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Greendale Begins with Near Communications Blackout!

Week#45: In May of 1938 there was no mail delivery, no newspaper and only 2 phones in Greendale, almost a communications blackout. First postmaster Edward Bengs stays on the job for almost 30 years.

History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.

History and Folklore!

Postal delivery, telephones, and newspapers were all well-established services in 1938. But when the first residents moved into the newly built government community of Greendale these services did not exist, they had to be established. This communications blackout should not be overstated. Most of the residents had jobs in the surrounding cities in order to qualify to reside in Greendale. So contact with the ‘outside world’ was not exactly cut off. Looking back, this isolation from the normal modes of communication proved to be valuable building block for the beginnings of Greendale.

Mail Distribution: In the early pictures of Greendale homes, if you look close you won’t see any mailboxes. That’s because there was no mail delivery so no need for mailboxes. In fact, the Post Office would not even deliver the mail in bulk to Greendale. The shuttle bus driver, Bill McFarland, would pick up all the mail for Greendale residents in Milwaukee and deliver it to the Administration Building. On November 17, 1938 The Greendale Review published this notice from the managers:

“The distribution of Greendale mail at the Administration Building is a service provided for the convenience of the residents until such time as a post office is established by the Post Office Department. Had the management been unable to arrange for this service every family in Greendale would have had to erect a mail box along Grange Avenue where we would have received rural delivery once a day. Such an arrangement has not been necessary because of the willingness of the management to do otherwise.”

This meant that everyone would go to the Administration Building daily to check on mail. That was the valuable part of this ‘inconvenience’. The residents all got to know each other, would look forward to meeting and talking with new friends. This was social networking the way it was meant to be, face to face. There was also a bulletin board with announcements of meetings, activities and events, sort of a visual newspaper. How many times have I repeated in these stories that “everyone knew everyone.”
Well that’s how it got started, no mail delivery, no phones, no newspapers. The early form of the internet was ‘kid-net’. The kids were dispatched like carrier pigeons to relay messages and small packages.

Later in 1938 a fourth-class post office opened on Broad Street. Edward Bengs of Badger Court was the first postmaster, and Leo Hoyer on Dendron Lane was hired as its first clerk. On December 15, 1938 The Greendale Review reported:

“The Greendale Post Office, located on Broad Street, will open Friday morning, December 16, at 8:30a.m. All residents are requested to call for their mail at the new Post Office Building.” Later in the article “The residents of Greendale extend a vote of thanks to Miss Marie Nellen, who rendered such cheerful service in distributing the mail at Village Hall.”

The publication ‘Greendale Remembers’ provides us with some insight into the services offered when the Post Office opened up in Greendale:

Post Office First Day Facts:

  • 1,576 pieces of mail sent
  • First day covers sent to Australia, South Africa, South America, India and China
  • First Greendale Recipient: Sherwood Reeder
  • First lock box: Adam Tarnowski
  • First money order: Bob Schmeizer

Still, there was not any mail delivery to the homes or businesses. Residents still had to go the post office and pick up their mail. But the kids loved it. Kathleen (Kendellen) Hart grew up in Greendale and she told me that as a kid, “You went to the window and asked for mail. I brought my stamps there for my stamp collection.” Imagine today sending your kids to the Post Office to pick up mail….Good luck with that! One enterprising young adult, Bill McNabb, started a mail delivery service and changed an annual fee to deliver to the house.

Finally, in the spring of 1953 Postmaster Ed Bengs announced that the Village had qualified for city delivery service. Now it became necessary for all correspondence to have the correct house number and street. Up until then if you sent it to Greendale it usually got to the right person. And mail boxes had to be installed in specified locations at each residence. On July 16, 1953 postal delivery service started in Greendale. To wrap up this section on the Post Office, on June 1, 1966 the Post Office moved to larger quarters at 5741 Broad Street, where it is today.

Phone Service:  There were only two phones in the Village of Greendale in 1938, one at Village Hall and the other at the Police Station. Residents used the phone at Village Hall, which cost 5¢ to call Hales Corners and 10¢ to call Milwaukee. In October of 1938 a pay phone was installed in Village Hall to make it more convenient for the residents to use a phone. Previously, to use the phone someone had to interrupt the village staff.

In August of 1938 a committee was formed to try and get phone service from the Wisconsin Telephone Company out of the Milwaukee area. At the time only rural telephone service was available out of Hales Corners. It was a party line service and all calls to Milwaukee were long distance. The committee found out that Milwaukee service was within several hundred feet of Greendale, at a point just north of Edgerton Avenue. But some things have not changed over the years. They were dealing with ‘The Phone Company’ and the answer was no!

Finally in March 1950 phone service came to Greendale from the Milwaukee area, which meant there were no more toll charges. However, when Greendale was included in the Milwaukee Telephone District the changeover meant that the three-digit-plus-a-letter phone numbers were replaced with two-letter, five digit numbers. Kathleen (Kendellen) Hart still remembers her original phone number, 452j.

Newspaper: The first newspaper in Greendale was published by a group of volunteers interested in forming a journalism club. This club, the Greendale Journalism Club, published The Greendale Bulletin on August 24, 1938, with Edith Guyor as the acting editor. The first two editions were to be donated and then subscriptions from the residents would be needed to continue publishing. A contest was held to name the new paper and Ruth Owens came up with the design and name The Greendale Review. So The Greendale Bulletin lasted only one edition, and The Greendale Review debuted on September 10th, 1938. The subscription price was 4¢ a copy and it was published every other Thursday.

Shortly after getting the paper off the ground, Edith Guyor returned to the schools as a librarian and Harold Minnick became the chairman of the paper. In 1939 the paper started to evolve as it became more successful. It was incorporated into a business and had some full time staff. It did continue to rely on volunteers for reporting and a board of citizens was created to oversee the business operation. On November 01, 1951 The Greendale Review merged with Tri-Town News newspaper.

Editor’s Note: For those of you who mostly remember the Greendale Village Life newspaper, we’ll tell that story another day. Stay tuned.

The Building of Community: The early so called communication blackout in Greendale did wonders to build the sense of community with the new residents. They met everyone at the post office, relied on each other and their kids to keep informed. They worked together to establish lines of communication in the community. That spirit of cooperation is what people fondly remember as ‘The Greendale Spirit’. It was a time before cell phones, text messages, computers and social networking.  It is a time
passed, but a special time remembered by many.

But did you know?

Edward Bengs was appointed postmaster in Greendale by President franklin D. Roosevelt. The beginnings of the postal service can be traced back to the Second Continental Congress in 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. Later, the Postal Service was explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution, and in 1792 the cabinet level Post Office Department was created from the operation that Franklin established. As a cabinet level department the President made the appointments, hence the appointment of Bengs as postmaster. In 1970 that was all changed by the Postal Reorganization Act, signed by President Nixon. The USPS is no longer a cabinet level department but an independent agency with an official monopoly on the delivery of mail. Postmasters are no longer appointed by the President of the United States.

People, Past & Present!

Edward E. Bengs was born September 21, 1905 in Milwaukee. In 1930 he married Gladys Geerdts. He started out as a photographer, but that became a hobby once he was appointed Greendale postmaster in 1938. He most liked meeting and talking with the residents and business people who came into the post office. He witnessed the startup of all of the Village Businesses and knew everyone. As postmaster he was lucky enough to meet five presidents, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace. He was a member of the National Association of Postmasters and served on the legislative committee that interviewed many of the congressmen and senators in the 1940’s. In 1953 the mail carriers started to deliver mail so he didn’t see the residents as much anymore. But he did get to see the new post office built on Broad Street. He retired with almost 30 years of service on April 3, 1968.

Bengs was very active in civic affairs. He was a member of the Businessmen’s association, volunteered for the march of Dimes annual ball, and during the war worked on the war bonds. Together with Gladys they were founding members of the Community Church. He helped with the building, was one of the trustees for many years. Gladys was the first organist of the church.

He and his wife were also avid sports people. They both loved canoeing. Ed and his wife earned dozens of medals in competition, singly and together. In 1937 Ed won the Wisconsin State Canoe Sailing championship. Gladys was in the finals for the United States Olympic track team in the 1930’s. Ed accomplished all this despite a crippled left leg caused by polio when he was three years old. Wow! Ed was widowed in 1965 and remarried in the late 1970’s to Marge. Ed and Marge moved for a while to Florida and then back to Wisconsin in 1983.

Edward E. Bengs, Greendale’s first postmaster, died on April 6, 1991 at the age of 85. He was a true Greendale Original.

Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:

Week#46 Answer – The Greendale Village Concert Band was sponsored by the Park & Recreation Department. Their first concert under the direction of John Munger was November 13th, 1966. This band continues to give concerts to this day. 

Week#45 Question – Where is the oldest house in Greendale located and how old is it?

** Week #45 contributors Sally Chadwick, Kathleen Hart, Greendale Historical Society, Wisconsin Historical Society, Wikipedia, The Greendale Bulletin, The Greendale Review, Greendale Village Life, Greendale Remembers, Greendale The Little Village That Could…and Did.

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