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Thursday

September 2014

18

Big ambitions alive in little Okauchee

Quaint community pulls together for a better life

Okauchee — Don't let size fool you. Okauchee might be smaller than its neighbors, but its residents and merchants have big ambitions for their little town.

Incorporation effort

Probably the most recent piece of evidence is a renewed quest for incorporation. A group of about 25 Okauchee stakeholders have been meeting regularly and doing their homework on what it takes to be promoted to village status. Possibly the biggest feat will be raising the $25,000 incorporation petition filing fee, but another challenge could come from neighboring Town of Oconomowoc. Officials are opposed to Okauchee's incorporation quest because their proposed boundaries do not include the rest of the town; Okauchee is an unincorporated community within the Town of Oconomowoc. Officials say they will lose too much tax base to sustain if Okauchee separates. The proposed Village of Okauchee would be bordered by Highway 16 to the south and Peterson Road to the north, Highway C to the east and a jig-jag border along the west that includes the Oconomowoc Country Club and Ashippun Lake, but juts in around Highway Z.

Incorporation member and Golden Mast owner Hans Weissgerber said the group planned to meet with town officials Monday to discuss their concerns.

"We feel their concerns are unnecessary," Weissgerber said. Incorporation facilitator Terry Brandl said officials have said the state would not approve the petition if the incorporation would harm the remaining town.

Back in business

Another Okauchean who didn't let a perfect storm of small troubles get the best of him in a big way is the owner of the Okauchee Convenience Center - Citgo, George Laugerman, who recently re-opened his business after months of being closed.

When Musky Mike's bait shop closed in the retail space attached to his gas station, Laugerman said the loss of income in rent was insurmountable. "Every month I would have to pay rent to the bank" for the vacant space out of his own pocket, Laugerman said. He said he tried calling the bank to re-evaluate his mortgage payments, considering the situation he was in.

"When I didn't hear back from them for about eight weeks, I called and asked what was going on. They said they wouldn't meet with me until I made a payment and I had run out of money," Laugerman said, noting this was occurring in the middle of winter when business was already down.

"So the bank started giving me trouble, and I just said no and locked up. They were surprised, but I'm not going to let them repossess my business," he recalled. Beyond the mortgage payments, supplies, payroll and other related costs, every time a fuel tanker fills his Citgo - which is about twice a week - the bill comes to $24,000, he explained.

In the meantime, Laugerman said, several people said they were interested in buying the business, though nothing materialized. However, a friend of Laugerman's decided to step in and become a silent partner, offering the funds to get him back in business.

"People are so ecstatic," he said of the recent reopening. "Our pizza guy (located in the store) has only been open four days and he did a $250 fish fry. At $7 a plate, that's a lot of fish.

"I've been here shaking hands (of patrons), and the old staff has come back. I just hope the town supports me enough," he said.

Grassroots effort

The Okauchee Area Business Association (OABA) was initiated a few years ago to serve as "visionaries of a vintage community rich in history," and works to establish, promote and maintain a neighborhood network of progressive and diverse commercial enterprises, according to the group's website, okaucheefun.com.

"We've got strong personalities," Laugerman joked about himself and Weissgerber, who both serve on the OABA Community Improvement Committee. Together with others, they planned, constructed and paid for a welcome sign at an estimated cost about $40,000. Currently the group is working on fundraising to place a plaque on the sign that would include the names of businesses who donated $1,000 or more. To be included on the plaque, contact the OABA through the website.

The money would be used to help offset the costs and will go toward more improvements in the area, including seasonal plantings around the sign and community.

Weissgerber said the group recently held its annual Okauchee community dinner/dance, which raised about $9,000 that will be used for the same purposes: physical improvements, beautification and scholarships.

OABA will offer four $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors who are residents of the Town of Oconomowoc or attending either Arrowhead or Oconomowoc High School, among other criteria. For more information and to download a scholarship application, visit the website; application deadline is May 14.

In all, the OABA's purpose is to enhance life in the community. And even though it may not be as large or have as much resources as its neighbors, it hasn't stopped the group, which boasts about 50 members.

"We're moving into the summer with a positive attitude," said Weissgerber.

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