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April 2014


Fred H. Keller | Retrospect

A Meissner matriarch

Helen May Jeffery in a Maple Ave. School photo taken in 1970-71. She taught 795 students in 23 years of teaching in the area.

Helen May Jeffery in a Maple Ave. School photo taken in 1970-71. She taught 795 students in 23 years of teaching in the area. Photo by:

Helen May Jeffery was part of a major Lisbon family, the Scottish immigrant family of the Jefferys that claimed vast swaths of land in Lisbon on North Lisbon Road and Colgate Road, going back to the late 1840s. When she met Albert Otto Meissner (born Aug. 25, 1906) in 1932, he was a third generation of German immigrants in the early 1870s. It took some years, but ultimately, the Meissner expanding family was into farming in the plat area north of Lisbon.

As the family increased, there was a Meissner stamp put on the length of Lake Five Road in the Village of Merton, and then east on then Highway 74 (today Silver Spring Drive) almost as far east as present day Highway 164.

The Meissner family became a major Lisbon family, and the joining of Helen May Jeffery with Albert "Al" Otto (his father's name) Meissner was a major tieing of two huge Lisbon families together. Their marriage was Sept. 5, 1934, when Albert was 28 and Helen 23.

She was a school teacher at Merton Grade School for the prior two years while Al was courting her. She was married just as the Merton School was starting its term in September 1934, and by the rules of that time, she had to give up teaching as she was a married woman. She had earned her degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.

She would not teach for the next 18 years, as she raised two sons and assisted her husband in his various hauling-trucking businesses. Then, in September of 1952, she went back to teaching in a rural school, first grade at Lakeside in Hartland.

In September 1954, she took on a two-decade stint of teaching at the Sussex Orchard Drive and Maple Avenue Schools, going until her retirement in 1974. At first she taught first grade (1954 to 1964) when she took a one year off period and came back the following year, September 1964 to June 1974 teaching kindergarten.

With all the teaching, she had 23 years of teaching and a total of 795 students, of which 683 were at the Sussex, Orchard and Maple Avenue Schools.

Meanwhile, her husband Al got into politics in Merton and served 20 years as Village President. He also served three years on the Merton School Board and 18 years on the Waukesha County Board. To top it off, he put in 40 years with the Merton Fire Department. One would say that was pretty good, as he only had a rural eighth grade education.

In 1934, Helen moved into a Merton home that husband Al had built from lumber salvaged from a dismantled Merton church. Not allowed to teach, she raised two sons: Roy, born May 25, 1939 and Lee, born Dec. 1942.

In a story about her life, she wrote, "I made several quilts and other crafts over the years, as well as the gardening which required canning and later freezing. Then I always had my flowers."

In a side note, in her flower garden, she had the cornerstone of her girlhood Lisbon church, the North Lisbon Methodist Church, which was roughly 3/8 of a mile from Town Line Road on the north side of the road. It was torn down in 1929, and only a concrete corner to the livery stable still stands today.

Again, going back to her life story, she wrote, "Often I was working in the basement of our home and I would look up at the 2x8 beams that had held up the old church for 64 years and well over 60 years in our home. They were awesome wonders. In the garage, there were two narrow tall windows that were from the church."

"As a family, we were able to take several interesting trips. One of the unforgettable ones was to Newfoundland. We traveled by car, boat and train. After the boys were married, we flew to Alaska to visit my sister (also born on North Lisbon and Colgate Road) and her husband who was stationed in Alaska. Another trip was to the Rose Bowl Parade."

"After leaving Maple Avenue School in 1974, I did do some substitute teaching for a few years."

She said her happiest day of her life was the day she married Al Meissner, and the saddest day in her life was in April 1989, when she had to take him to a nursing home and came back alone. He would die soon afterward.

Helen May Jefferey Meissner would live on to die on Sept. 4, 1996 at age 85. She left two married sons, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

She and husband Albert are buried at the Lisbon-Merton Lake Five Road Cemetery,with the Sussex Methodist Church doing the officiating.


Followup on recent three-part series in Retrospect about former Sussex Fire Chief Norman "Pepper" Steffen.

He and his wife Joan Cumiskey had two sons and a daughter, not necessarily in order: Randy, Jim and Pam. Today, Pam is Mrs. Pam Willoughby of Hartland. The extended family has also grown to three grandchildren and now eight great-grandchildren.

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