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He also built St. Paul's Catholic Church in Genesee Depot, which he regularly attended.
But his vision for an opulent resort and golf complex just west of Mukwonago, which he named Rainbow Springs, continues to haunt would-be developers who chase after the dream he nearly completed.
Today, willows weep over the covered bridge at the entrance to the resort. Along the main road, lamp posts that once held decorative antique gas lanterns stand among the pines he planted more than 35 years ago. Silhouetted against the sky to the west is the lodge on the shore of Rainbow Springs Lake, where the dream began.
As a boy, Schroedel attended St. Elizabeth's Catholic Grade School in Milwaukee. Some say he finished eighth grade; some say he didn't. It didn't matter, because he knew already that he would be a builder.
In the 1930s, he founded the Schroedel Construction Co. in Milwaukee. After World War II, he built apartment complexes in Whitefish Bay and Shorewood. So many postwar baby boom children were born in those developments that they became known as "Schroedel's Cradles."
Elm Grove builder Jim Cauley knew Schroedel in those days.
"He was a cocky guy," Cauley said. "He was way ahead of everybody in his thinking. He was a dreamer, and he had the guts to try it."
With a series of successful projects behind him and a net worth variously reported as between $20 million and $40 million, Schroedel came to the property outside Mukwonago, which was then a hunting preserve.
A former lodge on the lake that later burned was said to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. However, Mukwonago businessman Harold Koeffler and former Municipal Judge Charlie Dewey doubt that. Both of them recall it as being nothing but a cabin.
Rather, the buildings that Schroedel would erect had more of the feeling of Wright design. His longtime friend Mike Sasso of Eagle quoted Schroedel as saying, "These buildings are made of stone and wood because that's what God put on this Earth." All of the construction at Rainbow Springs is fieldstone and wood painted Mojave brown.
On Dec. 31, 1959, Schroedel opened a new lodge on the shore of Rainbow Springs Lake with a gala New Year's Eve party. Guests ate dinner on fine china using sterling silver flatware. Featuring two dining rooms, a lounge, conference rooms, 42 guest rooms and an indoor swimming pool, the lodge served as the focal point for the new Rainbow Springs Country Club. Among activities available to members were skeet shooting, horseback riding, tennis and water skiing.
By March 1962, Schroedel had designed and was beginning
construction of an 18-hole golf course. He intended to complete it in 100 days,
but weather interfered and it took 143. National publicity followed this feat,
which became known as the Miracle of Mukwonago. As the first course, which he
named Big Moraine - or Big Mo - was being developed, he started a second
18-hole course dubbed Little Moraine - or Little Mo - for those wanting less of
One year later, in April 1963, Schroedel disclosed plans
for a new lodge or clubhouse. Covering 50,400 square feet, the A-frame building
would have a central lounge featuring a 135-ton fieldstone fireplace soaring 55
feet. In addition, there would be a dining room with seating capacity of 400,
two banquet and meeting rooms that could accommodate 700 people, and a separate
party room for Very Important Members.
Even as this facility was taking shape, Schroedel decided a hotel would set off the facility - which now included just under 1,000 acres. A 756-room series of interconnected buildings, stretching over a quarter of a mile and accommodating 1,600 guests was constructed. To amuse guests, a lower level Carnival Street was built, including bars and shops where furs, gold, silver, tungsten jewelry and everything to delight the visiting convention-goer could be purchased. Only the finest building materials were used, right down to the finish hardware of solid brass.
The final addition to the complex - a 90,000-square-foot
conference center featuring a 24,000-square-foot exhibit hall - began.
Schroedel hoped it would compete with Chicago's McCormick Place.
At the end of 1965, a newsletter sent to Rainbow Springs Country Club members spoke of the resort's completion in 1966. The Women's Western Invitational Golf Open was scheduled to be held in August of that year, and Schroedel saw that event as a way to christen Rainbow Springs Resort and Convention Center.
But the financing to finish the complex dried up. The tournament
was held, but the resort was not able to accommodate the players, so they were
transported back and forth from East Troy and Lake Geneva.
As each subsequent year approached, Schroedel felt confident he would find the money necessary to complete the resort. Friends encouraged him to open the parts of the complex that were completed. A $150,000 stainless steel kitchen as well as dining rooms in the new lodge were complete.
"The pilot lights in the stoves were lit," Cauley said. "But he wanted a big grand opening of the entire complex like Wisconsin has never seen. He said Frank Sinatra would perform at the opening."
knew him agreed that he turned down offers of financing during this
time because he did not want a partner, much less someone who would
take over controlling interests.
In the meantime, although no furnishings were purchased for the resort, Schroedel told Mukwonago resident Dewey that he planned to build barracks for Jamaican families he would bring there to work at the resort. In addition, he planned to erect a three-story, 238-room dormitory for 576 students from UW-Whitewater who would live there and receive credit while working for Schroedel. None of that came to pass.
In June 1971, Marshall & Ilsley Bank sued Schroedel and his wife, Anita, for $8.7 million. The bank contended that the Schroedels were in default on notes for loans taken out during the previous six years. The notes were secured by mortgages on Rainbow Springs.
Reports circulated that Schroedel had invested $12 million of his own money in the project over the years, but he again sought outside financing to tide him over. He believed that federal tight money policies in 1966 were the start of his problems.
His efforts to stave off foreclosure were unsuccessful, and in March 1973, Waukesha County Circuit Judge William E. Gramling awarded title of Rainbow Springs Resort to Marshall & Ilsley Bank for $6 million after a sheriff's auction. Schroedel claimed the property was worth $11.7 million. Other subdivisions and vacant tracts of land in New Berlin and Menomonee Falls were awarded to M&I Bank, which bid $3,425,000 for them. Schroedel claimed these parcels were worth $7 million.
In his ruling, Gramling wrote that the bids did not "shock the conscience of the court," the requirement needed before bids taken at a public auction can be set aside. By the end of March, Schroedel had prepared an appeal of the sale through attorney Eugene Kershek of Brookfield, saying that the bank's bid for the property was far less than its actual value.
In November 1973, time ran out. Waukesha attorney James D'Amato, who had been designated by Schroedel to arrange refinancing, said that a $15.5 million loan had been negotiated with a Chicago bank. But when the bank did not provide a letter of credit, M&I refused to accept the deal, D'Amato said.
Edward I. Van Housen, executive vice president of M&I, said of D'Amato's claims, "We've had lots of words but no substance." Shortly after, Waukesha attorney James Caldwell, representing Schroedel, threatened a suit charging that M&I failed to honor a letter of credit indicating that a $15.5 million loan had been negotiated to recover the property.
All of this came to naught. The ban on the sale was lifted and M&I Bank became the title holders of all the holdings Schroedel had pledged in order to finish what he called "his masterpiece" - Rainbow Springs.
The final episode came when Schroedel, who lived at the resort with his wife, did not leave the property. Authorities sent Sheriff's Deputy Bob Kavanaugh to escort him away.
According to Dewey and Koeffler, if a local man had not been sent, Schroedel never would have gone.
Source: Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Aug. 6, 2000.
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