I graduated from Brookfield Central High School in 1963 with no clue on what I was going to do with my life. Some of you may find this difficult to believe, but I am not a scholar. I am confessing today that my monumental vocabulary is driven by the liberal use of the Thesaurus. Even though I graduated in the top 3/4 of my high school class and I was the captain of my high school basketball team, no universities were knocking at my door to invite me to visit their campus.
That summer I was spending a couple of weeks in Wisconsin Rapids with my grandparents. I had been doing this since I was five years old and had developed some close friendships with a couple of guys, Larry and Dennis Davis, who are a few years older than I am. I often wondered why they let me hang out with them. Larry is three years my senior and Dennis two. They even snuck me into a beer bar when I was only 14 years old where I had my first beer, a Michelob, whose bottle I fell in love with and kept. I think explaining to my grandmother where I got the bottle was the first lie I told her.
So, getting back to the summer of ’63, the Davis boys were home from college for the summer. Larry was attending Bethlehem College, a Moravian school, in Pennsylvania, and Dennis was attending Central College of Iowa, located in Pella Iowa, on a basketball scholarship. They called and asked me if I wanted to join them. They were going to the YMCA in Port Edwards to play in a summer basketball tournament. I still loved basketball at that point in my life and I was more than ready to join them.
It turned out most of the players were college players or former players and it was a three on three half-court tournament. I cannot remember everyone’s name, but there are two guys whose names stuck with me all these many years later. One is Larry Hilgendorf. He had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse, then LaCrosse College, where he was the captain of the basketball team. He was returning to LaCrosse that fall to get his masters degree in Chemistry and to coach the freshman basketball team. Larry recruited me right there on the court of the Port YMCA! Well, maybe recruited is not the proper word to use. He might have said something along the lines that I should consider going to LaCrosse and of course there was no scholarship money or even a free trip to visit the campus. But, I was like the proverbial wallflower at the school dance where nobody asked me to dance; so, the first person to do so… Well, not only was Hilgendorf the first, but he was the only person to ask me to play ball for him. So that is my college basketball recruiting tale and it was the first door that was opened to me that shaped the rest of my life because that is where I met my wife, Jacqui.
Oh, yeah, the other guy. He was a 6’6” all-state basketball player from Wausau Wisconsin who went to the University of Michigan on a basketball scholarship and later transferred to the University of Wisconsin to play basketball where he received his undergraduate degree as well as a masters degree and doctorate in business law. His name was Mike Schmidlkofer and that is what has stuck in my mind for the past fifty-some years. He was a very good basketball player, as well as baseball, but so were the rest of the guys there, but nobody had a moniker like “Schmidlkofer.”
Last night, Jacqui and I went to the Fish House in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida for dinner. We were the only people present at the time. It is “out of season” and most of the tourists have left for home and that is why we visit during this time of the year.
We ordered their award-winning tuna dip and a glass of wine and were visiting with the young bartender, Nicole, when in walks a lady, named Barbara, with her one-eyed dog named Abby. Immediately it became obvious to us that she was a regular as Nicole put a Bloody Mary in front of her and a bowl of water on the floor for Abby.
We struck up a conversation with her and she began to tell us about her life and how she ended up living in Santa Rosa Beach. We asked her where she was originally from as most people in Florida are originally from somewhere else. She said Ashland, Wisconsin. Well, Jacqui’s father was the principal of Ashland High School for a few years and Jacqui asked her if she knew him and a good friend of the Turner family, named Bill Woods. She did know their friend, Bill Woods, but she didn’t go to high school in Ashland because her family moved to Wausau where she attended Wausau High School.
Whenever I hear the name Wausau, I identify it with Mike Schmidlkofer, not Wausau Insurance Company, as many others do. So I asked her, “Do you know Mike Schmidlkofer?”
“Know him?” she said. “I married him.”
You could have knocked me off the bar stool if I had been sitting on one. This was really bizarre. I read where there are about 317 million people in the United States and here we were, the only two people in the Fish House that night and in walks the former wife of Mike Schmidlkofer and her one-eyed dog, Abby. I mean, what are the odds?
So, come to find out, after Mike, a non-drinker and non-smoker, graduated from the University of Wisconsin, he was offered a job to teach at the University of Florida and before he started, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away in 1969.