Hori­con: More than the Marsh

City has plenty go­ing for it, in­clud­ing lots of John Deere green.

Milwaukee Magazine - - Sponsored Content - BY JOHN MCGIVERN

If all you know of Hori­con is that there’s a marsh, then you have a lot to learn – and you’re a lot like I was un­til last Au­gust, when we spent five days shoot­ing our Hori­con episode of “Around the Corner with John McGivern.” Be­fore then, I hadn’t even given thought to the fact that there might be a city called Hori­con. I thought there was just a wildlife sanc­tu­ary and wet­land called Hori­con Marsh.

So it’s no sur­prise that the marsh was first thing on our list, and we found the per­fect way to ex­pe­ri­ence it. Marc Zuels­dorf, owner of Hori­con Marsh Boat Tours at Blue Heron Land­ing, put me and my crew on a flat-bot­tom boat and pro­ceeded to fill our heads with facts and our eyes with in­cred­i­ble beauty. Marc’s dad started the marsh tour busi­ness 54 years ago with a sim­ple busi­ness plan: to pro­vide a way for peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the marsh by boat, be­cause see­ing this marsh by driv­ing around it just doesn’t do it jus­tice. We weren’t on the marsh but a few min­utes when we saw a 4½-foot great blue heron. I thought how per­fect that the first wildlife we wit­nessed was the name­sake of this tour com­pany’s home base. It was like Marc had it staged, and it took a minute be­fore I was con­vinced that this big bird was even real! Marc told us that there are be­tween 500 and 600 herons liv­ing and nest­ing in the marsh, and around 305 species of birds have been iden­ti­fied here. We saw ea­gles, wood ducks, dou­ble-crested cor­morants and belted king­fish­ers, all of which birder Marc pointed out. In 1991, to pro­tect the Hori­con Marsh, it was ded­i­cated as a wet­land of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance. The pro­tec­tion of this land is vi­tal to the wildlife, im­por­tant to the econ­omy of the area and a gift to all of us Wis­con­sinites. We left Blue Heron Land­ing in the early af­ter­noon, and by the time we re­turned, I was over­whelmed with pride and re­spect for this Wis­con­sin trea­sure.

There is ab­so­lutely noth­ing tax­ing about the marsh tour, but af­ter do­ing al­most any­thing, it’s usu­ally my plan to grab a bite to eat. Thank­fully, the next es­tab­lish­ment on our list was Rock River Tap. From the out­side it looks like the small tav­erns that were on every other block when I was grow­ing up. But when I walked in, I was to­tally sur­prised. It’s huge. It’s got a long bar with a few ta­bles in the front, a large back din­ing room and a pa­tio that over­looks the Rock River. On the af­ter­noon we stopped in, there were ta­bles of cus­tomers who were eat­ing and ta­bles of cus­tomers in the mid­dle of an af­ter­noon game of bridge! Next to them was an­other ta­ble of com­pet­i­tive mahjong play­ers. Bob Car­pen­ter has owned the place for 28 years and says the clien­tele range in age

from 21 to 91. Peo­ple come for the home­made piz­zas with caramelized onions and roasted mush­rooms and for the best fish fry in town. But you know why I’ll come back? OK, any man can ex­pe­ri­ence this, but women, find Bob and tell him McGivern wants you to see it. Be­cause in­side the men’s bath­room is what has to be the largest uri­nal ever made! No, I swear. I wouldn’t write about a uri­nal, es­pe­cially in this cul­tured, al­most high­brow Mil­wau­kee Mag­a­zine, if it weren’t some­thing. It is the size of a 1954 Buick. I was afraid I was go­ing to fall in.

The uri­nal at the Rock River Tap and the Hori­con Marsh Boat Tour are rea­sons enough to come to Hori­con, but if you like the color green, then get in your car. Of course, there’s only one shade of green al­lowed in Hori­con, and that’s John Deere green. This com­mu­nity has a long and spe­cial re­la­tion­ship to John Deere. The plant opened in 1911 and builds John Deere lawn equip­ment. In 2010, John Deere Hori­con Works also be­gan to build Ga­tor util­ity ve­hi­cles. Gen­er­a­tions of families have worked at this same plant. Tony Wes­ti­mayer, who re­cently re­tired from the stamp­ing fa­cil­ity, was the third Tony Wes­ti­mayer to work here – and there’s a fourth gen­er­a­tion of his fam­ily there now. We heard a lot of multi-gen­er­a­tion sto­ries at this em­ployer of eleven hun­dred peo­ple – in a com­mu­nity of just 3,655. Hori­con is happy that “Noth­ing Runs Like a Deere.”

Jim Bandsma is happy that noth­ing runs like a Deere, too. He’s the son of a John Deere em­ployee, and he fol­lowed in his fa­thers’ foot­steps for thirty-three years. He is now re­tired but serves as Hori­con fire chief, and is an avid col­lec­tor of all things John Deere. He has one of the first John Deere rid­ing lawn mow­ers ever made. He owns John Deere toys from the 1950’s and 1960’s. He has dolls and bikes and signs and clocks and ther­mome­ters and pens and pen­cils and pa­per tablets and ta­bles and chairs – all with the John Deere logo and green and yel­low col­ors. It is a com­pletely im­pres­sive col­lec­tion, and I’m so grate­ful that Jim shared it with me.

John Deere is big, but the smaller busi­nesses here are no less im­pres­sive. One of my fa­vorite vis­its in Hori­con was with the Freds Sch­w­ert­feger at Hori­con Bank. Fred F. is pres­i­dent and his son, Fred C., is a vice pres­i­dent of this com­mu­nity bank that be­gan in 1915. There are 15 branches that em­ploy about 180 peo­ple. The tag line of Hori­con Bank is “The Nat­u­ral Choice” be­cause of their tie with the marsh and the geese, and be­cause they know and re­spect and proudly serve the Hori­con com­mu­nity. They are in the mid­dle of town, in a build­ing that hear­kens back to a dif­fer­ent time. Take a look at the pris­tine bank vault and the alarm sys­tem that may not be of use, but sure are of great in­ter­est. This build­ing was built to house not only the bank, but the Post Of­fice as well. It still stands tall and strong and rep­re­sents Hori­con’s past and present.

An­other Hori­con star is LeRoy Meats. When you ar­rive, be sure to ask for LeRoy. That’s how they’ll know you’re new to Hori­con. This clas­sic meat mar­ket and deli (started in the nearby Town of LeRoy) is fa­mous for its brats. They have over 60 va­ri­eties. I asked Scott Hurst, the owner, which brat fla­vor was the most pop­u­lar and he an­swered, “Wis­con­sin Beer and Cheese.” I asked why, and he looked at me like I must be from Illi­nois. He said, “Be­cause of BEER and CHEESE… Wis­con­sin’s two fa­vorite things in­side Wis­con­sin’s other fa­vorite thing, the BRAT! It’s like the TRIN­ITY!” OK, I ad­mit, it was a stupid ques­tion.

By the time we left Hori­con, I learned one other very im­por­tant thing. Don’t make fun of the high school mas­cot! The mas­cot is a Marsh­man. Not a Mar­tian, not a marsh­mal­low – a marsh-man, who is de­picted by a car­toon of what looks to be a 40-year-old sailor in hip waders, and peo­ple in Hori­con LOVE him!

I’ve been back to Hori­con since our shoot­ing, to visit Eve­lyn and John at Eberle’s Pro­duce. The Eber­les are farm­ers who have been sell­ing pump­kins, squash and gourds for 40 years. They also sell crafts they make over the win­ter. Their mar­ket is open mid-Septem­ber into Novem­ber, and it’s now a must-do for me every fall.

Now when I think of Hori­con, I think of a lot more than the marsh. If you saw this episode, or if you watch it on mil­wau­keepbs.org, you’ll know that even though the marsh stole my heart, the city of Hori­con steals the show. I’ll be a Marsh­man any­time. I’ll even wear the hip waders… if I have to!

McGivern, right, with Jim Bandsma, Hori­con fire chief and John Deere col­lec­tor

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