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INTERVIEW WITH JOHN CUMICEKInterview with John Cumicek
John has been active in community affairs all his adult years in Seymour. He is a man who can be counted on to help get things done. The American Legion, Fair Association, economic development, school activities and numerous committees and organizations have benefited from his contributions. He served on the steering committee for the new museum and continues to volunteer as a guide.

"I was born in Racine in 1943 to Charles and Julia Cumicek. My dad immigrated from Czechoslovakia in the early 1900s. During WWII my dad worked in a factory in Racine making airplane parts. He read a book on watch making and became interested in that as a profession. He was mechanically inclined, became interested and took a test to become a watchmaker in the state of Wisconsin. He passed the test, then my parents considered what to do and they heard that there was a jewelry store for sale in Seymour, Wisconsin.
Jewelry Business
They saved their gas stamps from WWII and took a drive to Appleton and made a long-distance telephone call to a Mr. Leinninger who owned the jewelry store in Seymour. They asked if the store was still for sale and he said, 'Indeed it is, especially after what happened last night when my wife died.' He invited them to come to Seymour and that's when my folks came in 1944. We lived above the store at 245 North Main Street.
My Sister Kathy
Kathy, my sister, was born on July 18 at St. Vincent Hospital, delivered by Dr Raymond Groendahl of Seymour. She remained in the hospital until July 27, my fourth birthday. Thus, on my fourth birthday, I received a sister and a red scooter. Kathy continued the family business. After one year at St Norbert College and the death of our father in January 1966, Kathy attended the Milwaukee Technical School and became the second female licensed watchmaker in Wisconsin after being an apprentice for Bob Thimke in Shawano. Kathy purchased the jewelry store in 1977. She was the first female to be appointed to the State of Wisconsin Watchmakers Examiners Board. Kathy operated Cumicek Jewelers until 2017 for a total, of 40 years in Seymour.
Memories of Main Street
I will recall the west side of Main Street in downtown Seymour and what it looked like in the late forties and early fifties. Starting at the corner of Pearl and Main Street, first came the Emmanuel Lutheran Church that stood on the corner as it does today. South of the Emmanuel church was a Congregational church then came two large rocks that we used to climb on as kids. There is a monument there today in honor of that church. I remember going to church suppers in the living room of the pastor's house. Next was a house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Otto who operated the See-More Theater that was across the street. Crossing Alley Street there was a business owned by a VandenBogart that made women's hats. Ladies would come from all over to buy hats.

Continuing south was Olsen's restaurant. Prior to Olsen's it was owned by the McBain family. In fact, Rogene McBain who we know as Rogene Skodinski today, was my baby sitter. Next was my parent's store and then south of that was Dobe's tavern. West of the tavern they had a garage where they kept two race horses. That garage is still there today. It was Dobe's tavern until I was in the fifth or sixth grade and the Cropsey's bought it. Dobe's would hire myself and Jerry Olsen from the restaurant, to go out and collect bushel baskets full of grass for the horses. We got paid so much per basket. South from the tavern was Schoen Refrigeration and before that it was a sport shop and Kraft's Shoe Store. Next came the Economy Store, then Jensen's Appliance and Kuehne's Cleaners who did dry cleaning and he was also a tailor. Jerry Olsen and I used to visit Kuehne's Cleaners often and talk with Paul Kuehne. Once while visiting I shoved Jerry through a showcase window. It was never replaced. A sheet of lumber took its place. Kuehne's was followed by Kahnt's Shoe store.

On the corner of Morrow and Main was Billy Miller's Department Store. As you crossed Morrow Street came the Hardware Store and then Reese's Dairy. They made their own ice cream and delivered milk door to door. Bill Reese was also an agricultural teacher at Seymour High School. Next came Marnocha's Tavern and then Swan's Barber Shop. That takes us down to the railroad tracks and I will stop there.
Kids in the Area
We had a number of kids who lived in the area. Jerry Olsen was my age, Ron Cropsey, Jim Schoen, Susan Gagnow Moeller, Orrin Kahnt who was tall and played basketball for Seymour. I remember at age 12 he had size 12 shoes.
Six Auto Dealers
I can recall at least six automobile dealerships. Windau's was at the corner of Pearl and Main Street, Mielke's was next going south, then came Gustman's, then Cook's on Morrow Street, Melchert Brothers on South Main and Vandenheuvel Motors on Highway 54.
Six Grocery Stores
Seymour also had six grocery stores. Helmke's on North Main Street, the Economy Store across the street was owned by a man named Crystal. The Red Owl was on Morrow Street. Hallada's Market was next to the tracks on East Main. Pasch's owned by Leroy Pasch and his brother was south of the hotel. Lastly, Dunbar's was on South Main at the intersection of Hwy 54 and 55. Some of the businesses had apartments on the second floor and that is where the owners lived. This was during the late 1940s and 50s.
Grade School
I went to grade school at St. John's and had nuns for teachers. When I started first grade we met in the gym since they needed more space. As an altar boy I had to memorize prayers in Latin. We had two grades in one room. It was very challenging for the sisters, sometimes they had 50 or 55 students in one room. My teachers were very good and they provided an excellent education.
High School
I graduated from Seymour High School in 1961 where I was active and was a member of the National Honor Society that was just started. I always enjoyed sports even though I was not an athlete. Mr. Gulbrand needed a statistician for the basketball team and I was the stat man for the next three years. We didn't have winning teams in those years, but it was enjoyable. At the end of the season the school sent us to the state basketball tournament. We always looked forward to it, even though we didn't stay in hotels, we stayed in individual homes.
My social studies teacher was Orson "Buck" Weaver and he had quite an influence on me. I was on the debate team that was coached by Jim Watson. We were part of the Northeastern Wisconsin Conference and my senior year we defeated Preble for the conference championship.
Athletics didn't have many trophies, but we got a trophy for being the Northeastern Conference Debate Team Champions. I remember Barb Treml, Janice Lathrop, Bob Schroeder and Mike Tierney as being members of that championship team. The high school that I attended was built in 1954. For entertainment I followed sports. My senior year Mr. Thompson was the head football coach and Mr. Becker was his assistant and Orson Weaver was the baseball coach.
Growing up in Seymour
I often attended movies in Seymour at the See-More Theater. Since I lived just across the street it was very handy. I remember the admission price was twelve cents with a two-cent tax. So, for fourteen cents we could see the movies. We liked the cowboy movies with Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
I was active in scouting and remember going to meetings at the scout house. It was built in 1952. The scoutmaster at that time was George Baerwald who owned he Gambles store that was located across Main Street from my dad's store. George and his wife didn't have any children and they became like a second set of parents to me. I worked at the hardware store and even remember counting out 44 clothes pins. Francis Gerl also worked there. He was in high school. I became an Eagle Scout in 1961.
College Years
Dad was a watch maker and Jeweler and he recommended that I not go into that business. So upon graduation I enrolled in St. Norbert College. I received a degree in business and went through the ROTC program and upon graduation I enrolled in the service. I was the only student from Seymour to go to St. Norbert that year. I still remain in contact with all of my old college roommates and classmates. I graduated with a degree in business and a minor in military science. It was the height of the Vietnam war and all male students had to take classes in ROTC as freshmen and sophomores. After the sophomore year you had to decide if you wanted to go into the advanced program. I decided to enroll. Then we had to go to basic training or summer camp between our junior and senior year. We went to Fort Riley Kansas. I remember distinctly that after 1½ weeks with our heads shaved I was out in the field taking a class on radio transmission. I was tapped on the shoulder and was told that there was a problem with the braces on my teeth. They gave me the option of going home or signing a waiver that the army was not responsible if something went wrong. In 1965 all my classmates were commissioned as second lieutenants but I was not. I remained a sergeant-major until the next year when I did go back to Fort Riley and obtained my second Lieutenant bars. During our graduation in 1965 it was significant that our class speaker was John Glenn.
Military Career
My military career started in 1968 when I had to report to Fort Sill on Thanksgiving Day. I was an artillery officer and reported to artillery school. We were told that all orders after artillery school were cancelled and we just knew we were going to be sent to Vietnam. Instead, I got orders to report to Pershing Missile School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. While at Fort Sill and being trained in artillery the classes were difficult with a lot of math.
Tragic News
In January of 1966 I was getting ready for a class and saw someone from the Red Cross. I said to one of my classmates somebody is going to get some bad news. I sat down in class and suddenly got tapped on the shoulder and I was the guy that got the bad news. I was informed that my dad died. They said, under the circumstances, 'Cumicek you can stay and take the test or you can leave immediately on a flight for home. It is a very difficult test, but if you stay and take it we will guarantee that you will pass. We will cover for you.' I thought I might as well stay. I took the test then immediately left for home. I arrived at the airport in Green Bay at 2:00 AM. My neighbor Jerry Olsen picked me up and took me home.
My dad was just 64 years old. I was on emergency leave then I had to go back. He had some previous medical issues and had a heart attack. He was taken to St. Vincent Hospital and since Seymour didn't have an ambulance at that time, he was transported in a hearse from the funeral home. They dropped my dad off and he waved to them and said, 'thanks guys see you later.' Never did they think they wouldn't see him again.
Graduation at Fort Sill
After I graduated at Ft. Sill from the artillery basic course, I went through the Pershing Missile School with the German air force officers and was shipped to Germany. My unit was the 3rd Battalion of the 84th Field Artillery and my Battery, with nuclear capability, was out in the field on standby.
Since I was a new officer, they had a special assignment for me. I was to be an attorney for a fellow who did something wrong and I was taken to Heidelberg where this fellow was in the brig and I had to represent him. I had a friend in Seymour who was an attorney, Ken Rottier, so I knew a little about it. As an attorney in the military, I had a 2-0-1 record. I won another case and I got a guy off from a drunken driving charge and in another it was obvious the man was guilty and he pleaded guilty.
Missile Tests
Since we were working with missiles capable of being armed with nuclear warheads, we could not test fire them in Germany. On several occasions we flew from Frankfort, Germany to Albuquerque, New Mexico and we test fired missiles with dummy warheads from the desert to White Sands Base in NM. The military wanted me to reenlist and become a platoon leader and help with an experimental program where they fired two missiles at once. I didn't have a girl friend at the time, so I said I would do it providing I could come home and visit my mother. They agreed with that so I extended my enlistment six months. During the six-month period I did become a captain. I became the Battery commander of C Battery of the 3rd Battalion 84th Artillery. The Pershing Missile Program was the number one mission of the cold war. Since I was active with that I was not sent to Vietnam.
Coming Home
I remember coming home and Dudley Birder from St. Norbert was at the airport and he said, 'Cumicek, welcome home.' I had my uniform on and actually had the opposite welcome from what the veterans of Vietnam had.
First Job
I took my first job as a bank examiner for the state of Wisconsin in September of 1968. I lived in an apartment right across from the zoo in Madison. The landlady there introduced me to my future wife, Adrienne, who was a teacher at Cathedral school in Madison. I called my mother and said 'I think this is it.' I was married to Adrienne on November 28, 1970. Her uncle, who was a priest, performed the ceremony. I was a bank examiner out of Madison for a year and a half, Appleton for a year, and a half and then I was transferred to Milwaukee for two years. In 1973 my mother sold the jewelry store to Bud Rigdon from Milwaukee. Adrienne and I lived in a duplex in Milwaukee owned by Rigdon.
National Guard
I was in Manitowoc and one of my co- workers informed me that something terrible happened. The Adjutant General of the Wisconsin National Guard was in a plane crash and was killed along with several other people. I was encouraged to apply for the position of the officer who was killed. I applied, and was interviewed by the new Adjutant General, and was accepted as a member of the Selective Service detachment for the Wisconsin National Guard. I served in the Guard for 20 years and my rank went from Captain to Major to Lieutenant Colonel. I retired from that in 1988.
Selective Service System
Shortly after retirement I received a call asking if I was interested in becoming the State Director of the Selective Service System. I said, 'Well I have four kids but I think I could do it.' I received a phone call from the governor’s office congratulating me and after a six-month background check I became the state director on July 27, 1989. At that time in 1989, I was president of the bank in Seymour and was very busy. I was told it would be a short appointment because another person with some political ties was interested, but I served for 30 years. My major purpose was to be a liaison to the Governor. I worked with local boards and since we didn't have a military draft it was part time deal.
First National Bank in Seymour
I was hired at the First National Bank of Seymour in 1973 by Phil Dallman who was the president. In 1983 he left and I became the president. We went through a number of takeovers and name changes including Firststar, Marine Bank and Bank One.
The Fair
The Outagamie County Fair started in 1885. When I came back to Seymour to work at the bank, Mike Burns asked me to serve on the fair board. When Burns and Maynard Puls passed away I became president until I retired in the 1990s. The new grandstand was one of the big accomplishments during this time. The old grandstand was not in good shape and we hired an architect to design a new one. It opened in 1993-94 and included an office facility. It has seats for 4,000 and standing room for another 5,000 for rock groups like the BoDeans. The fair was noted for big name entertainment, but in recent years competition from casinos and other venues made it difficult to continue with expensive performers. We worked with Jayson Promotions from Nashville to book the performers.
Family and Community Activities
Adrienne and I had four children, fifteen grandchildren and two great grandchildren. After her passing in 2013, I've continued to spend time with the family, going to the grandchildren's activities, traveling and I remain active with community activities. I've always enjoyed following high school activities and being involved in the community. A few things that stand out in my mind include: The football state championship in 1985, three basketball state championships, five runner ups, the new buildings at school, and Burgerfest getting started. I served on many committees including the Seymour Economic Development Corporation, building the museum and the aquatic center. I was honored to be named the High School Athletic Backer of the Year and the Seymour Citizen of the Year. I remain active in the American Legion and as a volunteer at the museum.
Seymour was a great place to raise a family. I continue to enjoy the relationships I established over the years and have many great memories.

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