For the past 40 years, Chilton Monument Works and its local manager Merlin Lemke have been among the commercial exhibitors at the Calumet County Fair on Labor Day weekend.
Except for the first of those years, in 1975, the booth has been in the Stanelle Building at the fairgrounds. The first appearance of the business at the fair was in a rented tent that was placed to the north of the Exhibition Building on the fairgrounds.
That was done by Tony Knuppel of the Appleton family which owns the Appleton Marble and Granite Works, which was established in 1887 and is the owner of the Chilton business. In addition to its Chilton site, it has similar outlets in Oshkosh, Green Bay, New London, Clintonville, Shawano, Plover, Wautoma, and Waupaca.
Lemke, who was hired by the business in 1975, recalls the circumstances of the first year at the County Fair. When space was sought for the local business in the Stanelle Building at the time, there was no spot remaining but a competitor was one of the exhibitors there.
By the next year, however, Chilton Monument Works obtained a booth in the Stanelle Building and the competitor was no longer there. Since then, Lemke, first accompanied at times by his late wife and more recently by a friend, has been at the booth during at least part of all four days at the fair every year.
The purpose of being at the fair is not to make sales during the weekend but to make area residents aware of the presence of the business in the city of Chilton. It is at 104 W. Main St., next to Ethel’s Pub and Grill, in an older building that Lemke believes once served as a car showroom for the Mike Bolz auto dealership.
Lemke is surprised to learn that many people do not realize that the business is in Chilton although it has been at its current location since about 1957. He has always taken a low key approach to customers, expecting them to come to him rather than “bugging them at their door” in the wake of the death of a relative or in pre-planning their own grave headstone. Lemke is especially pleased when someone who picked up a business card at the fair contacts him a year or two later.
Chilton Monument Works serves many of the 47 operating church-connected and public cemeteries in Calumet County and any more distant cemetery asked for by customers. “I’ve done one as far away as Milwaukee,” Lemke notes.
Among his many experiences which sometimes leads him to “laugh to myself,” Lemke remembers one when the person ordering a monument wanted wording such as “I couldn’t get along with ...” The cemetery committee rejected that and something similar, he recalls.
For all 40 years of his affiliation with