GAYS MILLS - We’ve had some great neighbors over the years and I hope you have too. The Kocourek family is my nomination for the ‘Neighbor Hall of Fame,’ if there is such a thing. And if there isn’t, there should be.
The Kocoureks were our closest neighbors in the early 1970s for a couple of years. We lived on a small farm outside of Brillion, Wisconsin, bordered on the south and west by woods and swampy wetlands. The Kocourek farm was the next place to the east. Our families became friends very quickly at their initiation; they invited us over early on to meet them and to welcome us to the neighborhood. I don’t believe we could have chosen any better neighbors if we had tried.
Lester and Dorothy Kocourek had a dairy farm and a passel of kids, 12 in all, thee boys and nine girls. You should have seen the size of their kitchen table!
The cow-to-kid ratio on the farm worked out to about five cows per kid. It wasn’t a huge operation, but everyone was included in it and contributed to its success. It was truly a family farm and involved a real team effort every day. I think it was from Lester that I first heard the saying, “The most important thing you raise on a farm is the kids.” And by that standard, the Kocourek farm was a roaring success.
With two small kids in our family, the Kocoureks were our go-to source of babysitters. Often, we would drop the kids off at the farm if no one was free to come to our house. And there always seemed to be someone ready, willing, and able to care for them. Our two just blended in with the big happy family. And, it was a happy family. With that many siblings, they were all used to sharing and getting along with each other. It was a bit confusing when picking the kids up as far as who to pay. And, it was a sometimes a question as to whether our kids wanted to go back to our relatively quiet, sparsely populated house.
The ringleader of the family was Lester. He had a very healthy child in his hardworking adult body. An example: the outside of the dairy barn was decorated with Disney characters. One of the older girls borrowed an overhead projector from school and using that as a guide, the barn got decorated like a billboard for Disneyworld. I don’t think Lester put them up to it, but he did put up with it and took a lot of pride in giving directions to his farm.
An important part of the Kocourek farm was the woodlot. The five or six acres of woods could have been cleared and made into a tillable crop field, but instead it was kept as a sort of a private family park. It had trails for motorbikes and a large clearing where frequent campfires took place. In one large oak tree, the family had built a really cool tree house. The kids would sleep in this close-to-home getaway on campouts and Lester would go out there often in summer and fall and take a nap in the middle of a busy day.
A couple of years after we moved to Gays Mills, Lester and two of his sons showed up unannounced at our door one summer day. They had hitchhiked across the state to visit us.
That budget adventure was just the kind of thing Lester loved to do. He had no idea that this corner of the state was so beautiful and different from the rest of the state.
We told him not to tell too many people about the ‘Driftless,’ as we were trying to keep it secret.