated Roberta Brown Duckett.
David Topping and Serena Weaver had two grandchildren from their daughter Estella May Topping and her husband Charles Brown who lived in the Sussex Best Reality home. Their son, Clinton, married Margaret Fraxier and went to live in Waukesha; they had Roberta in 1927.
In 1946, Roberta was a freshman at Carroll College and she met this 26-year-old Marine, a South Pacific veteran who had re-enrolled in Carroll College. They were married in 1947 when Roberta was 20 years and Robert Duckett was 26.
They had three children, Kathy, Mike and Steve. Duckett was an outstanding Carroll College and Marines athlete, and he took his athletic knowledge to Waukesha High School (Waukesha South today) where he taught from 1947-1981. He served as a teacher, basketball coach, vice principal and principal.
He had a varsity career record of 164-46 in nine years with his 1960 and '61 teams only losing two games. He took third in the WIAA Madison state basketball playoffs both years with player Roy Birk still holding the all-time state tournament scoring record with 102 points in three games. He died Nov. 27, 2007, just as Waukesha South was working on a shrine in his memory at their field house.
In July 1996, when the Ducketts and Browns visited Sussex for the historic tour, I collectively asked them, "Who of this group still has money from the Sussex millionaire Richard Weaver?" All five who were present raised their hands.
On a side note, the Duckett/Brown group gave me about 20 pieces of silver-plated flatware with the initials of Richard Weaver, his wife, his grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Today these initialed silverware are on display at the Sussex-Lisbon area Historical Society.
It's also worth noting that five direct relatives of Roberta Brown-Duckett served as Lisbon Town Chairmen: David Bonham, James Weaver, William Weaver II, Richard Weaver and Richard Craven. Meanwhile, Roberta's grandchildren are now the ninth generation of pioneer James Weaver.