James Robert Hmielewski, Sr.

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James Robert
Hmielewski, Sr.

James “Punky” Hmielewski, Sr. was a kind and loving man known for his big heart, for his incredible sense of humor and his intoxicating love for life. He was such a pleasure to be around that he could become friends with a complete stranger in a matter of minutes. Although many people will miss Jim as a close friend, he will be held in special reverence by those who knew him as a loving husband, devoted father, proud grandfather and loyal brother.

Times were hard in the United States in 1931, as unemployment rates were high, and spirits were low as many American families tried to stretch their dollars in order to survive the Great Depression. Despite the challenges of the time, Frank and Jeanette (Wisniewski) Hmielewski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin kept their spirits up by focusing on the new bundle of joy in their lives with the birth of their son, James Robert, on November 2, 1931. James was welcomed into the family by his three older siblings, Donald, Millie and Dorothy (though they were all only one year apart in age). Jim grew up in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee at 2427 North Bremen Street, where he created many wonderful childhood memories with his siblings and friends. (In fact, Jim lived 77 of his 80 years in the same house.)

Jim graduated high school, and later, like many other young men of the time, was called up for service in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Virginia for much of his tour of duty, and received his honorable discharge after 2 years. Proud of his service, Jim continued to serve in the Army Reserves for the next few years. Once back home in Milwaukee, Jim went to work for the Village of Whitefish Bay as a sanitation worker for 17 years. He then became a Purchasing Associate at Roundy’s, where he remained for 27 ½ years.

Jim grew up just down the street from the Zuba family, and he was good friends with their son, Ray Zuba. In fact, he was the best man at Ray’s wedding and it was at this celebration that Jim met Ray’s beautiful sister, Rosemarie “Rosie.” As fate would have it, love blossomed quickly between the two and after only 6 months, Jim asked Rosie to be his wife. A year later, the sweethearts exchanged wedding vows at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Jim and Rosie shared the next 52 years together, raising their three sons, Jim Jr., Ronald and Steven, and sharing many wonderful memories as a family. Jim wanted to be a strong, yet kind father to his sons. By example, he taught them the things that matter in life, like working hard to achieve your goals, while treating people with respect along the way. Jim cared deeply for his family and showed it by providing faithfully for them, and sharing much love and laughter. He never missed one of Jim Jr.s’ sporting events at school. Time together was important, and the family would take annual trips to Wisconsin Dells.

Jim’s most charming trait was his ability to put a smile on children’s faces as “Punky the Clown.” He was a proud Tripoli Shriner, and performed as one of their circus clowns for many years in the Shrine Circus. Sometimes, Jim would get dressed in his clown suit and surprise his granddaughter, Kristine, at her school – putting a smile on many kids’ faces. Jim was also proud of his association as a Mason.

It was obvious Jim had a warm heart, but he worked hard to keep his physique tough and firm. He was regimented in his workout schedule, going in the morning to the Eagles’ Club and later to Bally’s. Jim liked to lift weights, ran 3 miles a day and later also swam. Funny, his sons said they rarely remember their Dad taking showers at home because of his workout schedule. In his leisure time, Jim loved to watch the Lawrence Welk Show and the news, and for his listening pleasure, he enjoyed Nat King Cole.

Jim was such an easygoing guy and loved by everyone. He was always telling some kind of joke, and one of his favorite lines on his friends was “What’s your first name (then stating the person’s first name)?” Jim was generous with his time as he was always helping out friends and neighbors, taking them to doctor appointments or picking up groceries for them. Friends and family will remember Jim not for the things he did, but for the reason he did them. His presence in the world will be greatly missed, but the memories he created with his loved ones will always be remembered.

James R. “Punky” Hmielewski, Sr., age 80, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, November 21, 2011. Beloved husband of Rosemarie (nee Zuba) for 52 years. Loving father of Jim Jr. (Denise), Ron (the late Alicia), and Steven Hmielewski. Proud Papa of Kristen, Nicholas, Jayna, and Jake. Fond brother of Millie Simons, the late Donald Hmielewski, and the late Dorothy Brozovich.

Visitation will be on Friday, November 25, at the Suminski Family Life Story Funeral Home, 1901 N. Farwell Avenue, Milwaukee, from 4:00 p.m. until the time of the Funeral Services at 7:00 p.m. Please visit Jim’s personal memory page at www.LifeStoryNet.com, where you may sign his online guest book and share condolences with his family.

Past Comments

Mel Clifton & Debra Walls

It was a pleasure knowing Punky. He always had kind word to say to his friends over at Riverwest Bar. May God help his family in this time of his home going.

Diane + Steven Homfeldt

Even though we weren’t very close it was always a pleasure seeing Punky + Rose. Couple # 1. Sure will miss those simple sayings like “DON’T GO” and “Steve, what’s your first Name?”

God Bless to all

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