‘Mayor of South Luxemburg’ was businessman, proud veteran until COVID-19 struck him down
LUXEMBURG – He was a pillar of local business for more than 60 years. He also was a proud Korean War veteran.
But the depth of Jerry Simonar's knowledge of the Luxemburg community and willingness to share it are among the biggest impacts lost with his passing.
Simonar, called the "Mayor of South Luxemburg," died April 13 at age 87, reportedly the first person in the county to die of complications from COVID-19. But those who knew Simonar said he should be remembered instead for his contributions to Luxemburg's business community and the community at large.
Simonar and his brother, Richard, took over Simonar Service upon their father Jack's death in 1955. The family business began with a blacksmith shop opened by Jack's father, John Sr., in 1894. Jack got in on the growing presence of the automobile in the area by opening the auto service and towing shop in 1931.
The family businesses, with Jerry's brother Leroy also on board, expanded to include Simonar Sports, a snowmobile and utility vehicle dealer, and Simonar Shell convenience store, all within about a block on Main Street on the south side of the village. Eight of the brothers' sons continue to operate and work at the businesses.
Simonar Service is where Jerry Simonar held court, offering his advice on business ideas, telling people about the Korean War in which he served and informing visitors about the history of the village until recently. Dale Simonar, Jerry's son, said that's what kept him going.
"A lot of people did value his opinions," Dale Simonar said. "He had multiple people come up to him on a daily basis and get his thoughts. And if someone new came into town and wanted some info, I guarantee any person in town would've sent him to Jerry. He probably knew as much about the history of Luxemburg as anybody.
"He spent 97% of his time at Simonar Service. That's what kept him alive for 87 years. He enjoyed people, wanted to talk to customers … He was a very crucial part here at Simonar Service. We're very sad he's gone."
"If anybody had any questions about Luxemburg, he'd be the one to go to," said Dennis Langteau, commander of Ralph Kline American Legion Post 262 in Luxemburg, of which Jerry Simonar was a member.
Dale Simonar said it wasn't just area residents who sought advice or information from his father. Visitors from other countries also came to Jerry to ask about the village or family histories, such as a person from Belgium who came to see him last year.
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The Luxemburg Area Chamber of Commerce named Jerry Simonar its Person of the Year in 2018, recognizing not just his long-running and successful business history but also his knowledge of the village's history and contributions to its growth, all of which led to his "Mayor" nickname.
Ted Stodola, board member and past president of the Luxemburg chamber, said among other things that Simonar was a founding member of the Luxemburg Sportsman's Club and organized its annual fishing fundraiser. He said Simonar also worked hard to promote and directed traffic for the annual Kewaunee County Fair Parade through downtown.
"He and his family always dreamed about growing our community," said Ted Stodola, board member and past president of the Luxemburg chamber. "His support for the community over the years has been tremendous … They have a history of all the founding businesses. They all worked together to improve, promote Luxemburg, make Luxemburg a prosperous and good town to live in."
Stodola laughed when he recounted telling Jerry Simonar that he would be Person of the Year. That was the first time the chamber told the winner in advance of its annual banquet, and Simonar was known for being straightforward and blunt with his thoughts.
"I was a little bit scared. You never knew how he would take it," Stodola said. "But he was so gracious, so tickled. I'm glad I got to do it."
Also a big part of Jerry Simonar's life was his military service. After being drafted in late 1952 during the Korean War, he was sent to Pusan, joining the 530 Service Co. and being put in charge of a motor pool. After returning stateside, he continued to serve as a sergeant first class with the 887th Field Artillery and had been a member of Legion Post 262 for 65 years.
"He was proud of what he did (in the service)," Langteau said.
Jerry Simonar had taken one Honor Flight with other war veterans in 2014 to Washington, D.C., where he visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial and other memorials on the National Mall.
Sadly and ironically, he was set to take another Honor Flight this spring to South Korea, but that was canceled because of the outbreak in that country of COVID-19, the same disease that would take his life.
"His military background was huge for him," Dale Simonar said. "He was looking forward to that. He was disappointed … He really would have liked to have gone back to see how South Korea rebounded from the '50s."
Langteau said Jerry Simonar was eager to get ready for the Honor Flight as soon as he learned he passed the physical exam for it, even planning to buy small gift items for children he might encounter in South Korea.
"He was never so excited," Langteau said. "When he passed the test to go, that was the cat's meow for him."
Langteau said Jerry Simonar was an invaluable member of the Legion post, serving in a wide number of capacities. As the post's longtime sergeant-at-arms, Simonar was in charge of military honors at veterans' funerals.
"He couldn't have been a better member," Langteau said. "We work 24/7, veterans helping veterans, and he was always there for us when we needed him."
All those aspects of Jerry Simonar's life explain why the "Mayor of South Luxemburg" will be missed from the village he helped to grow.
"Any time you lose someone like that from the community, you're gonna miss them," Stodola said.
Funeral services are pending because of state restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. To sign a guestbook or for more information, visit mcmahonfh.com/obituary/gerald-jerry-simonar.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: 'Mayor of South Luxemburg' was businessman, proud veteran until COVID-19 struck him down