Dr. Joseph Halser was never afraid to follow his dreams, no matter whether or not others thought they were practical. A Bavarian immigrant who left high school after only one semester, Joseph’s chances of becoming a doctor seemed slim indeed. He persevered, however, and his graduation from medical university in 1940 was just one instance of the many ways Josef lived life to the fullest. From medicine to mycology, ecology, and limnology, Joseph spent his life protecting both people and the environment; his passion, commitment, and kindness are deeply missed.
On November 1, 1905, Josef G. and Anna (Zangerl) Halser welcomed a new child into the world. Josef had been in the German army for 12 years, and in that capacity was involved in various aspects of the timber industry. As a result, he had recently been posted as the superintendent of an Austrian logging firm that was operating in Yugoslavia. Josef and Anna had been living in Davor Bosnia, Yugoslavia, for two months when their son arrived. They christened him Joseph George Jr., and had him baptized at the local Greek Orthodox Church (later, he would be baptized again in the Roman Catholic Church).
Upon returning to their homeland of Bavaria, Josef and Anna had an opportunity to move to the United States, Argentina, or Australia. Anna insisted on the U.S., so Joseph Jr. and is family were soon on a ship en route to America. They became friends with the ship doctor, who was impressed with Joseph’s energy and intelligence. Since Anna was pregnant at the time, and the doctor was childless, he tried to talk Anna into allowing him to adopt Joseph Jr. Although the doctor promised to educate Joseph Jr. and see that he eventually became a doctor too, Anna was firm in her refusal!
The Halser family settled down in America, and Joseph enjoyed a typical American boyhood. He loved fishing and hunting, and was a dedicated Boy Scout. Joseph spent many happy hours as a boy scout, obtaining 46 merit badges and eventually becoming an assistant scoutmaster. In fact, it was at the Indian Mound Reservation Boy Scout Camp that Joseph decided he wanted to become a doctor. He was assisting Mr. Arthur Gruhl in the first aid building, and was fascinated both by the medicine itself and the opportunities for helping others.
Joseph’s medical ambitions received a setback when his mother remarried, since his stepfather wouldn’t permit him to go to school. He never forgot his dream, however, and when his stepfather died in 1927 Joseph began to explore his options for higher education. He was 22 years old, and although he had taken only one semester of high school classes, he was eligible to take the New York Board of Regents College Entrance exams. People told him that it was hopeless, but Joseph’s burning desire to become a doctor gave him the strength to overcome all obstacles. Joseph proudly received his medical degree in 1940, interned in the Mount Sinai Hospital of Milwaukee, and did his surgical residency at Evangelical Deaconess Hospital.
When Joseph was attending classes at Milwaukee Medical School, he made the acquaintance of a beautiful and charming young lady named Dorothea “Dot” Winkie. Dot was a medical technologist, and despite the demands of medical school a romance soon blossomed. Joseph and Dot realized they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, and the happy couple was married on October 22, 1940, just after Joseph’s graduation from medical school.
After Joseph finished his residency, he and his wife moved to 2445 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue, in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee. They took over the medical practice and residence of a doctor who had left to join the army. Joseph and Dot worked hard to build up the practice together, Joseph seeing patients and Dot managing the office. As the years went by, Joseph and Dot were blessed with three wonderful sons: Joseph III, Robert, and William.
Joseph had a passion for the outdoors, and as his practice flourished he was able to spend more and more time on his hobbies. In 1953, Joseph and Dot bought a hunting cabin and 200 acres of barren land. They worked hard to restore the land to its original majesty, planting over 100,000 pine seedlings. Joseph would later say that it was his nature to be interested in forestry, since his parents had originally run a forest farm in the Bavarian woods! In 1963, Joseph heard of a fish hatchery for sale in Elcho, Wisconsin. He traveled to the hatchery to have a look, and purchased it on the spot. Joseph never opened the hatchery, instead leaving the area (Glenacre springs) as a Brook trout preserve. These hobbies eventually led Joseph to go back to school, studying ecology, limnology, and mycology at Marquette University and the U-W Milwaukee.
Tenacious, compassionate, and with a lifelong love of learning, Joseph was a dedicated husband, a loving father and grandfather, and an outstanding physician. His passing on March 9, 1994, was deeply mourned by friends, family, and patients.