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Friday, 22 April 2016 11:58

42 years and counting: Joe Schaefer continues family legacy

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Joe Schaefer is a lifetime resident of Walworth County and a 42-year member of the Walworth County Board. In addition, he runs Ye Olde Hotel in Lyons, a landmark in the small community. Schaefer’s father and grandfather also served on the county board, giving the family a combined 90 years of service to date. Joe Schaefer is a lifetime resident of Walworth County and a 42-year member of the Walworth County Board. In addition, he runs Ye Olde Hotel in Lyons, a landmark in the small community. Schaefer’s father and grandfather also served on the county board, giving the family a combined 90 years of service to date. Terry Mayer/staff

LYONS -- The first year Joe Schaefer was elected as a Walworth County Board supervisor, President Nixon had resigned due to the Watergate scandal, Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" and "The Godfather: Part II" was playing in the movie theaters.

A lot has changed since 1974, but one thing that has remained consistent in Walworth County  is Schaefer’s service to the county board. That service will continue as Schaefer, 72, of Lyons was re-elected April 5, making him the longest continuous-serving board member in the county’s history at 42 years. Schaefer said he is looking forward to serving another term.

"I feel privileged," Schaefer said. "It’s a privilege to be on the county board."

Schaefer serves District 2, which includes the town of Lyons, town of Spring Prairie, town of Lafayette, sections of the town of Troy and portions of Burlington. Schaefer defeated former board member Rick Stacey, who had served District 1 but resigned his seat when he moved to District 2.

Nancy Russell, chair of the Walworth County Board, said Schaefer has served the board well.

"Joe comes to the meetings prepared and he’s very responsive and he participates in the discussions," Russell said. "He supports the county board chair and the county administrator. He is committed to the job.

"He knows the history of the county. If you have a question about the county’s history, he usually has an answer. It’s a big milestone for him (to serve on the board for 42 years). I’m happy for him."

Serving on the Walworth County Board is a family tradition for Schaefer. His grandfather was a member of the board for 28 years, and his father, Herbert Schaefer, was a member for 20 years. Both his grandfather and father also served as Lyons town chairman for many years.

"I think if you add it up, you have 90 years -- 28, 20 and 42 years, continuously on the board," Schaefer said. "That’s probably a state record."

Schaefer said his father and grandfather inspired him to become involved with local government.

"When I was young, I used to read my dad’s mail, because he was town chairman for 20 years and my grandfather was town chairman for many years," Schaefer said. "My dad would get mail, and I would scan over some of his mail. He would make a motion to approve something, and I thought, ‘Boy, isn’t he a big shot?’ But now I’m on the county board, and it’s more or less something you have to do being on the board."

Schaefer said his son, Joseph Jr., may follow in his footsteps some day.

"My son has got a little interest," he said. "He and his wife have other jobs to attend to. My son and daughter-in-law have interest, but they have other jobs."

Even if the family tradition doesn’t continue, Schaefer said he is optimistic about the future of the board and Walworth County.

"I think (the board) is in very good shape," Schaefer said. "We have two new board members. Everybody gets along well. The outlook is good."

Schaefer said the county government would not be successful without quality employees.

"You can’t run a nice county without the employees and the department heads," he said. "We have a good finance director to keep us at a zero budget along with (County Administrator) David Bretl. The county is blessed to have Mr. Bretl’s help and guidance."

Restaurant is a mainstay

Schaefer also is a longtime business owner, operating the Ye Olde Hotel in Lyons for about 47 years.

"After high school, I went to Vietnam and I always wanted to buy a bar," Schaefer said. "When I got out of Vietnam in 1967, (the business) was for sale. The Playboy Club opened in 1967, so there was a lot of activity around Lake Geneva."

The Ye Olde Hotel includes four apartment rooms, a full-service bar and a restaurant.

"I’ve watched the business grow and grow. I’ve had a good run for 47 years," Schaefer said. "You know that guy who walked on water? He used to stay here. I’ve seen a lot. I could probably write a book. I get customers from Chicago and Milwaukee and a lot of the locals."

Schaefer said one of the main challenges the business has faced during the past few years is competing against chain restaurants.

"These types of restaurants are becoming a dying breed. The fast food places are taking over," Schaefer said. "The young people aren’t supporting (the local restaurants). The older people don’t go out as much anymore, and you don’t get the younger people back.

"They want Applebee’s. They want Olive Garden. They want Chili’s and Charcoal Grill with 17 televisions. This type of operation is a dying breed."

The one thing that hasn’t died over the years is Schaefer’s love for his community and county, where he has been a lifelong resident.

"I’m loyal to the county. It’s a wonderful county to live in," Schaefer said. "We have everything here. We have agriculture. We have industry. We have a playground for the tourists from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas.

"I’m proud that this is my home and place of business."

As far as being a member of the board after his current term expires, Schaefer said he has to wait and see.

"Who knows? Tomorrow I might cash in. You never know," Schaefer said. "I’ve had a good run, and it’s not over with yet."

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