All who knew Jon Busateri would agree that there was no one who met him and left unchanged. He was a humble and disciplined man who carried himself with honor, integrity, and compassion. Jon wholeheartedly applied himself to whatever lay before him and never had higher expectations for those around him than he had for himself. A devoted father, there was nothing that he wouldn’t do for his boys, and although he accomplished so much of which to be proud his sons were his greatest source of pride and joy. Jon’s strength, courage, and drive to succeed will continue to inspire all who were blessed to know and love him.
It seems only fitting that Jon’s story began during a time that was as vibrant as he was. Elvis Presley, rock ‘n roll, and television shows like I Love Lucy and Father Knows Best were among the latest trends to color the fabric of America. It was on August 7, 1951, that John J. and Sophie (Christy) Busateri were pleased to announce the birth of their baby boy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jon Jay was the older of two children in his family and was raised in a home on Milwaukee’s East Side alongside his sister, Betty. His father was of Sicilian descent while his mother was Athenian Greek. The Italian heritage was important and deeply respected in the Busateri home, and as is often the case in families that are deeply rooted in their heritage the Busateris lived in a duplex above his father’s parents on Van Buren Street. Jon’s father worked as an electrical engineer for Allen Bradley Co., and his mother was a homemaker.
In many ways Jon experienced an upbringing that was reflective of the generation. He attended Cass Street and St. Rita’s Grade School and spent countless hours on Cass Street Playground with his friends developing his athletic skills. Although he played numerous sports, basketball was his favorite – perhaps because of his six foot, six inch frame. As someone who never shied away from new things, Jon also developed a love for music through the early influence of his family. His high school years found him at St. John’s Cathedral High School where he played the trombone in the band and lettered in basketball. Jon was an aggressive competitor both on and off the court and an excellent team player at the same time. He went on to graduate in 1969. Jon looked forward to visiting his mother’s family in New Hampshire during the summers while he was growing up. He worked in their restaurant as well at their candy company mixing big vats of chocolate.
Jon went on to play basketball in college, but illness and injury cut his basketball career short. However, he continued to play in the Milwaukee area with various municipal leagues. Many of the friendships Jon made through playing basketball became lifelong friendships. It was while playing games on Cass Street Playground that Jon met the recreation leader, Claudia Schlaikowski, during the early seventies. Sparks flew right from the start and a dating relationship ensued. They married on July 17, 1974 at Immaculate Conception Church in Bay View. Together they were blessed with the births of three sons, John in March of 1976, Mike in May of 1978, and Peter in June of 1980. Jon and Claudia were together for 23 years, they later divorced.
As a person Jon was tough and disciplined both physically and mentally, and these were character qualities that he instilled within his sons as well. He was a hard worker who was devoted to his family and would do anything for his sons. It was not uncommon for Jon to trade work or car parts to get something special for his sons.
With a keen eye for detail and a willingness to learn, Jon apprenticed as an auto mechanic, working in several auto repair shops. On May 8, 1978, the day his son Mike was born, he started working as an automotive instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) High School where he remained for over 35 years. While there Jon passed his love for auto mechanics along with a loving dose of discipline to the thousands of students in his automotive classes. He treated his students as he wanted to be treated while preparing them for the challenges of life and in the workplace. Jon was forever encouraging them to be their best at the same time. Through his classes, his students learned discipline and a mental toughness that was unmatched. Through the years he hired some of his students to work on cars and helped his most promising students obtain jobs through his connections in the automotive field. Many of his students considered him to be like a father to them. It also isn’t surprising that numerous students would return to MATC to visit with Jon because of the impact he had in their lives. He always recalled their names and when he had them in class.
Through his love of learning new things, Jon was continually striving to better his life and the lives of those around him. His love for working with his hands reached much farther than just auto mechanics as it also included things like woodworking, electrical repairs, machining, and welding. Whatever the skill he needed to accomplish his goal he was willing to learn it. His skills in auto mechanics were things he used in his own life but also in helping family and friends.
Always one to be busy, Jon had numerous things going all the time. He built a go cart put it under the Christmas tree. He built and raced remote control cars on Fridays and Saturdays with his sons, and served as their crew chief. In addition, he played with and coached all three sons in various sports from the time they were 4 years old until they were young adults. Jon was their biggest fan, never missing a game. With a love for learning Jon was an avid reader, and with his entrepreneurial spirit he also started several small businesses including auto repair, snowplowing, and making pens. He has been described as a renaissance man with his love for opera, especially the three tenors, and classical music coupled with his love for using his hands to build and repair things. His beloved aunt Tess nurtured his love for Frank Sinatra and “mob hits.”
While attending a Halloween party in 2000, Jon approached Ann Burbach, an MATC coworker he had just met to ask her for a dance. Although she claimed that she didn’t know how to dance to salsa music, he told her to “just shake her hips” and they did in fact dance. Jon asked for a date, but Ann was reluctant to start a relationship while working on her dissertation and suggested going to lunch a month later, to which Jon responded, “Nothing sooner?!” She relented, their relationship flourished as he was a sentimental romantic who loved to dance, and they have been together ever since. He was instrumental in motivating her to finish her dissertation and spent many hours reading data and rechecking data.
Jon and his loved ones were given a tough pill to swallow when he contracted a virus that affected his heart in 1996. Although he needed to give up playing basketball, he found other ways to remain strong such as walking in the swimming pool. After time took its toll, Jon was hospitalized and received a heart assist device on December 12, 2012 meant as a bridge until he could receive a heart transplant. He received a new heart on November 18, 2013. He enjoyed visits from family and friends and found ways to occupy his time during his long hospital stay including building a model engine and directing the remodeling of his kitchen. His granddaughter Sophie always brought a smile with her artwork and visits. He couldn’t wait until she grew up so that he could teach her to work on cars and get her hands dirty. Sadly, he contracted an infection that he was unable to overcome.
A stranger to none and a friend to all, Jon Busateri made a significant impact in the lives of all who were within his reach. He had a contagious zest for life and a deep love for his family and friends. Jon and his big heart will be deeply missed and forever remembered.
Jon J. Busateri died on February 6, 2014. Jon’s family includes his partner, Ann Burbach; children, John C. (Jamie) Busateri, Michael (Caitlin Walsh) Busateri, and Peter (Kerri Tenhover) Busateri; granddaughter, Sophie Lisa Busateri; sister, Betty Busateri; former wife and mother of their children, Claudia Busateri; and his extended family of relatives, co-workers, friends, former students, and Froedtert Hospital doctors, nurses, and staff. Jon was preceded in death by his parents. Visit with Jon’s family on Tuesday, February 11, at the Funeral Home from 4 p.m. until time of Sharing Memories at 7:00 p.m. Funeral Mass 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, Feb 12 at Three Holy Women Parish – St. Rita Church 1601 N. Cass Street (MEET AT CHURCH) Entombment to follow at Forest Home Cemetery. Arrangements provided by Suminski LifeStory Funeral Homes, Suminski / Weiss, 1901 N. Farwell Ave (414) 276-5122. www.SuminskiFuneralHome.com