Over the years, the Tubesing siblings have celebrated major birthdays together. They’ve taken trips and been on adventures, but when it was Helen’s turn to decide how to celebrate her 70th birthday, she wanted to return to a place where she grew up – the Milwaukee Soldiers Home.
Helen (Tubesing) Forster, Phyllis Tubesing, Lois (Tubesing) Jaeckel and Don Tubesing were raised in a military family. Their father, Karl A. Tubesing went into the Army-Air Corps in 1939 and served thru WWII. He was sent to Hawaii on the first ship that left San Francisco after Pearl Harbor. It was there that he committed his life to serving veterans. When he returned to the states, he was stationed at a new air base they were building at Hill Field, Utah. When the VA was formed, he became a chaplain for veteran hospitals.
The Tubesing family got used to moving – like most military families. However, in 1955, when their father became a Chaplain for the VA Hospital in Milwaukee, that changed. Between 1955 and 1958, Chaplain/Reverend Tubesing commuted from the family’s home on Calhoun Road to the Soldiers Home grounds. Like a physician, he was often on call and expected to be on the grounds quickly when a patient took a turn for the worse. At a time before freeways, it was a long drive.
Don Tubesing, Phyllis Tubesing, Helen Forster and Lois Jaeckel stand outside Building 11, their former family home.
In 1958, the Tubesing family had the opportunity to move onto the Soldiers Home grounds, and they took it. They moved into Building 11, the old Fire Engine House located across from the Soldiers Home Chapel.
The siblings were teenagers at the time and, admittedly, didn’t quite appreciate all that was around them.
“It was full of old men,” said Helen Forster. “My friends never knew where I lived. We had our own zip code and no address. When people asked where I lived, ‘Building 11’ didn’t resonate.”
But the move certainly made sense for the family. As the Soldiers Home evolved, interment requirements broadened to include veterans of all American wars. This meant that Chaplain/Reverend Tubesing was presiding over up to six funerals each day.
Though they may not have fully appreciated living on the grounds of one of the nation’s most precious historical sites at the time, returning to the grounds brought back many memories.
“I can hear the screen door slam,” Lois Jaeckel reflected while gazing toward her former family home.
Helen remembered spending most of her time in the library, checking out books to read on the front porch of the house.
“There were no late fees,” she said. “I used to check them out in stacks.”
Don recalled the ‘marketplace’ that used to occupy the lower level of Building Six, where vets set up little shops and used their skills. He also recalled the Recreation Building.
“I learned to play billiards here,” he recalled.
Phyllis remembered bowling there with her father – sometimes even twice a week.
“The lanes were always crooked,” she recalled. “A lot of time was spent here.”
As the siblings stood in front of Ward Memorial Theater, Don remembered the weekly movies that were shown for the Veterans.
“I remember seeing an Elvis movie here,” he said.
The Tubesing’s parents are buried in Wood National Cemetery, where a baseball field used to be located.
Don remembered playing countless games on the field, his sisters watching from the bleachers.
“Our parents are buried right behind where home plate used to be,” he said.
Don, Phyllis, Lois and Helen all shared similar sentiments – while they lived on these sacred grounds, they didn’t realize just how special they were and how unique their experience was.
Now, the siblings fully grasp the importance of the grounds and what the District represents. They are encouraged by recent progress to return the vacant buildings to the service of veterans.
“This is sad,” said Don, as he studied the condition of the buildings. “We need to be working on this.”
“Anything good takes time,” said Phyllis, referring to the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance and National Trust for Historic Preservation’s efforts to restore the buildings.
As efforts to rehabilitate the District’s vacant buildings continues, it is important to note that not only are The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, in partnership with key local, regional and national stakeholders, working to preserve a piece of our national history, we are working to preserve the personal history of countless veterans and their families who have encountered the District over the years, families like the Tubesings.