Debra Usinger, vice president of Usinger's Famous Sausage, has passed away
Debra Usinger, vice president of Usinger's Famous Sausage, passed away Sunday at the age of 58.
Usinger, a great-grandchild of the company's founder, ran the 130-year-old company with her brother, Fritz, until last month when she was diagnosed with goblet cell carcinoid, a rare form of cancer.
Usinger was one of the area's biggest champions and most visible female entrepreneurs. She helped develop the Milwaukee River Walk, chaired the Westown Association and helped fund countless charitable causes. She and Fritz won the Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Deb's father, Frederick D. Usinger III, died of natural causes in 2006. He was 89. It was Deb's dad who helped inspire the Usinger elves that Debra always talked about and embraced. If you've stopped at Usinger's on a Saturday morning, Deb was always there talking to kids who loved to see the elves in the windows.
On a personal note, Deb was a friend and a mentor to my wife when Stephanie started at the Westown Association in 2001. We disagreed for years on traffic flow on Wells Street, but enjoyed our countless friendly debates about one-way vs. two-way traffic. Several took place at the Usinger's staff kitchen. I feel privileged to have shared in that Usinger family tradition.
She called me Mr. Jeff, and to me, and countless others, she was Ms. Debra, the "VP of Fun" at Usinger's.
Usinger was not only a leader, but the right kind of get-your-hands dirty civic leader who showed up, worked hard and always had fun. The Fourth of July will be full of Usinger's products, as always, but knowing Debra is pain-free and looking down upon us will make them all the better.
A private service is being held. According to Beth Nicols, Milwaukee Downtown executive director and close, personal friend of Debra, the Usinger family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. A celebration of Debra's life will be planned in the near future.
Usinger leaves behind her long time boyfriend, Joey, her mom, Lois, sisters Karen Schnetzky, Barbara Becker, Heidi Maetzold, brother, Fritz Usinger, and the hundreds of Usinger elves that she loved and helped create.
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I've known Debra since we were kids. "Oooz" was always larger than life, forward-thinking ... with a hilarious sense of (dry) humor! I was so saddened to hear just two weeks ago about her battle with the illness. Ironically, the last time I saw her, it was at a funeral for Charlie Parker, the father of one of our mutual lifelong friends and another great Milwaukee civic leader. I served with Debra for years on the founding RiverWalk board of directors. It was so much fun to watch the vision come to fruition, thanks in a big way, to Debra's tireless dedication and efforts . We saw each other over the years at many community/nonprofit organization events and meetings. She was a fixture and often was seen at the podium as a presenter. Debra also made sure that Usinger's was an ongoing member of Business Against Drunk Drivers, Inc. (BADD) during the 15 years I ran the organization. We were always very grateful to have her support and to have the legendary Usinger name on the list of well-known, respected Milwaukee contributing corporations. The weekend before last, her High School classmates were in town last week for their reunion, It was reported to me that Debra was on everyone's minds and in their prayers. Her presence and laughter was sorely missed by all! After seeing her closest "gal pals" several times over the last week, I know they are just heartsick to have lost someone so special and dear to them. I'll personally miss hearing her greet me with a big smile and a "Hey, Ders!" (I can hear that voice as I write this!) You've created a big void here in the Milwaukee scene, Debra. Our loss is Heaven's gain!
Life will keep going on, as it always will, however for an all-too-brief period of time, life was brighter on Old World Third Street. The extra brightness emanated from Usinger's and particularly from Deb. As a commercial real estate broker, I sold the Old Donges Hat and Glove Building and it was perfectly clear to me that Deb had to "approve" of the Buyer. When I was the Chair of the Douglas F. McKey Christmas Club, Deb was a stalwart support and insisted that the needy in our community got the finest sausages in their Christmas groceries. I would always look forward to talking with Deb as she made everything FUN. Her brightness will be missed, but I am sure the strength of her SPIRIT will continue to light up Old World Third Street for many more generations.
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