Ralph D. Gaebler
1925 - 2018
Born 12/3/1925; Died 2/5/2018
MILWAUKEE — Ralph Dixon Gaebler, 92, passed away Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. Ralph was born Dec. 3, 1925, the son of Hans and Helen Gaebler. He was a proud son of Watertown. His great-grandfather established a music store at 115 N. Fourth St. in the 1850s (part of the word “organ” can still be faintly seen painted high on the south wall); his grandfather was a founder of the Watertown Table Slide Company; and his father helped save the First Kindergarten and Octagon House and served as first president of the Watertown Historical Society. Ralph was a graduate of old Webster Elementary School (where he was the publisher of The Webster Tatler, which sported the tagline “Knows All — Tells More”), Watertown Junior High School and Watertown High School (class of 1943). Interrupting his college studies to serve with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, Ralph graduated from Harvard College in 1948. He was called back to duty in Japan during the Korean conflict.
Returning to Milwaukee, Ralph first worked in several aspects of the car business. In the early 1960s, he earned a master of social work at UW-Milwaukee and then went to work for the Milwaukee County Welfare Department, from which he retired in the early 1980s.
Ralph’s heroes were FDR and Raymond Chandler. A connoisseur of fine dialogue, his life was informed by the films of the 1930s and 1940s, so many of which he watched at the Classic Theater and Savoy Theater on Main Street in Watertown. Rarely to be seen attired otherwise than in a suit, tie and fedora, Ralph was invariably polite and gracious. His quips evoked the clever banter of the films he loved.
Ralph found it hard to resist the call of Watertown. As an adult, he returned frequently to visit the old haunts, often in the company of his lifelong pal, Jay Keepman. Ralph liked to celebrate events big and small at Donny’s, which he remembered as Chauncey Ohms’ place from his days at Watertown High.
Ralph is survived by his older brother, Max, five nieces and nephews and their children. Uncle Ralph will be greatly missed indeed.
Services are pending. Interment will take place sometime in the late spring at Oak Hill Cemetery.
Those desiring to affirm the gift of Ralph’s life and friendship may wish to consider a modest donation to the Watertown Historical Society or a charity of their choice.
Ralph grew up in Watertown, Wisconsin, graduating from Watertown High School in 1943. Interrupting his college studies to serve with the Navy in the Pacific during WWII, he graduated from Harvard College in 1948. He was called back to duty in Japan during the Korean Conflict. Returning to Milwaukee, Ralph first worked in several aspects of the car business. In the early 1960's, he earned an MSW at UWM and then went to work for the Milwaukee County Welfare Department, from which he retired in the early 1980's. He was a proud and active member of AFCSME District Council 48 (now 32). Ralph's heroes were FDR and Raymond Chandler. A connoisseur of fine dialogue, his life was informed by the films of the 1930's and 1940's. Rarely to be seen attired otherwise than in a suit, tie and Fedora, Ralph was invariably polite and gracious. His quips evoked the clever banter of the films he loved. From early childhood, Ralph was fascinated by automobiles. Better than any other, he could diagnose mechanical problems by ear. He saw American history through the lens of automobile styling, mechanics and production. With a host of colorful and entertaining friends (the "Boys"), many happy hours were spent attending to a small and ever changing fleet of mature Buicks, entertainment that was often preceded and/or followed by "a bite" at Webbs. Ralph is survived by his older brother, Max, five nieces and nephews and their children. Uncle Ralph will be very greatly missed indeed. Services are pending. Interment will take place sometime in the late Spring at Oak Hill Cemetery in Watertown. Inquiries may be directed to Max A. Sass & Sons Funeral Home. Those desiring to affirm the gift of Ralph's life and friendship may wish to consider a modest donation to the Watertown Historical Society or a charity of their choice. We wish to note our special thanks to the staff of the Ovation Jewish Home for the compassionate care they provided during the final months of Uncle Ralph's life.
09 05 90TH BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR SON OF HISTORICAL SOCIETY FOUNDER
The Watertown Historical Society hosted a very special 90th birthday party for the son of its founder on Saturday, September 5. The honoree was Ralph Gaebler, of Milwaukee, a former owner of a chain of gas and oil stations in the Milwaukee area. The event was held in the famed Octagon House Museum.
About 15 family members and friends of the family gathered to honor the spry 90 year old who regaled the company with stories of his youth in Watertown. Also on hand were: William F. Jannke, former president of the society who delivered a talk on the importance of the Gaebler family in the founding of the Watertown Historical Society, Melissa Lampe, current president, who welcomed the guests, David Hertel, himself a former president of the society, who gave a special tour of the museum to the assembled guests, and Ken Riedl, who is not only a member of the board of directors of the historical society but also serves as the society’s webmaster.
Following a toast to the health of Mr. Gaebler and the museum tour, the party retired to Donny’s Girl supper club in nearby Pipersville for a birthday supper to honor Mr. Gaebler, who wryly remarked, “I didn’t mind turning 80, but 90 is sort of hard to take.”
The Gaebler family has a long history in Watertown. Mr. Gaebler’s great grandfather was Emil C. Gaebler, who came to the city in the 1850s and owned and operated an organ and melodeon store on N. Fourth Street, in the former WEPCO Printing building. He also founded the Concordia Opera Society here, one of the finest musical societies in Wisconsin in the nineteenth century. Ralph’s grandfather was Max Henry Gaebler, who was one of the founders of the Watertown Table Slide Co., one of the leading industries in Watertown for many years. Mr. Gaebler’s father was Hans D. Gaebler, who at various points in his life was a school teacher, a law librarian, an official with the Watertown Table Slide Co., and an astronomer.
Hans Gaebler founded the Watertown Historical Society in the front room of his former Tudor-style home on Thomas Avenue in 1933. He went on to serve as the society’s president from 1936 to 1938 and during his tenure as president he oversaw the acquisition of the famed Octagon House and in 1941 started the movement to acquire the famed First Kindergarten building.
History of Watertown, Wisconsin