Greendale's 75th Countdown: The Birth of the Great Greendale Schools

Week #71: Growing population in Greendale creates one of the best school districts in the state and educates generations of Greendale families. Also, learn how an original Greendale resident became a Cubs fan.

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

History and Folklore!

I can almost hear the discussion between the parents and their kids planning to move to Greendale in the 1930’s.

Parents: “Kids, we’re moving to Greendale, Wisconsin. We’ll be one of the first families to live in this new community carved out of farmland miles from the City of Milwaukee. But don’t worry they’re also building a school so you won’t have to miss any classes.”

Kids; “Wow!  I get to leave all my friends, go where nothing else exists but dirt, and not miss one day of school. How lucky can a kid get?” 

September 6, 1938 was the first day of classes at the Greendale Community Building (now known as ). Greendale was intended only for families, so when the school opened for business there were only 432 children. By January of 1939 the enrollment was 525. The students were organized into kindergarten, elementary grades 1st to 6th, and junior high school grades 7th to 9th. For grades 10th through 12th students attended either West Milwaukee or Pulaski High School in Milwaukee. Tenth grade was added in September of 1939.

John R. ‘Jack’ Ambruster was hired from Union Grove, Wisconsin to lead this new school. He became the principal, superintendent, social studies teacher and ‘fix it’ handyman. Jack hired 20 teachers, and at the time many were single men and women.

Since Greendale was meant for families some had to teachers board at the ‘Teacherage’, the former Basse farmhouse on the south side of Grange Avenue east of 76th Street. Others boarded with families that had an extra room. I once read a comment saying that single female teachers had to give up teaching once they were married…Hmmm.

Grades 11th and 12th were added in 1948 and 1949 in Greendale. The first was on June 8, 1950. Fifty-two students earned their diplomas in 1950. The group reunited for their 50th reunion in 2000 and each received an engraved brick saved from the Community Building during the school’s 1970 expansion. This group can also be thanked for the name of the school mascot and the Alma Mater. During a school assembly in 1948 the name ‘Panthers’ won out over ‘Falcons’ as the mascot name, and Edward Gollnick wrote the Alma Mater.

As the Greendale population dramatically increased so did the school population . To meet the needs of the growing community the following schools were added, Ambruster Elementary in 1960, in 1963,  in 1965, and  in 1970.  opened in 1957 and the Intermediate School (former Community Center Building) was expanded in 1971. Ambruster was closed in 1981.

Today the is known to be one of the best districts in the state due to its consistent high rankings and being a popular destination district for families. 

But did you know? For two months, May and June of 1938, children went to school in a one-room schoolhouse on the corner of Grange Avenue and 76th Street where the current sits. Built in the late 1800’s the Spring Hill School was in Greenfield with an enrollment numbering of approximately 20. The schoolhouse was closed when classes started in the Greendale Community building.

People, Past & Present!

Bruce Meyer was one of the lucky kids to start school in Greendale's first year of 1938. His parents John H.B. and Viola Meyer moved to 5598 Azalea Court in August 1938 with Bruce and his sister Audrey. Bruce’s dad worked on the building of Greendale and became the Village Plumber. The tool shed was located north of Grange Avenue where the Southridge  store is today. 

Bruce remembers his dad had a love for flowers and landscaping. The residents would have an annual flower contest and his dad won the contest 3 times. Understandably, Bruce also likes to tinker in the garden. He also inherited his father's athletic ability. Bruce showed me ribbons that his dad won running track in 1916 and 1917. Very cool!

Bruce played football, basketball, baseball and a little golf while in school. He was on the 1949 high school football team that went 7 and 1. The team beat Cedarburg who at that time had the Wisconsin State record of 32 wins. After high school Bruce attended the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse and participated in cross-country and track. His best accomplishment was 2nd place in the State in the 2-mile run. After 2 years at La Crosse he went into the Navy during the period of the Korean War. Toward the end of his tour of duty he married Arline.

After college Bruce got a job teaching Physical Education at Lane Junior High School in West Allis. At the same time he was re-establishing his ties to Greendale. He began by assisting the Greendale Football Coach Dick Bergner with the summer sports recreation program. In 1960 when the pool opened at Greendale High School Bruce taught swimming in the summers with Dean Russell.

The couple first had daughter Suzanne, then Peter, Laurie and Paul. Greendale has always been a great place to raise a family, and get an education. In 1976 Bruce and Arline decided to move to Greendale. Bruce was moving back and Arline had spent time with relatives in Greendale so she was familiar with the community. Daughter Suzanne finished up and graduated in Milwaukee, but Peter, Laurie and Paul graduated from Greendale High School. And now the third generation: 5 grandchildren have also graduated from Greendale High School.

In another week and a half the Major League Baseball season will start and the ‘trash talking’ between the Cubs and Brewers fans will pick up where it left off. Greendale’s Mr. Cub, Bruce Meyer, will be predicting a World Series Title for “The Lovable Losers” his Chicago Cubbies at the Southridge Athletic Club near the mall. We will get after him without mercy for the Cubs drought of 103 years without a World Series win. But he will masterfully counter with statistics and analysis of players suggesting the Brewers should just forfeit every game played against the Cubs rather than be humiliated. And this will go on for the entire baseball season.

You may be wondering how Bruce became a Cubs fanatic, what with the Milwaukee Braves being in Milwaukee starting in 1953 and winning the World Series in 1957. Years before the Braves showed up Bruce’s father took him on the interurban railway to see his first game at Wrigley Field. He became Cubs lifer after that. His hero was Ernie Banks.

I understand. My dad took me to my first Milwaukee Braves game when I was a youngster. My heroes were Henry AaronEddie Mathews and Warren Spahn. These allegiances are what make baseball “America’s Pastime”. This year some of us are hoping Bruce can finally attend the World Series, at Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers!

Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:


Week#71 Question – What businesses were the first established on Broad Street?

** Week #71 contributors Sally Chadwick, Bruce and Arline Meyer.

About this column: Join us for 75 weeks of facts and fun stories counting down to Greendale Village Days 2013.

mary mainella March 26, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Ted and I were in the first class to graduate from the "new" high school-hard to believe it has been 50 years! Thanks for your research-John Meyer was a good friend of my families. He had great stories about his job as plumber for the Greendale units.


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