On Saturday, July 29, 1961 the Honorable Oscar J. Schmiege addressed an Outagamie County jury and assembled spectators as the sixth day of a Kaukauna murder trial over which he presided rolled on.
According to media reports, the temperature in the courtroom exceeded 80 degrees on that scorching summer day. As Judge Schmiege read out the last lines of jury instructions, he slumped over, having suffered a fatal heart attack.
Briefly revived in the courtroom, Judge Schmiege lifted his head and said his final words, “Did I finish my instructions?”
That kind of with-his-last-breath dedication was just one of the cool stories that emerged from a judicial portrait project unveiled yesterday at the Outagamie County Justice Center.
Traditionally, Outagamie County honors its retired judges by hanging their portraits in the second floor hallway of the Justice Center. For various reasons, five of those judges, including Schmiege, were omitted.
Yesterday, following a few months of digital sleuthing, portraits of all five judges made it onto the wall.
In addition to Schmiege, who served over 18 years, Schmiege’s replacement Judge Gustave “Gus” Keller, earned a place on the wall.
Prior to finishing his college studies in 1918, Keller enlisted in the Army and saw heavy artillery during World War I. He advanced to the position of Second Lieutenant. An active Democrat, Keller was the party’s nominated candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General in 1940 and 1944. In 1942, he tried for the party’s nomination for Wisconsin Governor, but was narrowly defeated in the primary election. In August of 1961, after more than three decades of legal practice, Keller was appointed as municipal judge (later re-classified as County Judge Branch 2) by Governor Gaylord Nelson.
Another portrait honoree, the Honorable Raymond Dohr, was elected to the position of District Attorney as a Democrat in 1936. He won re-election in 1938. For the 1940 election, he switched party affiliation to Republican and was narrowly defeated in the Republican primary by Oscar Schmiege (his high school classmate from Appleton HS, class of 1920). A few months later, Dohr enlisted in the army in February of 1941 and served in Africa, Italy, France and Germany during World War II. He was injured at the battle of Monte Cassino. After the war, he continued to serve as an officer in the 32nd Red Arrow division. He served in the Reserves until 1956 and practiced law for more than 30 years, including 11 years as the first Outagamie Corporation Counsel. In April of 1961, he was elected to the newly created County Court Branch 3 judge position. He retired as a full-time judge in July of 1972 and was replaced by Judge R. Thomas Cane. In retirement, he continued to serve as a reserve judge.
Another military veteran, the Honorable Stanley Staidl served on active duty from January of 1918 through May of 1919, which included combat in World War I. He was classified as a bombing pilot and also instructed other pilots. He began his law practice in 1921, while continuing to serve in the army reserves. Beyond his 40-year law practice, he was Vice Chairman of the Appleton Water Commission and Judge Advocate of the American Legion. From 1929 to 1934, he served as the Outagamie County District Attorney. He was appointed to serve as judge in Branch 1 by Governor Walter J. Kohler in 1953 and served with distinction until his retirement in 1965. He was replaced by Judge Urban Van Susteren.
Gerald Jolin was elected Outgamie County judge when he was just 29-years old, at the time the youngest judge ever elected in Wisconsin. During his nine years as a judge, he was a strong advocate for the disadvantaged. He organized the County’s Child Welfare Department and enjoyed a distinguished record presiding over the Juvenile Court. A wood sculptor, Jolin helped start a program for the mentally handicapped using art therapy to build salable wooden benches from recycled wood.
All of these judges earned an honorable place in the long history of Outagamie County, and it was cool to see their stories unfold as their portraits took their rightful place on that storied wall.