When visitors arrive in Kiel, one of the first things they are likely to see are the beautiful flowers that line both sides of the bridge spanning the Sheboygan River just before they turn onto Fremont Street—purplish-blue petunias, lacy sweet Williams, bright red begonias and yellow-green vines that drape dramatically over the edge of the planters.
It’s as if these cheerful blossoms are saying, “Welcome to our town. Welcome to Kiel.”
But the flowers don’t maintain themselves.
For years, they had to be watered by hand, twice a day, all summer and into the fall, first by the Chuck Thiel family and later by Jerry Henschel and his wife, Kathy, who is president of Kiel’s Garden Club.
Jerry had been a farmer, so he was handy at inventing ways to accomplish tasks in innovative ways. He applied his talents to watering the flowers by setting up a system with a 100-gallon tank hooked up to a trailer. A pump sucked water from the river. Then that had to be hauled up to the bridge where water was hosed on the flowers.
So twice a day, rain or shine, seven days a week, he and his wife drove down to the river, backed their trailer down the boat ramp, filled the water tank, and then carted it up to the bridge to water the plants. The process took about 45 minutes.
But after years of doing this, the routine got to be too much, especially with Kathy’s disability. So, Jerry sold his equipment to the city, and the city hired college students to perform the task.
Unfortunately, the students weren’t always available on weekends, and at the end of the summer, they left for school, leaving the flowers to gradually die off, deprived of water. The city figured the flowers would die anyway as the weather turned cold, but the Garden Club didn’t look at it that way. They had spent a lot of money on the plants, and they wanted them to adorn the city as long as possible, as late as toward the end of October.
What to do?
Jerry and his friend, Dennis Brost of School Hill, good friends since high school, put their heads together. They had loved tinkering since they were teenagers. So what about inventing an automated sprinkling system? One set to go off with a timer? The system wouldn’t take weekends off like the college students had, nor would it go back to school in the fall. It would be there to water the plants faithfully, day in and day out, all season, until they hauled it out at the first sign of winter.
But how would they set up a system like that?
For two years, they thought about it, going down to the river to see about putting some kind of plan together.
“After two years of thinking about it, I finally had it,” said Jerry. “Here in the backyard, Dennis and I laid something out to see if it worked.”
“The scary part was we had to purchase the pump, and if it didn’t work, what would we do with it?” said Dennis. “Could we sell it on eBay? Because we weren’t sure it was going to work.”
The major problem was would the pump send enough water with the right amount of pressure to take care of the flowers on both sides of the road? The ones both close to the pump and the ones on the opposite side of the road? It would