WDOR Radio At Christmas Time

Among the best times at WDOR radio (Sturgeon Bay) was the Christmas season when it seemed cookies and sweets were always on the desk area in the middle part of the building. Late afternoons we aired Letters To Santa, and my first ever beef cooked medium rare—at a holiday party thrown by the GM–alerted me how mom needed to stop making meat gray! (She never did.)

The record collection of seasonal music over the previous 40 years made for a spirited sound for weeks on-air. And Keta Steebs from the local newspaper (Door County Advocate) calling and asking to have a seasonal drink for the holidays which meant as much talking local politics as anything else.

When I saw this pic (below) my mind flew back and smiles abounded. Life has been good. And radio continues to have a special place in my heart. As does the Allen family who thought I had what they wanted at their station.

Keta Steebs Recalled Life With Old-Fashioned Charm

It is time to share some memories of a truly great lady.  This past week one of Keta Steebs’ newspaper columns was reprinted in a Northeastern Wisconsin paper and it caused me to go back in time.

There are some in Door County who understood that I had a ‘crush’ on Keta, even though she was ‘slightly’ older than me.   I was the new hire at WDOR Radio, and she was the established writer at the local paper, the Door County Advocate.   She seemed to know everybody, and better yet, everything about everybody.  Just the type of person I needed to know when starting out in both broadcasting and local politics.  To be around her meant that others would soon flock and amazing conversations would follow.  She has that type of personality that drew others near.

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I have met only a rare handful that can turn heads when they enter a room, and Keta could.  That struck me at the age of 20 as quite impressive.  I most enjoyed talking with her during some very long and tedious county board meetings that we covered for our respective newsrooms.  Many a time all she wanted was a cigarette, and I just wanted an adjournment of the proceedings.  We would laugh and kid each other about all sorts of things, and shared political sentiments that made us kindred spirits in staunchly conservative Door County.

Being a part of the Door County media I knew the writers at the local newspaper and had the pleasure of trading gossip and insights during the weekly lunches named ‘Pen-n-Mic Club’ where we would all sit and review the world and local scene.  I recall that Keta would sit at another table with a few other women, and I would look over and wonder if she knew the guys at my table were talking about lots of stuff other than sports.  I made sure of that! I so wanted her to be close by and hear her memorable and hard-to-miss laugh.  As I said, I had a ‘crush’ on this lady.

Her columns, when reading again after the years since her death, are as warm and spirited as when first published.  Like this one I came across a few days ago.  I think you will enjoy it.

After weeks of scrubbing, painting and stocking shelves, Herman and Keta Steebs opened Happy Herman’s Market the week before Christmas in 1956. John Kopitzke ran a half-page ad in the Door Reminder and, as Keta said, “inadvertently became our first customer by buying a nickel candy bar.”

Keta’s brother-in-law, Wesley Landstrom, made a huge, plywood Santa Claus sleigh cutout for the store’s roof, and it won second prize in the Lions Club competition. Keta’s sister, Delores Landstrom, helped out in the store.

The following description of the early days of Happy Herman’s was written by Keta for a local newspaper. Her son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Kathy, provided the copy.

Opening night saw our first employee, Harriet ‘Sis’ Seaquist manning the checkout, yours truly helping Herman at the meat counter and gobs of customers jamming our aisles. The event was an unqualified success.

Our suppliers, the Plumb & Nelson Company of Manitowoc, Mrs. Karl’s Bakery, Pleck Dairy, Dick Brothers Bakery, Fairmont Ice Cream and two Green Bay produce companies all chipped in with prizes, adding a bit of a fillip to the occasion. Although our little store only had three aisles, we were able to carry some of everything. Space on the bread rack – limited as it was – was fought over daily by our competing bread men: Dale Seiler of Mrs. Karl’s and Gene Kasten of Dick Brothers.

Herman’s Market prided itself on its meat and, to justify that claim, Herman bought nothing but the best, using the oldest, least-popular cuts for our personal use. Equipped with a frying pan, slow cooker and Nesco roaster, Herman made such savory, good-smelling meals that our morning regulars – Wes Staver, Alma Bunda, Emma Pahl and Joe D’Louey – would copy his recipes and have the same meal themselves. One Ellison Bay couple – she thrifty, he not – drove in every other day to see what was cooking. While she shopped for the basics, he loaded his cart with gourmet foods and choice steaks.

Our meat first got a taste of the limelight when I decided to walk in the Fall Festival parade leading Ed Koessl’s cow – proclaiming “The Only Meat Fresher than Herman’s” – down Main Street. The cow showed her disapproval by stepping on my foot, laying me low for days. That same year, 1957, was the year our good friends Rita and Earl Willems opened their bowling alley, encouraging every business in the area to sponsor teams. Thanks to my bad foot, Herman’s Market was in the cellar all year.

But everything else was coming up roses. In 1962, in order to do needed remodeling, we bought – rather than continuing to rent – that homely little concrete building from owner Anna Peterson, who, with her niece, Eunice, had once used it as a tea room.

Before then – between the time Herman’s Market opened and Earl Willems bought a rotisserie to serve roast chicken to his growing number of bowlers – a major event took place. Ellsworth “Andy” Anderson, owner of Masterfreeze, a freezer-cooler operation, moved his factory directly across the street. Were we ever happy! Not only did business pick up, but Andy and Herman worked out a deal trading groceries for a new walk-in freezer-cooler, which, to my knowledge, may still be there.

Life was full and rich in those still-young years but, by 1968, the handwriting was on the wall. Blessed by then with two young sons but burdened with an unprofitable business (chains could sell cheaper than we could buy), we got out while the going was good.

Painful as the process was, it was inevitable. The mid-sixties, we belatedly learned, was not a propitious time for shoestring operations. Nor for stores prone to extending credit to customers who shopped elsewhere when they had money. But then, I never was good in arithmetic. The store was leased to George Brunns, and the Steebs’ farm home was rented.

What Keta had been good in since high school, however – when she penned essays for college students – was writing, and she soon had a job on the Women’s Desk of the Green Bay Press Gazette. She loved it, but Herman and their two little boys, Scott and Patrick, missed Sister Bay. “I came home every night to three long faces,” Keta wrote.

“Remember how in the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy kept repeating, ‘There’s no place like home; there’s no place like home’? Well, substitute ‘Sister Bay’ for ‘home,’ and you’ll have an idea of what I heard night after night. Fortunately, relief was in sight.

“Just as I was about to resort to a heavier dose of Valium, the miracle occurred, the clouds disappeared, the sun came from behind the clouds. Herman’s Market had a new owner, and that owner wanted Herman to run his old store. A Sturgeon Bay newspaper could use my services, and our home, thanks to an understanding renter, became available.”

Although the Steebs boys weren’t very old when Herman and Keta ran Happy Herman’s Market, Scott has one vivid memory.

“Little bags of Frito corn chips had a prize inside – a little eraser in the shape of the Frito Bandito. I took one to school, and all the other first- or second-graders were really impressed. I thought if I took enough erasers for everyone, I’d be really popular. So, I opened every bag in the store to get the erasers. My parents were not happy!”

The building that once housed Happy Herman’s Market is now Grasse’s Grill.

Warren Bluhm Reminds Us Keta Steebs Still Brings Smiles

I was genuinely pleased to read that Keta Steebs was written about in a column in the Green Bay Press Gazette.   Keta was one of my fondest memories from the time I spent in Door County while working at WDOR.   There was plenty to love about Keta from her laugher, keen insight into politics, and our shared values as liberal Democrats.  Sitting with her during county board meetings as we reported for our various news operations allowed for me to gain insight into not only issues impacting the county but also some of the background on colorful personalities.   She seemingly knew everything about the county and those who resided there.

So it was a real delight to read the words of Warren Bluhn about one very special lady.  And she was a lady.

I think of Keta Steebs every week – the template for this space on our Opinion page is still called “Keta’s Potluck,” and I still feel like an undeserving interloper for inserting my own words here.

Keta – and I feel bad knowing that now I have to explain for people who are new to the Advocate – was our longtime reporter and columnist whose words of wit and wisdom were chronicled here for 40 years or so.

She was inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club’s Media Hall of Fame in 2012 and passed away April 26, 2013, not long after writing her final column. So she’s been gone three years now, long enough for people to realize we conceded long ago that she’s irreplaceable.

But I especially thought of Keta the other day when a meme reappeared on Facebook that struck my fancy enough that I used the new feature that lets you “Love” a post, not just “Like” it. It showed Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and bore the caption, “No matters who wins, they will not fix your life. Better plan on doing it yourself.”

It sounded like something Keta might say, although she might be more inclined to say it about Trump or Cruz than the standard bearers of her beloved Democratic Party. It would be interesting to see what Hepzibah would say about the Donald and Ted.

Hepzibah, readers will recall, was Keta’s alter ego who was constantly taken in by the nice young men the Republican Party put up for office. Keta would nod politely and didn’t try to convince Hepzibah that they only appeared to be nice on the surface.

Keta Steebs Would Smile

Keta Steebs was special.


I am sure that Keta, who loved newspapers and writing would have smiled at this news.   But I also am aware she would have had some comical comeback about why she was not as important as people make her out to be.  She is still missed when I think mid-week that her column should be appearing in the newspaper.

A Heidi Hodges column honoring the late Keta Steebs, and the Door County Advocate’s team coverage of her death, have been recognized by the National Newspaper Association in its annual Better Newspaper Contest.

The column titled “How Keta Steebs changed my life” won second place in the category of Best Serious Column, and the front-page story “On Her Own Terms” by Warren Bluhm, Ramelle Bintz and Samantha Hernandez received honorable mention under the Best Obituary category.

Both articles appeared in the May 1, 2013, Advocate, five days after the longtime Advocate reporter and columnist died at her home at age 87.

Keta Steebs Inducted Into The Milwaukee Press Club Media Hall of Fame

Keta Steebs is one of those unforgettable people.  I know.

This is not the first blog entry for Steebs, and it will not be the last.  But this one makes the point that she is truly remarkable.

A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism student who interviewed Keta Steebs said Friday he can only hope to have the legacy and integrity that she has had over a career.

Steebs, who has chronicled life in Door County for the Advocate for more than 40 years, was one of seven Wisconsin journalists inducted into the Milwaukee Press Club Media Hall of Fame during a banquet at the Potawatomi Casino’s Woodland Dreams Ballroom.

Steebs, 87, charmed the audience of more than 150 with her short speech packed with her trademark wry wit, opening with a phrase she attributed to “Abraham Lincoln, our 18th president,” pausing and then adding, “I need to see how many of you are listening.” 

She noted she was born “four score and seven years ago” as a “bounding baby 12-pound girl, whom the doctor, Dr. Libby (no relation to the frozen food people) said would go far someday – ‘With a mouth like that she’ll make herself heard.’” 

Joining the Door County Advocate in 1969 launched a career as a reporter and columnist acknowledged earlier this year, when a panel of local historians chose Steebs as “one of 150 who shaped Door County” as part of the Advocate’s 150th anniversary edition. The Wisconsin Newspaper Association has also honored her more than once as local columnist of the year. 

Not bad for someone whose Aunt Helen insisted would never amount to anything – although that assessment would end with “sort of an O. Henry twist” to it. 

“My aunt died literally laughing at something I had written,” Steebs deadpanned. “My cousin Doris told me, ‘That pleases me no end.’”

Keta Steebs Writes Of First Home, And The Outhouse

There are some columns by certain writers that need a larger audience.  That is why Door County writer Keta Steebs gets a place on this blog today with her column that can be read in its entirety here, and glimpsed in part below.   This is a gem!

Sixty-one years ago, I awoke to such a frigid morning so dark I could barely see my 1939 Plymouth, packed the night before with wedding presents. My $7 suitcase, unused since I toted it to Milwaukee nine years earlier in search of fame, fortune and a husband, was piled in the back seat with boxes holding seven blankets, five kitchen clocks, six toasters and the Candlewick candy dish my co-workers had chipped in to buy. It was quite a haul!


Remember Ma and Pa Kettle’s ramshackle place in the “Egg and I” movie? Well, this little edifice could have been its even uglier twin. The first thing I noticed as we limped into the driveway was the outhouse, the second was the pump, the third the flapping screen door and the fourth a woodpile. The wood was not, as I foolishly hoped, for a fireplace but for a kitchen Goliath stamped “Monarch.”

The living room looked like it was furnished for a Ladies Aid meeting with rows of straight-backed chairs lined up on each side facing a wobbly oil heater in the room’s center. I later learned that, when hot, the heater hopped and skipped from one row to the other, Depressing as my new home was, it was paradise compared with the outhouse I had waited to visit until Herman left for work. The door was so solidly frozen, it took every ounce of my waning strength to tug it open.

Another Plug For The Days Of The Party Line

I remember the party line in Hancock, as does James who enjoyed them in Maine.    I smiled today when reading Door County’s Keta Steebs, and agree with her completely.

What I can’t do is take the telephone ordeal in stride. I no longer naively expect to hear a live human voice on the other end but I do expect to someday master the infamous “menu” we are expected to plow through before getting to the right department if not the right person. Today’s menus even have menus — just when you laboriously get through to the elusive Complaint Department, you are given another 10 options to choose the complaint you have in mind. If yours isn’t one of them, you then have the privilege of listening to rock music until the complaint-taker is tracked down (some place in India, I suspect).

Actually, when it comes to speedy communication, nothing beats the party line we Coolidge-age kids grew up with. If you were lucky enough to be on a four-party line, there was nothing you wouldn’t know after four hours of listening. Eavesdropping in my day was as common as hacking is today — with equally juicy results.

Another thing I’ve noticed about this new century of ours is that it isn’t nearly as much fun to be in as the old one was. In the old one, I had a job I loved, night parties to attend, shopping expeditions (in two-story stores) and talks with people who sounded the ‘g’ at the end of words.

The ‘g’ thing bugs me too.

Keta Steebs Provides Lesson For All Of Us

There is no doubt that 2011 will go down as a year filled with sadness and stress for those that make up the group I call my family.  From funerals to recovery, and a path that I was forced to take for justice to be secured has all made for a year that  has been a lot to deal with.

But after reading the latest column by Keta Steebs (the classiest lady I met in Door County) I am reminded again that life is supposed to be an adventure.  The future always worth waiting for.  Deep down I know that, and so it is not rocket science to recognize it as a fact.  But there are times after long periods of turmoil when a reminder of the basics are needed.

As Keta writes she was given an assignment in 1936-38 freshman English class to write her autobiography.

The last paragraphs of Steebs’ column in the Door County Advocate sum up the trials of the times she lived, and also ends with a line we all need to embrace…with head held up high.

You would never guess that this upbeat diary was written by a child living in an uninsulated granary during the toughest decade this country has ever known. When writing about standing in line with my wagon for our monthly allotment of “surplus” food — rice, flour, lard, etc. — I did not dwell on the sad state of affairs that brought our family to this point, I just write that I stood next to a real cute guy from another school and, “Can’t wait for next month!”

The end of 1937 brought the following report: Spain, China, Japan are all in wars, the Hindenburg crashed, Jean Harlow, Amelia Earhart and Andrew Mellon died, strikes everywhere, a lot of old folks died. Can’t wait to see what next year brings.

While I am ready to spin the pages of this year, and get to another chapter I too am looking ahead and as Keta writes, “Can’t wait to see what next year brings”.

I see a new rose garden surrouded by rocks from back home.