Local History Index:
Retrospect: Semrow opens
Sussex Beer Depot
First of two parts
by Fred H. Keller, Sussex Village
published, Sussex Sun, Retrospect,
February 5, 2008
A home once stood on the triangle of land formed
by the intersection of Main Street and Silver
Its backyard was dominated by a sawmill, with
logs ready to saw and the finished product
waiting for its owner to pick it up. In time,
that backyard, stretching from Silver Spring to
Main Street, became a building lot.
Ultimately, that backyard sawmill house and
its sheds wound up next to Sussex Community Hall
(today's Sussex-area Outreach Services, more
commonly called the food pantry).
That house became the Lisbon Telephone Co.
Central Office, and the sheds behind it became
storage areas for telephone maintenance supplies
In 1946, an enterprising man, George "Red"
Semrow, bought if for a home for his new bride.
He used the back sheds for his side business:
raising lots of rabbits.
In late 1949, though, he decided that, as
good as the rabbit-raising business was, World
War II was over and the taste for rabbits was
waning. He needed new business to supplement his
growing family. Besides, his wife was against
continuing the rabbit business.
So, while keeping his regular job, he started
the first-ever Sussex Beer Depot. Thirty years
later, he sold the house and business to Pat and
Dave Bartlett, who would call it Olde Country
Spirits. Pat ran the business during the day,
Dave in the evenings.
Pat became a Sussex village trustee and
served multiple terms as village president
before resigning when she moved out of Sussex as
this century began.
The Bartletts sold the business when they
moved. The property at N63 W23635 Silver Spring
Road is now called J's Liquor under its fourth
(Many years earlier, the sawmill house was
moved to a new site on Maple Avenue across from
St. Alban's Cemetery. Jim Heck's Citgo station
occupies that location today.)
Semrow's Sussex Beer Depot, the village's
first, is now 58 years old. From 1949 to 1979,
it was one of the pillars of Sussex and had no
competition. Since then, a second beer depot has
opened in Sussex, and both of the village's
major grocery stores have full-service
Semrow, the third of 13 children, was born on
a farm near Whiskey Corners, up east on Mill
Road. (Today, the majority of that farm is part
of the Silver Spring Country Club golf course.)
Young Red had a hardscrabble childhood. He
told me in 1979 that back in the Depression, his
family had very little money and was into making
"My family made moonshine on the farm," he
said. "Never sold any. The relatives drank it
I went to his brother, Ray, the eldest of the
13 children, to find out about the booze-making.
His story was a little different:
"Yeah, we made it, and we sold it. It was
during the Depression and Prohibition, and the
family needed the money. I delivered to four
taverns in Butler for $7 a gallon.
"I was only 12 years old when I started
driving. I drove a truck, with my mother going
along. I didn't need a license to drive in those
"We got into trouble because, instead of
waiting for us to deliver it, guys started to
come to the farm to pick it up. With all the
traffic coming out to this lonely farm in the
dark, a jealous neighbor figured out what was
happening and reported us.
"One day, Sheriff Redford came around and
told my family to clean the place up, as the
Feds were coming to raid the place."
Red and Ray helped the family dismantle the
still, burying the copper boiler deep in the
center of the farm's manure pile. The rest of
the equipment was hidden in the haymow.
When the Feds came, Ray told me, they snooped
around but didn't find anything of consequence.
They finally left, admitting defeat, and excused
themselves, saying that someone must have given
them the wrong information.
The visit by the Feds put the fear of the law
into the family, and they never made any more
booze. Shortly thereafter, Congress repealed
Prohibition, ending the bootleg booze business.
Retrospect: Beer Depot
Second of Two Parts
by Fred H. Keller, Sussex Village
published, Sussex Sun, Retrospect,
February 12, 2008
The original George "Red" Semrow's Beer Depot is
now, 59 years after it first opened for
business, under its fourth owner as J's Liquor.
Semrow had no competition in 1949 when he
started, but there's plenty today, including two
Red was born in 1916
and only attended grade school, the nearby
Willow Spring Grade School.
The U.S. entered World War II in 1941 when he
was 25 years old, but he was not inducted. He
was too old for the first 18- to 21-year-old
Then he was exempted as a farmboy, and later
because he worked at the Wauwatosa Liberty (Grede)
Foundry, an essential war production job. He
continued to get older, too, reaching 29 by the
time the war ended.
He raised rabbits during the war years in a
house close to Willow Spring Mobile Home Park.
Most meats were strictly rationed during the
war, but rabbit meat wasn't one of them.
In 1946, a year after the war ended, he
married Dorothy Janke, a Granville woman, but
not before she extracted a promise from him to
get rid of the rabbits.
"I sold most of the rabbits," Red recalled
recently, "but I fooled her. Gradually I got the
number back up. You know how rabbits multiply."
Soon after they married, Red found out that
the Lisbon Telephone Co. central office and its
attached sheds were for sale. Dorothy was
interested in the Main Street house that housed
the telephone office, but Red was intrigued by
the back shed, where he could really get his
rabbit business going.
Before then, Bell Telephone had not extended
its reach into rural communities such as Sussex,
which had Lisbon Telephone Co., but now the big,
nationwide telephone company started to acquire
such rural phone businesses.
Red bought the property for $5,500. The deal
included a kicker allowing Lisbon Telephone Co.
to rent the front room for its central office
for $25 a month, effectively eliminating
Semrow's mortgage payment for the first three
years, after which the telephone company left.
Red retained his foundry job while his rabbit
livestock boomed, but by now Dorothy saw the
profit potential and started feeding and
watering the animals and helping out as needed.
Red favored New Zealand white rabbits.
He had about 1,000 rabbits in the sheds
behind his downtown Sussex home. Red sold 200
rabbits per week to Soden's Market in Milwaukee
- most of them alive. He also brokered stock
raised by other rabbit farmers.
Besides selling live rabbits, Red also
butchered a lot of them, including any brokered
rabbits that showed some color, because he only
sold the "white" New Zealand variety.
While Soden's Market took 90 percent of his
stock, Ray Raddenback at the Sussex Brook Hotel
and later Marian Donkle, who took over the hotel
and renamed it Donkle's Tap, bought most of the
(All that remains of the old hotel is the
clock in Sussex Square Park.)
By 1949, however, it was time to get out of
the rabbit-raising business as Red's customers
could now get nonrationed beef and pork. It was
time to find a new part-time job, and just
before Christmas he hit upon the beer depot
He cleaned out the sheds and remodeled them.
Dorothy tended the business during the day while
minding their growing family. (They ultimately
had four children.)
It was all new to Red, determining what to
order and how much. He started with a case of
gin because it was Christmastime. "My money was
limited," Red said.
He also had a little problem with a local
church group that wanted to shut it down.
Taverns were bad enough - Sussex already had
three of them, and Whiskey Corners was only a
long mile away - the church people thought.
Red went to see Village President Charles
Busse about the opposition, but no one followed
through to stop him.
Semrow also kept his full-time job for 12
more years before he went full time at the beer
Right next to the beer depot was the Sussex
Fire Department garage, and in March 1953 Red
joined up. Because he lived next door, he was
often the first one there and would have the
doors open as the other volunteer firemen
He remained a valued and active member for
more than 20 years. His fellow volunteers
elected him their steward (providing food and
beverages after a practice or a fire call,
conveniently from his business right next door),
and he served in that position for many years.
Red and Dorothy sold their home and business
to Pat and Dave Bartlett in May 1979. They
retired to a summer property on Green Lake and
to winter digs in Florida. He returned often to
make the annual Fire Department Founders party
for retired firefighters in February.
Red is buried in the front row of St. James
Catholic Cemetery on Town Line Road.
March 17, 1992
Patricia Bartlett, 48, (Inc.)
W232-N6116 Waukesha Ave.
Date of Birth:
April 6, 1943
Liquor store owner
Feb 1, 1996
Patricia Bartlett, 52
Address, Time in District: N58-W24248 Clover
Drive, 33 years
Date of Birth: April 6, 1943
Occupation: Partner in Olde
Bartlett, David L.
- Sunday, October
Age 72 years. Of the Town of
Waukesha. Formerly of
Born to Eternal Life Friday,
October 12, 2012. Beloved
wife of Patricia (nee Thelen).
Loving father of Suzie
(James) Ureda, Brett (Liz),
Jeff (Linda) and Jason
(Kathy) Bartlett. Proud Papa
Dave of David, Samantha,
Blake, Brooke, Brynn,
Cameron, Morgan and Missy.
Dear brother of Diane Maglio.
Further survived by nieces,
nephews, other relatives and
The family will receive
relatives and friends on
Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the
funeral home from 3:30 PM
until time of Memorial
Service at 5:30 PM. Private
burial Oak Hill Cemetery,
Brookfield. Dave was a
resident of Sussex
for 39 years and the
former owner of
Liquor Store in
Dave also was a member of
Lions Club. In lieu of
flowers, memorials to the
Medical College of Wisconsin
Division of Oncology, 9200
W. Wisconsin Ave.,
Wauwatosa, WI 53226.
Copyright 2012, Journal
Sentinel Inc. All rights
reserved. (Note: This notice
does not apply to those news
items already copyrighted
and received through wire
services or other media.)
Sussex woman on brink of
deportation to India Strict immigration laws have left her
family with few choices
Journal Sentinel (WI) - Thursday, November
Author: LAUREL WALKER,
of the Journal Sentinel staff: Milwaukee Journal
Sussex woman on brink of deportation to
Strict immigration laws have left her family with few
Terwinder Singh, a Sussex wife, mother of
two and business owner, sits in the Dodge County Justice
Facility awaiting the moment when immigration officials will
put her on a plane to India.
She has not been back to her Waukesha County home and
business since Nov. 4, when Brown Deer police came to her
aid after she became stuck in traffic with a flat tire.
A lousy flat tire -- and treadmarks left by the Sept. 11,
2001, terror attacks on an increasingly contentious debate
over U.S. immigration policy.
When police routinely checked Terwinder Singh's records,
they discovered that immigration officials wanted the
31-year- old woman detained. She entered
the country illegally, without proper documents, 12 years
ago for an arranged marriage. But officials didn't catch up
to her with an order to depart voluntarily, at her own
expense and within 30 days, until March 2002. Her appeal had
been hanging around since 1998.
At the time she'd had two children -- daughter Manpreet, now
12, and son Gagan, now 8. They are American citizens.
Why she ignored the order isn't clear, but that made matters
worse. Her husband claims they were unaware that her appeal
had been denied or of a final order to report with bags
packed for deportation on Feb. 26.
By the time Brown Deer police came upon her, she was
considered a fugitive, and she's been treated like one,
shackles and all.
Ram Singh, her 46-year- old husband, seems
like a lost soul these days as he struggles to manage
family, home and the liquor store business. Unlike his wife
and children, he does not have a good command of spoken
English and cannot read or write it despite 20 years in this
Without his wife, who managed everything, "I lose
everything," he said. "I can't handle."
He worries about his children, students at Maple Avenue
Elementary and Templeton Middle schools in
Sussex , and the terrible choice he faces
if his wife is soon deported as expected. Either they must
live here without their mother or return with her to a
country that is not their own.
On the last visit to India, he said, his daughter spent much
of the month in a hospital because she became ill on the
food and water. The children do not read or write their
parents' Punjabi language, and they speak it poorly.
"I no understand what I can do," Ram Singh said. "I need
help. I no want to cut family apart." The couple have
decided the children will return with their mother, or after
her if a joint flight is prevented by officials.
Terwinder Singh's friend and advocate, Penny Jo Kundert,
said any day a call can come telling them to deliver a
40-pound maximum suitcase to the Chicago flight home.
Kundert, who is director of the Sussex
-area Outreach Service, is brought to tears by the case.
The Singhs, whose Olde Country Spirits and attached
residence is next door to Kundert's office and the
Sussex Food Pantry, have brought diversity to her
rather homogeneous community since moving there eight months
ago from Milwaukee, Kundert said. Their children play with
her children. They share meals. Kundert has brought the
children to visit their mother in jail twice.
She had hoped that somehow Terwinder Singh could stay at
least long enough to sell the family business and leave for
India with her family, "with dignity."
It is difficult to understand how a woman could work for
several years, as Terwinder Singh did for Kohls department
stores' distribution center, and how she could own a home,
pay taxes, buy a business, get a driver's license and have
children, and then one day be told to just leave when, as
Kundert put it, "she committed no crime but to have a flat
No crime, except violating immigration law.
Harold Block, a Milwaukee attorney specializing in
immigration cases who's seen a lot like this one, has
consulted with Ram Singh and sees little recourse.
Changes in immigration law in 1996 made it much more
difficult for illegal immigrants who had positively fit into
the United States to obtain permanent status, he said.
Adding children -- U.S. citizens -- to the equation might
have made a difference had Terwinder Singh not been ordered
"I guess what it is, is an illustration of the harshness of
the current immigration laws," he said. Congress seemed
interested in changes, and "it might have happened if we
hadn't run into 9-11."
Just this week, President Bush said he would push for
changes allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. as
guest workers, but he's likely in for a fight in Congress.
U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) last week
blocked federal reform of the intelligence community,
despite pressure from the White House, because he didn't get
his demand for a ban on the issuance of driver's licenses to
"It's pretty clear that the president and a lot of members
of Congress believe further modifications are necessary,"
Block said. But right now, the law "is harsh. It's severe,
and unfortunately, the laws are what they are."
Gail Montenegro is a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement in Chicago. Speaking about cases such as
Terwinder Singh's, she said, "Yes, of course that's a
difficult issue. You're dealing with children who have every
right to be in the United States. But that doesn't convey
rights to the parent who decided to come here illegally."
Montenegro said the department does have priorities.
Terrorists first. Then criminals after they've served their
sentences, then smugglers, and so on. They're not looking
for illegal aliens who aren't troublemakers, but if they
find one, they won't turn them loose.
Even those looking for a little help with a flat tire.