John Vincent de Montmollin of Cedarburg peacefully transitioned to Heaven on May 20, 2014 at 8:30 p.m. at the age of 90 years and 9 months. Beloved husband of Elizabeth (nee Kochanski) for 46 years. Loving Dad of Lisa (Tim) Tamsen of Grafton, Jackie (Aaron Layman) de Montmollin of Katy, TX, John (Alyssa Stephenson) de Montmollin of Fond du Lac, and Jennifer (Dan Merkel) de Montmollin of Shorewood. Proud Papa of Josiah, Samuel, John, Aidan, Julia, Tommy, Nedy, Yubin, Vivian, and Kamron. Brother-in-law of Janet Stamper of Grafton. Dancing in Heaven with his much-missed granddaughter, Libby.
Born August 8, 1923 in Milwaukee to Mabel (Peterson) and John Samuel de Montmollin. An adventurous character always, his childhood stories include having leapt off his third story apartment fire escape to three feet of freshly fallen snow below. He would always add, “And I thought mid-air, ‘I shouldn’t have done this’ — but it was too late!” In what would become typical form for his life, he landed unscathed. At age 11, with nothing more than six soda crackers and 37 cents in his pocket, he hitchhiked from Milwaukee to Van Nuys, California to visit his Grandma “Big Mama” and his Aunt Vivian. From sleeping in straw piles, riding box cars and catching rides with truckers, many of whom bought him meals along the way, he eventually made his way. He stayed a week and rode the Greyhound bus back, as insisted upon by his aunt who also gave him $2.00 for his trip home. “A fortune back then; hamburgers were a nickel,” he often recalled.
In September of 1942, de Montmollin enlisted in the army to serve in World War II. He was placed in the Army Air Corps, the forerunner to the United States Air Force. On his 18th mission on May 14, 1943 over Kiel, Germany, his B-17 was shot down and he and the rest of the crew parachuted to capture. He spent the next two years of his life as a prisoner of war, first in Germany for a few months, and then at Stalag XVII B prison camp in Austria until the end of the war.
Home from the war in 1945 and reenlisted as a reservist, he worked hard day to day to go about a carefree civilian existence of work and play, with memories of his P.O.W. days ever-present. Twenty years after returning from the war while working as a photofinisher at L.L. Cook Company in Milwaukee, he met a delightful young woman who immediately caught his eye for her tremendous work ethic, and also, perhaps, her smashing good looks. In 1967, de Montmollin married Elizabeth (Liz) and insisted that her five-year-old daughter, Lisa, join them as they tied the knot in Las Vegas and honeymooned at Disneyland. A year later, as soon as the law permitted him to do so, he formally adopted Lisa, though he had made her his daughter from the start.
From that point on, his life was about his family. Shortly after marriage, the family built a home in Grafton, back when Grafton was “way out there” and mostly corn fields. He and Liz went on to have three more children. He was the kind of dad who took his family to Harrington Beach on random summer days, who played “pop fly” catch in the backyard for hours at a time, who got up at 4:00 a.m. to help his kids with their paper route (and didn’t even wake them up on the super cold days, but did the route himself), who sat bedside with a flu-stricken kid giving them sip at a time of 7-Up all the while telling them, “I wish it was me who was sick, not you.” Simply put, he was there. He gave the very best of himself to his children.
He was blessed to see each child grow up happy and healthy, get married, and have children — like him, both by birth and adoption. He was blessed to experience tremendously good health his whole life, allowing him to experience many family trips later in life, to places such as Hawaii, Europe, the Caribbean, Canada, and annual family trips to Door County. He loved nothing more than being all together with his children and grandchildren. At the age of 87, he walked three miles each day at Cedar Creek Park in Cedarburg, one of his favorite places. He always said, “I think better when I walk — but not when I walk on concrete, it has to be a squishy path.” Though his body started to slow at 87, he still walked at least a mile each day until 89 when his health became more challenged. In the end, though he battled aggressive lymphoma, he did so with his trademark strength, selflessness, and humor. His children are blessed and honored to have spent so much of the week of his passing together with him and Liz at their Cedarburg home.
“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” -C. B. Kelland
Life Celebration on Saturday, June 14, 2014 at New Life Church, N56W6093 Portland Road in Cedarburg at 10:00am. Picnic lunch and Military Honors to follow at Cedar Creek Park Pavilion, located across the street from the church. In lieu of flowers, a fund has been established at Associated Bank in memory of John for a legacy gift to Cedar Creek Park. Donations to the John V. de Montmollin Cedar Creek Park Memorial Fund can be made in person at any Associated Bank branch, or can be mailed to Associated Bank at 1930 Wisconsin Avenue, Grafton, WI 53024.