William ‘Bill’ J. Herziger, 96


William “Bill” J. Herziger died on July 21, 2013, and with his passing at age 96, Cedarburg lost a link to its early history. Born near Cedar Creek on May 16, 1917, Bill would later build a house on Edgewater Drive and take satisfaction in noting that he had spent nearly his whole life on or near the creek.

His parents were Frank and Catherine (nee Epple) Herziger. The Herzigers came from a long line of German butchers who settled throughout southeastern Wisconsin. In looking at records of almost any town, one would be hard-pressed not to find a Herziger butcher shop somewhere in its past. But unlike his father, and grandfather, and great-grandfather – and numerous uncles – Bill was not destined to become a butcher. An early family tragedy and the influences of living near Cedar Creek would take him in another direction.

Bill had an older sister, Laura, who was born in October 1913. (She later married Frederick J. Hilgen, a descendent of Cedarburg’s founder.) The young family lived across from the Herziger Meat Market in a brick house on Washington Avenue. Bill’s grandfather, Emil Herziger, had opened the shop in 1875. And like the numerous Herzigers before him, it was expected that Frank would work in the butcher trade, which he did.

Frank also had a flair for the arts, and was an accomplished violinist and photographer. Frank started a small orchestra through which he met Bill’s mother, Catherine Epple (1886-1983), who played piano. Catherine was the daughter of Gottlieb (1847-1943) and Mathilda (nee Stielhle, 1851-1933) Epple. Her parents were born in Germany and like Frank and his father, Emil, Catherine was born in Cedarburg. She attended the Wisconsin College of Music to improve her skills and enable her to give piano lessons. For 13 years, Catherine played the organ for St. Francis Borgia Church.

As a photographer, Frank took many pictures of early Cedarburg, which became part of the Rappold collection and subsequently a part of the Cedarburg Cultural Society's collection. Many of his pictures were included in the book “Reflections of Old Cedarburg.”

Frank aspired to be an architect or engineer, but died in 1922 at the age of 41 following a complication from an appendectomy. Bill was only 4 1/2.

Shortly thereafter, the family moved into the home of Catherine’s parents, Gottlieb and Mathilda, on Hilbert Street. Gottlieb trained as a carpenter in Germany and was hired to do carpentry work on the Cedarburg Grist Mill in 1871. He also became the father figure in Bill’s life. Strong family ties and roots to the growing community along Cedar Creek shaped Bill’s life.

Gottlieb became general superintendent of the Hilgen Manufacturing Co. across the street from the Epple home. Bill visited there often and became fascinated with the power source of the factory.

The home on Hilbert Street was only a block or two away from Cedar Creek. The creek, Columbia Mill and the dams became the source of Bill’s activities prior to entering high school. He and his friends built shacks and boats with lumber scraps from Hilgen Manufacturing. But Bill was mostly interested in the dams and the power they produced. In time, Bill was building telephones, telegraph sets, radios and rebuilding gasoline engines. He and his friends even managed to connect their shacks with a communication system. Bill often said that he lived a “Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn” childhood.

During high school, Bill played the violin in the school orchestra and then decided the saxophone was more suited to him. He also played football, ran track and was elected prom king. With physics being his favorite subject in high school, it wasn’t long before Bill knew he wanted to be an electrical engineer. In the midst of the Great Depression, in an era when most folks did not go to college, Bill, through his own hard work earning money, was close enough to Milwaukee to attend Marquette University and study electrical engineering. It was also here where he met the love of his life, Marjorie Tump. Marjorie was attending Mount Mary College. Mutual friends arranged a blind date for them, and it was love at first sight. In 1940, Bill graduated from Marquette, got a job with the machinery manufacturer Allis-Chalmers, and on Nov. 23, he married Marjorie.

In the late 1930s through the mid-1940s, Allis-Chalmers’ civilian manufacturing lines were put on hold to focus on war-related production. Shortly after the United States entered World War II, it was one of numerous companies to get involved with the Manhattan Project – the research and development project that produced the atomic bombs that ended the war with Japan. While he didn’t know the specifics at the time, Bill was put to work to solve an electrical problem related to the development of the weapons – the end result was the invention of an electric motor control system that contributed to the project’s eventual success. Years later, Allis-Chalmers presented Bill with the patent.

From 1950 to 1953, Bill ran his deceased father-in-law’s soap company. By the early 1950s, he was working for the Federal-Pacific Electrical Co. in sales. In 1951, Bill and Majorie moved into their new home on Edgewater Drive, where they raised their daughters, Nancy and Mary. Built on the Columbia Pond area of Cedar Creek, where the river is very wide, the home sits high on a hill with large windows to take in the view.

In 1963, Bill started an engineering firm – Herziger and Associates – that designed the electrical layouts for large institutions such as schools and hospitals. He also lent his interest and expertise in electrical power to Cedarburg’s Light & Water Commission, serving as a member starting in 1952. After 35 years on the board, 15 as president, he resigned in 1987. Prior to that, Bill sold his business and retired in 1982.

Bill’s hobbies over the years included amateur (ham) radio, boating and golf. He golfed into his 90s and was delighted the first time he played “four generation” golf with his great-grandchildren.

Shortly after retirement, Bill and Marjorie began wintering in Sarasota, Fla. In 1993, after 53 years of marriage, Marjorie passed away. Bill never left Cedarburg, however, and stayed in his house on the hill until the last few months of his life. In the meantime, he continued to spend most winters in Florida. During summers, he often hosted family gatherings on the Fourth of July. Looking out over the water, with a backyard filled with family waiting for the fireworks to go off, he would often chuckle that, after more than 90 years, he had only moved a half mile down Cedar Creek.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, at St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church-South, N44 W6055 Hamilton Road, Cedarburg. Interment will be at Zur Ruhe Cemetery. The family will greet relatives and friends on Friday at the church from 10 a.m. until the time of Mass.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to the charity of your choice in William’s name.

The Schramka-Densow Funeral Home is assisting the family. Online condolences may be forwarded to the family at www.schramkadensow.com.