Retrospect: Butcher Jack Walter left his mark as Lannon founder, firefighter
Back near the turn of the last century, stand-alone meat markets were common, and many remained viable through the 1950s and beyond.
A 1923 Waukesha directory listed 39 meat markets, including Sussex's Herman Kaderabek Meat Market, Templeton's Charles A. Busse Meat Market and Lannon's Walter & Sons Meat Market.
Such shops have all but disappeared - today's Waukesha Yellow Pages lists fewer than a dozen meat markets, and several of them have "and Deli" added to their names.
Henry Walter made a huge splash in Lannon when he opened his shop in 1900. His son, John, known to most as Jack, was only about 3 years old at the time. He and his brothers, Jerome and Alvin P., whom everyone called by his initials, A.P., eventually took over their father's business.
The shop was just off Lannon's four-corner downtown, north of Betti Ann's Antiques and across Lannon Road from today's Mibb's and Viv's. The meat market was out front, and the family lived in quarters behind and above it.
Back in 1900, meat markets tried to sell their product quickly after butchering because they didn't have ice to keep it for very long. The Walters delivered their product around the village in a meat wagon, often for standing or phone-in orders. Once refrigeration came along, the Walter & Sons Meat Market bought into it to prolong the meat's shelf life.
Jack dropped out of high school in his freshman year, just before the start of World War I, as the family needed him in their labor-intensive business.
In 1917, when he was 20 years old, he and A.P. joined the Lannon Fire Department as two of its original 17 charter members. By 1978, Jack was the only one of the 17 still living.
He told me then about the first fire he went to. They had to pull a two-wheeled wooden cart that carried two 50-gallon containers of water and 150 feet of hose to the fire - on the run - and were out of breath by the time they got to the fire.
The fledgling department had no siren to alert firefighters of a fire, just a big bell. He liked the thrill of hearing that big fire bell ring out in the dead of a cold winter night, and rushing to respond. Fortunately, they had only a few major conflagrations, but they did have their share of minor fires.
Financing the Fire Department took a lot of work - organizing card parties, picnics and dances to support it. In time the equipment got bigger and better.
Jack and A.P. were active in the campaign to incorporate Lannon as a village. The Walter & Sons Market was one of the "official sites" listed in the petition for incorporation that displayed the campaign's legal documents.
Once incorporated, villagers elected A.P. to the Village Board in April 1930. A canvass of Lannon that year numbered the population at 338.
A.P. Walter became a big-time farm real estate broker and sold other types of real estate, as well. (He brokered the sale of my own home on Elmwood Avenue in 1958-59.)
Jack stayed with the Lannon Fire Department until the 1960s, but continued to attend Fire Department events afterward as an honorary firefighter and, finally, as the last of the 17 original charter members from 1917.
Jack hung it up in September 1978 at age 81 and lived on until Feb. 5, 1989, when he died at 91, leaving behind his wife, Marion, five children and 16 grandchildren.
An almost lifetime member of St. James Catholic Church, he was buried in the church cemetery. Marion followed him almost three years later on Nov. 14, 1991.
About 1984, the Gildemeister family bought the Walter family home at 7297 Lannon Road. On April 19 and 20, 1997, a massive fire in downtown Lannon took down the former meat market and Walter residence in the middle of the night.
Within a year, the now extended Gildemeister family put in a new home, almost filling the site to the old structure's former dimensions.
A 1947 Lannon directory listed six Walter names, but the 2008 book did not place a single Walter in the village. Only memories of a once-great Lannon family remain.