Bob's larger-than-life grandfather was "quite a character"

Susan Manzke
Bob, being held by his grandfather, Charles Holstein.

Bob is a good grandpa. Today we’re saving stories of Bob’s grandfather, Charles Holstein. He was a larger-than-life man.

I never met this man in person, but I’ve heard stories about him since I met Bob. He was the one who owned the Mokena farm. Some people called him C.P. but others referred to him as Mr. Charlie. Bob just knew him as Grandpa.

When Bob was born in 1943, his parents lived with his maternal grandfather. Their home was an apartment above Charlie’s bar, Broadway Gardens, in Blue Island. Bob lived there until the age of five. (Broadway Gardens was more than a tavern. It had a dancehall, and meeting room where the Elks and Moose met. Also, union meetings took place there. Many a wedding reception was celebrated at the Gardens.)

Grandpa was excited when his first grandchild was born, that was Bob. 

One story Bob’s mom told me about her father was that Grandpa gave little Bobby beer to drink—only a tiny bit in a shot glass. Funny thing is that Bob drinks about as much beer now, meaning he doesn’t.

“Grandpa and I would go for a walk to the bank,” said Bob. “I’d carry the money because Grandpa figured no one would hurt a little kid and no one ever did."

Bob says a lot of money went through the bar.

"Grandpa cashed checks for the men who worked in the rail yards. Some guys would put their name on an envelope. Grandpa put most of the pay in the envelope and gave the man only enough to buy something to drink that night," Bob recalled. "The next day the man’s wife came into the bar to pick up the envelope. That way there was money for rent and food for the family, otherwise, it could have been spent before the man got home."

Years later, after the family moved to the farm, Bob says his grandpa drove out of the city in his new Studebaker pickup truck.

"In the back, he had a brand new chain saw. He took his two helpers, meaning Dad and me, and drove out to the pasture to do some cutting," he said, adding that his dad was to do the cutting while Bob hauled the branches away.

“My dad told grandpa he should park his pickup a little further away, but Grandpa said the tree wasn’t that tall," he said. "Grandpa then directed Dad exactly how to cut the tree. Dad followed his father-in-law’s directions exactly. The tree turned out to be six feet too tall. It banged in the back of the new truck. Of course, Dad knew what was going to happen. He was just following orders."

Bob Manzke remembers his maternal grandfather Charles Holstein, pictured here in 1951,  as being "quite a character" with a larger-than-life personality.

Bob noted that the farm didn’t have any outbuildings when the family moved out there except the barn, chicken house, and granary—no family member had ever lived there until they moved in.

“Grandpa was always bringing supplies out from the city. We often went into Blue Island with the farm pickup to get what he had," Bob said. "We took an odd assortment of wood home and used it to build a wood machine shed and a metal machine shed which eventually became a free-stall building when we got cows."

The family also built an aluminum shed—the base concrete came from Highway 45 when it was rebuilt. On top of the lumps of concrete, the men put down silica sand to make the floor. Parts of the rafters came off a wood silo that had blown down. "Sparks flew when that wood was cut because it was such a hardwood."

Bob says his grandpa always had ideas for the farm, but he personally never worked on it. It was up to Bob and his dad to carry out his orders.

“One time Grandpa bought paint for the house. He said it was time to paint the exterior. The paint he bought had been on sale. It was pink," Bob said. "Dad hated the color. He refused to use it on the house. Eventually, Dad gave in and painted the house pink, but he wasn’t happy about it."

One of the things Bob remembers most is how his grandpa liked burning grass along the ditches.

"He said it gave spring a boost," he said. "Every time I see someone burning ditches, I think of him. Grandpa was quite a character.”

Susan and Bob Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;