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Joseph Lawrence Wachtel, affectionately known as Grandpa Chopper, passed away peacefully on the morning of January 12, 2024, at the age of 86, in Madison, Wisconsin, surrounded by his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild. Born on January 21, 1937, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Joseph was a beloved, devoted, and strong husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and cousin.
Joseph is survived by his loving wife, Mary, and his children: James (Ann), Kristin (Matt), Daniel (Traci), Andrew (Shannon), and Marisa (Andrew). He will also be remembered by his cherished grandchildren: Ashley (Logan), Jacob, Beckett, and Maxton, as well as his great-grandchild, Rohan. His siblings, Mary (Emory), William, and Margaret (Jim), and his sisters-in-law, Nancy (Walt), Marilyn, Monica (Rod), and Janie (Steve) will keep his memory close. He also leaves behind his cousin, Barbara, who was an important part of his life.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Clarence and Thecla, his first wife, Joanne, his brother, Angelo "José" Loyo, sisters-in-law Kathy and Margaret, and brother-in-law Bob. Their memories will forever be treasured.
Joseph spent his formative years working for his parent’s family business in Milwaukee, Wachtel Tree Science, which instilled in him a lifelong love for trees and nature—he frequently recited the Latin names of trees and plants when hiking and exploring with his family and friends. This love would also manifest itself in the motorcycle trips he took across North America and Europe and the road trips he took with his family to explore the Western United States.
When not working, Joseph and his parents and siblings found immeasurable joy in the sport of skiing, a love and passion he would go on to instill in his children and they in theirs. He would assist his uncle, Rev. Raphael Hochhaus, SJ, in setting up makeshift ski hills in the rolling farmland of Southeastern Wisconsin using little more than a loop of rope and the flywheel of a truck. He would go on to help his uncle found Maryhill (now Ausblick) in the late 1940s as a winter playground for the Avalanche Club of Marquette University, where Joseph attended high school and some college.
His work with Rev. Hochhaus blossomed into a vocation, as Joseph grew up to be a pivotal figure in the development and cultivation of the sport, leaving his mark on numerous ski areas (Maryhill/Ausblick, Little Switzerland, Loch Lomond, Sundown, Chestnut, Cascade, and Granite Peak), and ski clubs and ski racing teams (Sundown Junior Race Team and Chestnut Mountain Race Team) across the upper Midwest and Canada. He also served many years with the National and Midwest Ski Area’s Associations. Referred to as “Rube Goldberg personified” in a 1991 Chicago Tribune article about his work, he was an innovator and improviser, helping the small ski resorts he worked at flourish. He managed to do more with less and introduced tens of thousands of people to the sport in the process.
After retiring from the ski business in 2002, Joseph enjoyed spending time with family, skiing, bicycling, and working part time as a shuttle driver for Truck Country. Ever a hard worker, he remained active until his very last days, retiring for good from Truck Country on January 5th, 2024.
Joseph treasured time with his family more than anything else. He was happiest when surrounded by his wife and children with a gin martini or gin and tonic in his hand. Often, these would set him to singing some of his distinctive limericks or reciting his one liners and “Chopperisms”, eliciting a loving cringe from his wife and tears of laughter from his children.
He was a faithful Catholic and attended Mass with Mary every weekend. He loved to take her out for breakfast afterward, followed by a drive up Rib Mountain to look over his trees and admire the ski area and surrounding forests and fields.
A funeral Mass to celebrate Joseph’s life will be held at St. Therese Catholic Church in Rothschild, Wisconsin, on Saturday, January 20, at 11:00 AM, with a visitation starting at 9:00 AM at the church. Friends and family are invited to attend and pay their respects to this cherished individual who touched the lives of so many.
A celebration (Skilabration) of life, will be held at Sundown Mountain in Dubuque, Iowa beginning at 12:00, March 9th, 2024. All our welcome and can RSVP at the Facebook event, “Joe Wachtel’s Skilabration of Life.”
His family would like to thank the physicians, nurses, and social workers at UW Health for their deep understanding and compassion during a difficult time.
Joseph’s legacy will live on through the memories shared by those who knew and loved him, who worked with him, laughed with him, and skied with him. He will be deeply missed and forever remembered for his kind heart, steadfast and enduring love for his family, and his zest for life.
Online condolences may be expressed at www.petersonkraemer.com