Flipping through a century of memories

Another generation of Lehners float on Big Green Lake — smiling, laughing and making memories just like four generations who preceded them. The family has enjoyed lake life ever since local lawyer Philip Lehner Sr. purchased his cottage on the northwest side of Big Green in the summer of 1919. submitted photo

by Joe Schulz

In the summer of 1919, lawyer Philip Lehner Sr. purchased a cottage on the shore of Green Lake.

Today, not only have four generations gone on to be lawyers, but the family continues making memories at the cottage.

More than 40 members of the Lehner family gathered in June at the Tea House on the western edge of the Green Lake Conference Center to commemorate the anniversary.

“I’m just so happy that people have made a supreme effort to come here,” said third-generation Lehner, Mike Lehner, at the celebration. “The last time I saw one of my cousins was at a funeral. It’s nice to see them at a happy time and to just have fun and enjoy each other’s company.”

At the reunion, Mike gave a brief speech before food was served. After a meal, the family gathered to watch two videos produced by Nate Lehner.

To cap the festivities, the family hopped aboard the J Lawson for a boat ride around Green Lake, captained by Mike.

Fellow third-generation Lehner Betsy Tishler can hardly believe her family has been in Green Lake for 100 years.

“I am 78 years old and to think that we’ve had that property all of these years, it’s just remarkable to me,” she said.

The family originally immigrated to the United States from Germany, settling in the Hartford area near West Bend.

“My grandfather went to law school at [the University of Wisconsin]-Madison and he was asked to judge a forensics contest in Montello in about 1900 and he liked the area,” Mike said. “The day after he graduated law school in 1904, he moved to Princeton and started his practice.”

Fifteen years after moving to Princeton, Philip Lehner Sr. purchased a cottage near Beyers Cove in Green Lake, which remains in the family to this day.

Philip Lehner Sr. went on to become a well-known trial lawyer who served as Green Lake County district attorney for three terms.

According to third-generation Lehner Sally Eickelmann, after Philip Lehner Sr.’s passing, three of his children took care of the family cottage.

THE THIRD GENERATION of Lehners who enjoyed vacationing at the cottage gather around a tree. Pictured are, from left, John Lehner, Jim Hoadley, Philip Lehner, Betsy Tishler, David Lehner, Sally Eickelmann, Mike Lehner and Robert Lehner. submitted photo

“My father Phillip Lehner Jr.’s family, we lived in Princeton; that’s where I was born and raised,” Sally said. “So we took over the responsibilities of being the caretakers of the property; we always had it prepared for when other family members would come and use it.”

Philip Jr.’s siblings began building cottages on the lake in 1966, which is when he took full ownership of his father’s cottage.

“My father died in ’67 so he didn’t have the use of it as much as the rest of us,” Sally said. “My mother [Ruth Lehner] then lived on for another 45 years. She was the matriarch of the family.”

Now, Phillip Jr.’s children — Mike, Betsy and Sally — share the property as did the generation before them.

“The building itself has changed; the original building is gone,” Sally said. “Unfortunately, after it had been remodeled about 10 years ago, it fell victim to a tree falling on it, which destroyed about three quarters of the dwelling. So we had a refurbish rebuild after we already updated many things.”

While the building may have changed, the memories formed at the Lehner family cottage have lasted a lifetime.

Scrapbooks fill a table at the Lehner 100th anniversary celebration. Joe Schulz photo

Mike recalled one time when bats got into the cottage in the middle of the night and scared his older sisters.

“I could hear them screaming and they hid under the covers. And my dad would get up and he would have a flashlight and we’d follow the bat and see where it would land. He’d put the beam of the light on, and I had a 22 with bird shot and we ended up getting some bats that way,” Mike said. “When they were flying downstairs with the low ceiling, we actually netted some with a fishing net.”

Betsy recalled coming out to the cottage in the middle of winter with her sister and father.

“My dad would have ropes that he’d tie to the bumper of the car and my sister and I would have ice skates and he would take us out on ice and whirl us around,” she said.

Recently, a new generation has been making memories on Green Lake.

“I saw my own children enjoy [the cottage] the way I did and now I’m seeing my grandchildren enjoying it the way I did,” Sally said. “And I’m not [water]-skiing anymore; I’m sitting on the shoreline, but it just brings a smile to my face. It’s just a very joyous feeling to know that my family can enjoy all the things that I did all those many years ago.”

Mike added it’s been nice to see the fourth and fifth generations enjoy the cottage, as it remains a family gathering place 100 years after its initial purchase.

“We don’t have the largest family, but it’s a close family,” he said. “And if there is a place that we can all get together, it’s right here.”