Last Sunday, when I stopped in Cross Plains (on my way home from the Lake Louie Brewery) to take a few photos of lawn ornaments, I also snapped a photo of the neon Heileman’s Old Style sign outside Main Street Lanes. Suspended under the neon sign is another sign that says “Gopher Crossing.”
I was curious about the significance of that second sign, but I was also in a hurry to return home, so I didn’t stop to make any inquiries about it. I just added that bit of research to my “good intentions” list. I did, however, post the photo of the signs on Flickr.
Today, prompted by a comment babybear10202 left on the copy of my photo I posted on my Flickr photostream, I stopped by Main Street Lanes on my way home from Prairie du Sac, where I’d gone in search of some Dr. Evermor sculptures.
My original three informants, who wish to remain anonymous, told me the sign referred not to an animal, but a man named Kenneth “Gopher” Schwenn, who died last April at the age of 83.
“Gopher” lived across the street from Main Street Lanes, and “every single day after work he came across the street” to the bar, they told me. There’s a walkway painted across Highway 14 (Main Street) between the house and the bar. That’s the Gopher Crossing. Originally, the Gopher Crossing sign was printed on cardboard. Eventually, someone paid to have a permanent sign created — and it’s hung there for years and years.
The three anonymous informants introduced me to Marty Olson, Gopher’s best friend. I asked Marty how “Gopher” acquired his nickname and heard a funny story about some of “Gopher’s” high school pranks. But I promised not to reveal the detailed explanation of the origins of the nickname.
When Kenneth “Gopher” Schwenn died last year, his obituary included a mention of his association with Gopher Crossing. Here’s the obituary, which was published in the Wisconsin State Journal on April 16, 2006:
CROSS PLAINS – Kenneth W. “Gopher” Schwenn, age 83, passed away on Thursday, April 13, 2006, at the Don and Marilyn Anderson Hospice Center. Kenny was the famous Gopher of the “Gopher Crossing” in Cross Plains. He was born on Nov. 1, 1922, in Fitchburg, the son of Walter and Mary (Lehr) Schwenn. Ken served in the U.S. Army during World War II and is a member of the American Legion Post 245 of Cross Plains. Kenny married the love of his life, Irene Hilgendorf, on May 14, 1947, in Middleton. He worked for the Town of Middleton for 38 years. Kenny loved all sports. He was an avid fan of the Cubs and Brewers. He loved his grandsons and never missed any of their sports activities. He was very proud of their accomplishments. Everyone knew when Kenny was in the room by his hearty laugh. He lived his life to the fullest until he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. Ken is survived by his wife, Irene of Cross Plains; his daughter, Nancy (Leonard) Acker of Cross Plains; two grandsons, Timothy (Pam) Acker of Cross Plains and Thomas (Gina) Acker of Cross Plains; his four “buddies”, his great-grandchildren; Alyssa, Tyler, Joshua and Brianna Acker; a brother Obert (Ivy) Schwenn; his sisters-in-law, Betty Schwenn and Mary Schwenn; his in-laws, Lucile (Fritz) Tritten, Edward (Pat) Hilgendorf, Dorothy Miller and Lavonne Shipley; and many other relatives and friends. Kenny was preceded in death by his parents; a sister, Velva; and four brothers, Russell, Ronald, Robert and James. Funeral services will be held at ST. MARTIN’S LUTHERAN CHURCH, 2427 Church St., Cross Plains, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 18, 2006, with the Rev. Peter Jonas presiding. Burial will be in Valley Home Cemetery. Family and friends may call from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Monday, April 17, 2006, at ST. MARTIN’S LUTHERAN CHURCH. Friends may also call on Tuesday from 10 a.m. until the time of the service at the church. The family would like to thank the Don and Marilyn Anderson HospiceCare Center staff, Andrea Rutledge, Dr. Daniel Jarzemsky, Sister John Rose Acker, and Pastor Peter Jonas for all their support. Memorials may be made in Kenny’s name to St. Martin’s Lutheran Church or to the Don and Marilyn Anderson HospiceCare Center, 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway, Madison, WI 53711.
Husband, Dad, Grandpa, and Great-Grandpa Gopher, you have given us great memories and we will always carry them in our hearts forever.”Good night Irene, Good night Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.”