The Rolling Ground Tavern has a new owner with plans to maintain the friendly atmosphere for which the place is famous.
Allan Klema bought the business from Ron and Bonnie Murphy last month. It’s been just a little less than 20 years since the Murphys purchased the tavern from Wolf and Britta Bodenstein in 1992. The Bodensteins had had owned Rolling Ground for 17 years at that point.
Ron recalled the moment in March of 1992, as he and Bonnie returned to their home in Lancaster following a St. Patrick’s Day party in Rolling Ground. On the way back, the couple decided they should look into buying the business.
Now after almost 20 years of running the Rolling Ground Tavern, they’ve decided it’s time to retire. Ron is committed to helping Allan with a smooth transition into owning the business from his current job of agricultural sales.
After 20 years of traveling around the Midwest selling agricultural products, Klema seems pleased at the thought of settling down in Rolling Ground and running the business. Klema grew up in Prairie du Chien and has family in the area.
The Murphys sold Klema a house just across the road from the tavern, which they acquired recently. The Murphys have no plans to sell their own home, which is also located next to the tavern in Rolling Ground. After all, they both grew up just a few miles away.
Ron and Bonnie shared some of their memories of the 20 years in business in Rolling Ground. In addition to working full-time at the business for the last two decades, the Murphys also employed their children, as well as nieces, nephews and friends in the business at one point or another.
“It was a great opportunity to make some money for a lot of local kids going to college,” Ron noted.
While the tavern-store has a long history dating back to 1919, the current building was constructed in 1988, when the original Rolling Ground Tavern and Store burned down. The Bodensteins wasted little time in replacing the structure and had the current building constructed by spring of 1989. In fact, Ron recalled the Bodensteins had a shell up in time for deer season in November of 1988 and people were inside of the partially constructed building by then.
Becoming owners of the Rolling Ground Tavern was an adjustment for the Murphys who were used to working day hours in Lancaster. Ron was employed at the Dick’s Supermarket there. However, they quickly made a niche for themselves and the tavern in the close-knit community of Rolling Ground where they grew up.
Although they both have an Irish background like the early settlers of the area, Bonnie is quick to point out that she is three-quarters Bohemian as well.
While many in the community are still ethnically Irish, there are people of more diverse backgrounds in the community now, including weekenders from bigger cities who own cabins. Old-timers or newcomers get the same welcome and family atmosphere at Rolling Ground. And, the Murphys are fond of saying that “everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”
“It’s family friendly,” Ron says proudly. Bad language isn’t tolerated and kids are definitely made to feel at home. That even includes a basketball hoop in the parking lot among other things.
“It’s not just for the adults,” Ron explained. “We want the kids to be happy too.”
That’s an attitude Allan Klema appreciates and plans to continue. Klema could see quickly that Rolling Ground wasn’t a typical bar.
“It’s a family friendly kind of place not your routine tavern,” he explained. “It’s more of a gathering place for the local community.”
Klema has plans to keep the Murphys’ successful reunion business going.
Ron recalled it all began with a reunion of 30 to 40 snowmobile people back in 1993. Now, there are family reunions, class reunions, birthday parties and more. The Murphys have a tent to set up in the parking lot and can accommodate groups as large as 250 in the bar and tent.
Lately, the summer reunion business has been supplemented by a growing number of motorcycle riders, who have found the bar placed as a destination on motorcycle runs.
In addition to lots of long hours and hard work over the years, one of Bonnie’s big contributions to the bar involved putting Rolling Ground on the map or you might say putting Rolling Ground back on the map.
At one point, the official state of Wisconsin map stopped locating Rolling Ground. When Bonnie discovered the crossroads community had been left off the map, she began contacting state officials in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. She eventually talked with State Representative DuWayne Johnsrud and ultimately Rolling Ground was returned the map the following year.
“We did it,” Bonnie recalled.
Klema sees that accomplishment as a reflection of what the Murphys have done for the community over the years. He has been very impressed with the community he’s seen at the recent Rolling Ground Golf outing and the Murphy’s going away party.
“Rolling Ground is the place for the kids to return to be with family and friends no matter where they may have moved,” Ron explained.
“On St. Pat’s Day people come back from all over,” according to Ron. “It’s a long held tradition that we took over.”
While the Murphys are retiring, they were quick to point out that Alan would be getting the entire group of experienced employees, including manager Chris McCormick, who has spent 19 years with the business.
“We want this to succeed as much as he does.” Ron said. “We’re right next door.”
As for his part, Allan wanted to assure the Rolling Ground customers that the bar would still be the family friendly place they have known in the past.
“People should be aware it’s business as usual at Rolling Ground,” Klema said. “We will be carrying on the tradition of the Rolling Ground Bar and Grill. It will be the same family and friends. All of the same ‘rules’ apply.”