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What’s got you scratching your head about Milwaukee and the region? Bubbler Talk is a series that puts your curiosity front and center.

Grobschmidt Park, Grobschmidt Pool: Why are so many Milwaukeea-area spaces named after this family?

Grobschmidt Park entrance
Susan Bence
Grobschmidt Park entrance located at S. 35th St. in Franklin, Wisconsin.

For this week's Bubbler Talk, question asker Jessica Wineberg wants to know:

Who was Grobschmidt and why does he have a county park and pool named after him?

Grobschmidt Park is located in Franklin, Wisconsin and a 15-minute drive away is Gobschmidt Pool in South Milwaukee. However, during my search to find the answer to Jessica's question, I was led to a pedestrian bridge off Milwaukee's lakefront, which is also connected to the Grobschmidt name.

Though all these different spaces aren't named after the same person, they are named after members of the same family.

Jessica Wineberg wondered who was Grobschmidt. Park friends Tom Niemic (center) cares for the county park in Franklin, local historical society president Jim Luckey had childhood memories of fishing its lake and biking around it with his sister, but no one had the answer - who was Grobschmidt.
Susan Bence
Left to right: Franklin Historical Society's Jim Luckey, Friends of Grobschmidt Park's Tom Niemic and Bubbler Talk question asker Jessica Wineberg at Grobschmidt Park.

Jessica is a trails coordinator for the Milwaukee County Parks. "I was trying to do my job. And I got a little confused ‘cause we have two [Grobschmidts]," she explains. "And I was wondering who is Grobschmidt and what did he do that was so great that we got two parks named after who I would presume is a he."

I met Jessica at a Grobschmidt Park entrance on S. 35th St. off of W. College Ave. There was not much to look at — just a sign, a picnic table and a bit of grass. But the path tucked in the brush led to a small body of water, called Mud Lake.

"There's a two-mile loop trail around the lake, and you go through a sedge meadow, a forest. The coolest wildlife citing I had was finding a prairie crayfish — they burrow in little holes and they're happy when it rains. Who knew crayfish live in prairies," she says.

To find out who the Grobschmidt of Grobschmidt Park was, I asked the Franklin Historical Society, but struck out there. So I talked to Tom Niemic, who is president of Friends of Grobschmidt Park.

Grobschmidt park path
Susan Bence
Grobschmidt park path.

Tom figures he donates 100 hours a year widening trails and removing buckthorn and other invasive plants, but does this park promoter have the Grobschmidt intel? "I think he was a farmer and at some point he rented land to Robert and Charlotte Ensor," he says.

Bubbler Talk: What have you always wanted to know about the Milwaukee area that you'd like WUWM to explore?

I tracked down a relative of the Ensors, their niece Edna Gullifer.

Edna recalls, "We walked that land quite often, [my aunt] would show us where the little house was — just the foundation was left — and how she liked the rich black soil for gardening. They had pears and apples in the orchard nearby."

Yet, Edna couldn’t fill in the Grobschmidt blank, either.

But archives from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did. A 1958 article states the Milwaukee County Parks Commission authorized staff to try to buy land around Mud Lake to create a park.

There were several landowners, including William Grobschmidt who had been a farmer, as well as a gravel dealer, bank president and from 1935-1953 a Milwaukee County Parks board member.

In 1963, the new park was christened in his honor.

The Milwaukee County Parks Chester B. Groschmidt Swimming Pool behind South Milwaukee city hall
Susan Bence
The Milwaukee County Parks System's Chester W. Grobschmidt Pool is located behind South Milwaukee City Hall.

William Grobschmidt also was mayor of South Milwaukee in the 1920s. So surely the county’s Grobschmidt swimming pool behind South Milwaukee City Hall was named for him.

But that’s wrong, according to David Kieck.

David Kieck followed Chet Grobschmidt's (photo far left) nearly 30 years of service as South Milwaukee mayor.
Susan Bence
David Kieck followed Chester Grobschmidt's (far left photo) nearly 30 years of service as South Milwaukee mayor.

David is a former mayor of South Milwaukee and served after Mayor Chester Grobschmidt. That’s William Grobschmidt’s cousin, and the second Grobschmidt in our story.

David says Chester, everyone in town calls him Chet by the way, began his time as mayor in 1966.

"I had the privilege of following Mayor Chet [who] served our community for 28 years. He’s a person you would want to emulate because he made people happy. He inspired me to serve the community," he shares.

Turns out when the pool in South Milwaukee was named, Milwaukee County was tipping its symbolic hat to Chet. The city also named its senior center after him. I hoped to chat with the still very vital former mayor but the timing was not right for the 100-plus-year-old.

To this day, you talk to the citizens in the community, they remember Chet. Former South Milwaukee mayor David Kieck.
Susan Bence
To this day when you talk to the citizens in the community, they remember Chet, says former South Milwaukee Mayor David Kieck.

But I did connect with his daughter-in-law, Barb, who was married to the late Rick Grobschmidt, the third Grobschmidt in our story. Rick also has a site named in his honor.

Rick, Chet's son, grew up in South Milwaukee, taught at its high school and served nearly two decades in the state Legislature. He died in 2016.

"[Rick] just loved people and he was a great listener, a collaborator, mediator. He would resolve issues," Barb says.

After a four year effort Barb Grobschmidt is thrilled her husband Rick's legacy is memorialized on the pedestrian bridge within Lakeshore State Park in downtown Milwaukee.
Courtesy of Barbara Grobschmidt
After a four year effort, Barb Grobschmidt is thrilled her husband Rick's legacy is memorialized on the pedestrian bridge within Lakeshore State Park in downtown Milwaukee.

When Rick died, Barb says his fans in state government helped her start working on a memorial befitting his spirit. "We approached the Assembly and Senate in 2017, [which] was less than a year after he died, and one of the state senators suggested the bridge —[it] is just stunning," she says.

Two men. One standing and other in a wheelchair.
Courtesy of Barbara Groschmidt
Chet Grobschmidt at the celebration of his son's legacy at Lakeshore State Park in October 2021. To his left is then South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks.

It is the pedestrian bridge within Lakeshore State Park, just north o the Summerfest grounds along Lake Michigan. Barb says it seemed perfect because Rick helped spearhead the park. "It did get going with Tommy Thompson and Rick. Rick met with people on both sides of the aisle and got support," she recalls.

The memorial required legislation, which then-Gov. Scott Walker signed. But Barb says it would be nearly four years before the plaque would adorn the stunning bridge.

"I was anxious — with Rick’s father being 101 [years old] that it get done. We squeezed it in October on the 16th [2021] and it was a beautiful day. It seemed like a perfect metaphor with the shiny bright bridge. I imagined as we stepped forward that Rick is there to carry us across, as he was a true bridge builder" Barb says.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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