Recollections of Columbia, Wisconsin

by Mabel Schlender Jonkel

Contributed by Sarah Poertner

transcribed by Crystal Wendt & Michelle Harder.



Mrs. Fink, Mrs. Moravec and Mrs. Summ were feeding the sheep at Tuma's.  One can only wonder why the ladder was on the the outhouse!


*Mr. and Mrs. Tuma built a nice home across the tracks from the store when they came from Chicago in 1910. One grown son, Alfred, was a very good pianist. Within a short time they returned to Chicago. The Boas family of St. Paul bought the place but only lived there a short time. There were quite a few tenants in the Tuma home.

Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Larson and family lived in the Deal building on Main Street. His wife had the millenary store. He ran a portable sawmill. He also was a carpenter and a mechanic. They had come from Osseo. For a time they left Columbia. In 1920 they moved and worked on the Dick Lynch farm in Levis for two years and then returned to live in the Tuma house. From there he and his two sons did road construction work. He was a brother of Mrs. H.D. Lockman. Mr. And Mrs. Larson passed on in Columbia and were buried in the Columbia cemetery.

*Mr. And Mrs. Reinhold Pretch and family came from Sauk County in 1916. They lived on the Burton Wells farm until 1918 when they bought the Suhr farm. They had been married in 1892 and had five children: Fred, Reinhold Jr., Howard, Mary and Mabel. The latter passed on in infancy. Mr. Pretch passed on in 1938. Mrs. Pretch gave up the farm and went to live with her daughter, Mary, who was Mrs. Bruno Lloyd.

*Mr. And Mrs. Frank Baumel, Sr., of Chicago bought 160 acres of brush land two miles northwest of Columbia during the Columbia boom. In 1912 they traded Chicago property for the Oscar Peel farm which had farm buildings across from the 160, making a total of 240 acres where they farmed for five years. Tehy then traded the farm for Chicago property to John Jonkel. There were five children.

Jerry was in postal work in Chicago. George was town clerk for two years. He was very active in U.B.O.C. Club. He was also Columbia's correspondent for the Neillsville paper. His marriage to Ida Schultz of Columbia was dissolved two years later. They had one daughter, Grace. He returned to Illinois where he remarried. Frank, Jr., married Freida Sollberger of Columbia and they lived in Chicago where Frank was a supervisor in the main post office. There was one daughter, June, who was a very good musician.

Ella married Ward Lockman, a Columbia boy. They had worked on a farm in Granton, in 1919 bought the Fred Moser, Sr., farm in Columbia. There were four boys. Mae married Harry Gehrt whose parents lived five miles east of Columbia. They farmed in that area until retirement when they moved to Neillsville. Mr. and Mrs. Baumel returned to Chicago where they passed on.


*Mr. And Mrs. Robert Rouse, Sr., and family came from Virginia and lived in Milwaukee for a short time. Tehy located on the E.B. Starett farm one and one-half miles south of Columbia. There were nine children.

Ruby lived in Milwaukee. Clarence lived in Abbotsford. Ernest had part interest in the farm and later years took over full ownership. He married Olga Christofferson of Columbia. They moved to Montana. After the father's passing, several tenants were on the farm. When the hosue burned they gave up the farm andand it went to the county for a tree farm.

Emily married Paul Hines who had a farm two miles south of Rouses. They farmed awhile and sold, moving to Woodstock, Illinois. Robert was on the farm several years and moved to Milwaukee. He never married.

Josephine married Legare Apfel of Columbia. They live on the farm they owned in Levis. There was one son, John. Mayme married Roy Iverson of Columbia and lived in the Lighthold farm joining his father's farm. Later they bought acreage and built a home about five miles south of Columbia, near Hatfield, Merrillan and Columbia Corners. Dorothy married a man from Stevens Point. For several years she was a telephone operator in Neillsville. Margaret passed on in teens while attending the high school in Neillsville.

The young people all were very active in social affairs. Mr. Rouse lived in the area twenty years and then went to live with his daughter Emily in Woodstock where he passed on April 21, 1936. Mrs. Rouse was a very sweet, homey person. She passed on several years before Mr. Rouse.

*Hugh Todd family came from Chicago in 1913 to live on the Bill Neverman farm one and one-half miles south of Columbia. They bought the Frank Babcock acreage planning to build a home but six months later the six daughters decided they preferred Chicago so the family returned. The girls were: Grace, Ruth, Ida, Edtih, Norene and Martha.

*Mr. and Mrs. Peter Bachman were born in Hungary, coming to the states and locating in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1914 they bought a farm four and a half miles west from Columbia where they built a picturesque little farm among the hills. There was a large clearing. Near the home was a hill where we young folks use to go out by sleigh loads to coast and ski. Mrs. Bachman always had coffee for us and some of the good German bakery when we all finished. There were three children: Joe, Catherine and Anna. All married out of town folks. When the children left Mr. and Mrs. Bachman gave up the farm and retired to Milwaukee where Mr. Bachman passed on. Mrs. Bachman then went to live with her daughter, Anna, in Black River Falls.

*Gabriel Von Grunt, his mother and sister, Dorothy, came from Chicago in 1914. They built a home three miles north of Columbia. Being of Russian descent, Mrs. Von Grunt claimed to be kin of nobility in Russia. Dorothy was a music teacher in Chicago. She married Tracy Dormandy of Columbia. When the mother passed on they all returned to Chicago. At the passing of Tracy and Dorothy interment was made in the Columbia cemetery.

*Mr. And Mrs. John Jonkel, Sr., were born in Bohemia, coming to Chicago in their youth and were married there. He was tailor for many years. In 1917 they traded their duplex in Chicago for the Frank Baumel farm two miles north of Columbia. He continued to work in Chicago during the winter while the boys, Frank and George, did the farm work. There were eleven children in all. Five passed on in infancy.

Anton was a mounted police in Chicago. John, Jr., and family came for several months but returned to Chicago. Rose was married and lived in Braidwood, Illinois. Frank served in World War I, serving in France where he was wounded. He returned to the farm in 1918 where he worked for several months. He then returned to Chicago where he was employed as tool and die worker for International Harvester Company and later worked for Western Electric Company as a tool maker for twenty-three years and then eight years as an Industrial Engineer. He married the Columbia postmaster, Mabel Schlender, in 1921. They resided in Chicago for thirty-four years before retiring in Baraboo. He passed on in 1957.

George was on the farm several years and was also a substitute mail carrier. He married Ruby Poertner of Columbia and they went to Chicago where he was park policeman. There were three children: Theo, George Jr., and Charles. This marriage was dissolved. George was a chef on the Pacific boats. He retired in Alaska where he passed on. Ellen, the youngest child, married Frank Hnetkovsky of Illinois. They took over the farm and lived there many years. Frank was active in starting the cranberry marsh and helping the owner, Forest Calway, of Neillsville. There were five children: Frank Jr., Edward, Florence, Clarence and Jack. When the children were grown the family moved to Braidwood, Illinois. Ellen passed on in 1957. Frank remarried and lives in Coal City, Illinois, retired. Mr. Jonkel passed on in Chicago in 1928 and Mrs. Jonkel passed on in Columbia in 1932. Both were buried in Chicago.

*Mr. And Mrs. Joseph Poertner were born in Germany. Mrs. Poertner came to the U.S.A. in 1884 and he came in 1889. Both were residing in Alton, Illinois, where they were married in 1892. Soon after they moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where they operated a bakery. In 1919 they came to Columbia, settling on a 160 acres of brushland four miles west of Columbia. They bought sixty-five goats to help clear the brush. Here they built a two-room tarpaper home and a small barn. They cleared more land and eventually developed a large vineyard on a side hill. Many baskets of four varieties of grapes were sold each fall. They built larger farm buildings and prospered well. There were six children.

Josephine stayed in St. Louis, married and passed on in young womanhood.

Oscar was in Columbia a few months and returned to St. Louis where he married. Russell stayed and helped on the farm a few years. Then he, too, returned to St. Louis and married. George stayed on the farm. When his father retired, he took over. He married a Columbia girl, Bertha Laager. They had two children, Sarah and Ronald.

Mr. Poertner passed on in 1942 and Mrs. Poertner in 1956. George continued on the farm for several years after his father's passing. Mrs. Poertner went to live with her daughters, Ruby and Frances. George moved to Columbia and bought the Henry Schwendland farm and also the Babcock farm, adjoining on the south. Here he farmed until his passing in 1969. Ruby married a Columbia boy, George Jonkel. They lived in Chicago for several years where three children were born: Theo, George Jr., and Charles. This marriage was dissolved. Ruby moved back to Columbia where she purchased the Otto Wetzel farm three miles east of Columbia. She farmed several years and then remarried to Tom Yndogliato of the town of Pine Valley. Frances married Albert Sollberger of Columbia. He was employed by the Northern States Power Company. They located in Neillsville. There were three children: Leonard, Helen and John. John passed on in infancy. Leonard (Micky) stayed single and at home. Helen married Gavin Upton and lived in River Falls. After her husband's passing Frances married a former Columbia man, Leo Schwendland, and they live in Cherokee Village, Arkansas.


*William Sollberger was born in 1901 and reared in Columbia. He helped on his father's farm. In 1933 he married a Columbia school teacher, Irma A. Ackerman, of the town of Pine Valley. After the passing of Bill's uncle, Gottfield Sollberger, who owned the former John Twamley home with ten acres of land, Bill and his wife moved into the home in 1937. They purchased the land owned by the last storekeeper, August Stelter. For a short period they ran the store. They had no children.

After the closing of the store they purchased more county lots until their acreage totaled 108 acres. This they farmed. More recently they have subdivided and sold lots. A number of summer homes have been built in town. Columbia is quietly returning!

It is impossible to write the story of each resident. Many came for a few months or years and then sought other fields.

I have endeavored to write a short history of the first pioneers. In conclusion the people at one time lived in or around Columbia usually concur that their sojourn there, whether brief or long, is considered as one of the happiest times of their lives. Invariably they arrived imbued with the true pioneer spirit prepared to overcome difficulties which were many. One must bear in mind it was such a spirit which has made our country great in the eyes of the world.

If their contribution seems small at this time to them at that time it was always incredibly large and important. Memories are recalled at the annual Columbia Old-Timer's Picnic held each year with names of those in attendance recorded since 1958.

This history is my gift and dedication to the town of Columbia and its people of whom I loved and continue to.

Love and devotion,

Mrs. Mabel Schlender Jonkel





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