Honk for Hart — he’s cleaning up the neighborhood
October 1, 2012
By Jill Rothenbueler Maher
Morning commuters might see a local senior picking up litter in the land surrounding Bay View Terrace, in Cupertino Park, or around the Bay View Tragedy historical marker. The good-natured 90-year-old is Hartmut (Hart) Luhrssen, who has lived in a tidy condo in Bay View Terrace since 2000.
Some passersby honk or wave, which Luhrssen appreciates and interprets as a sign of approval. His motivation for tidying the area is straightforward. “I hate to see littered areas so I go out with my trash pick-up stick. I always come home with a full bag,” he said.
“I wish more people would go out and clean up instead of letting it fly about,” he said.
By the time morning commuters might see him, Luhrssen has already been awake for hours. He typically rises at 3:30am and eats breakfast fare along with either orange juice or cranberry juice mixed with brandy. He doesn’t consume alcohol late in the day, and like many of his contemporaries, is on medication for blood pressure and kidney function. He is also on an anti-seizure medication. He is in relatively good health but has trouble with his eyesight and hearing, though he refuses to wear hearing aids due to his frugality. “I don’t want to put $1,000 in my ears,” he said.
Luhrssen’s polite and interesting conversation is accented, indicating foreign birth. He is from Bremen, Germany and was a member of the Hitler Youth, a paramilitary organization. He said he enjoyed the camaraderie and discipline it instilled. Perhaps some of those values motivate his volunteer litter removal work. He learned some English in high school and attended two years of business school before being drafted into the German military. He doesn’t care to talk much about the war years, but says he spent four and a half years on what Americans consider “the other side.”
In 1954, he left Germany for Winnipeg, Canada, where he searched for three months until he found a job. He said he did not really enjoy Canada and that he “didn’t amount to anything” there. He met a man who recommended Milwaukee. Luhrssen took the advice and came to this area in 1957. Here he was employed within 24 hours.
Luhrssen married in 1959. He and his wife Martha had one son and enjoyed 53 years together until her death in December 2011. She was disabled and suffered from colon cancer, which made it difficult to leave the house. Son David also lives in Bay View Terrace, two floors below his father.
Hart lived in rooming houses in Milwaukee as a new immigrant. After their marriage, he and his wife lived in several Milwaukee neighborhoods and in Brown Deer and Brookfield. They spent 25 years in a home on 85th Street. He was naturalized a U.S. citizen, he said, around 1963.
Luhrssen was employed as a sales representative at Kraft Foods for 25 years, where he called on grocery stores.
His favorite restaurant is Bert’s in St. Francis, though he relies on his son or a neighbor for a ride because he stopped driving two years ago. He voluntarily gave up driving because he realized he was relying more on memory than eyesight for things like stop signs.
Since January, Luhrssen volunteers at least once a week at St. Ann Center. He works in its café year-round and helps in the winter with the indoor farmers market. Volunteer coordinator Delma Vega said, “Hart always has a smile and is very charming. The stories he tells us about his life growing up are so intriguing.”
Luhrssen’s drive to better his community is so strong that he wishes he could pick up litter in an even wider area but his current twice-per-week outings leave him understandably weary.
Luhrssen’s contributions have been noticed. On July 24, 2012, Luhrssen was recognized in a Common Council resolution for picking up litter and for his monitoring of the Pryor Avenue Iron Well—he notifies the Department of Public Works, if anything is amiss. He was also recognized for his volunteer work at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.
If you see Luhrssen, hail him with a honk. Or stop and lend a hand. He would happily recruit you to help keep Bay View’s litter in check.
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