With the self-assurance of a life well lived, Leo Zembrowski, through his rough exterior, was a kind and generous man. He was a proud man, and rightly so, of his family and Polish heritage. Having grown up through some tumultuous times in our nation, he came to live on his own terms, and indeed earned it. Just as loving as he was stubborn, he will be long remembered and missed.
A lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Leopold “Leo” Zembrowski was the son of Leopold and Frances (Wikowska) Zembrowski. His family made their home at 922 E. Land Place where Leo was born on September 13, 1928. It was an exciting time in the country as the Roaring Twenties redefined the culture of America. The entertainment world boomed, baseball players set astounding records, and penicillin forever changed the field of medicine. Although the U.S. was on the brink of the Great Depression, Leo’s birth was a most welcome event in the lives of his parents.
Leo’s father was a hard working laborer and his mother was a homemaker. He was the third of eventually six children born to his parents, and also had two older half-brothers, Anthony and Stanley Jasczynski, from his mother’s previous marriage. His older sisters, Florence and Pauline doted on young Leo, and he later welcomed yet more sisters when Cecelia, Frances and Constance came along.
With the onset of the Great Depression, families struggled through these trying times, and Leo’s family was no exception. His formative years were a trying time due to his family’s poor state, yet no different than anyone in their neighborhood. With such a large family, he learned early on to be frugal. Their large garden and chickens they raised sustained their daily needs, but Leo knew well to eat at meal time and to eat what was placed before him because snacks were not a provision. When he told his sisters the Czernina soup they were eating was actually ducks blood, his mother was not happy!
Leo attended St. Casimir Grade School to the sixth grade. School just wasn’t for him and he always had more exciting things to do. He’d often enter the school’s front door with his sisters, then make a beeline out the back door. With the Milwaukee River just a block away from home, it became an adventurous, fun and exciting place to play. Leo came to jump off every bridge that crossed the river which at the time was a load of fun for him and his friends. In time his parents divorced and Leo remained very supportive and caring throughout his mother’s life.
In November of 1950, Leo was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Although he served in Germany and France, going into the Army was not something he would have chosen for himself, but he did what he was called to do. He served his country well until his honorable discharge, in April of 1957.
When Leo returned home in the fall of 1957, he and his buddy, Roger were invited to visit Leo’s Army buddy, Howard Gilles at his home in Alma Center, Wisconsin. Howard, however, had intentions of introducing Leo to his younger sister, Winifred. When she came into the house after milking cows dressed in work clothes and a white bandanna around her head, Leo couldn’t take his eyes off her. What a sight she was, but Leo was smitten right from the start! They all attended a dance in Hatfield that weekend and as Leo and his friend were driving home, Leo exclaimed, “Someday I’m going to marry that girl!” That someday came on April 23, 1960 when Leo and Winnie were happily married at Immaculate Conception Church in Alma Center, Wisconsin.
Leo and Winnie made their home in Milwaukee and began their family right away. Daughter, Julie was born in 1960, Thomas in 1961, Peter came along in 1962, and John completed their family in 1964. Family was very important to Leo. He was a good provider having worked for the City of Milwaukee Water Department. Throughout the years he worked in various positions until retiring in 1988 as a mechanic after 37 ½ years of service for the city.
Just as the lion is the king of the jungle, Leo was just as much king of his home where it was “the world according to Leo.” He taught his children to work hard toward their goals, and if they wanted his help, they needed to play by his rules. Always in charge, he’d do anything for his kids, but it had to be on his terms. He earned his way, and expected them to do the same. His love for his children was unmatched, and when grandchildren came along, his love for them grew even stronger as they each became the highlight of his life.
A “no nonsense kind of guy”, Leo told it like it was. Just as loving as he was stubborn, inside his rough exterior he was clothed in loving kindness and generosity. Always willing to help others, he could drive a hard bargain, too. Once when negotiating on a boat, his grandson, Andrew offered eight dollars to help. After giving Leo all his money, Leo in turn made young Andrew half owner of the boat. His local postman was forever grateful when Leo gave him the sailboat he was no longer using. When he outgrew it, Leo’s generosity was again paid forward when the postman gave it to someone else to enjoy.
Leo loved sharing stories about his life experiences. Over the years the stories remained the same, and never faltered as he retold them with exact detail. Leo was a man of many interests, but foremost was the family he held dear. He did, however, enjoy building and fixing houses. During his life he built four homes including a cottage in Northern Wisconsin. He truly enjoyed boating, and owned a Ford Model A, his pride and joy. He was also a man of habit and typically shopped at his favorite stores on Milwaukee’s south side.
Prior to Father’s Day in June of 2006, Leo was diagnosed with lung cancer. His health worsened, but with the care of his wife and family, Leo was able to remain at home where he peacefully died in his sleep Sunday, January 15, 2012 at the age of 83.
Self reliant and confident, Leopold “Leo” Zembrowski was content in what he accomplished in his life. He was proud of his Polish heritage, and just as a proud of his family. He was a man filled with passion, even through his stubborn nature, who loved abundantly. He will be deeply missed.
Leo was a beloved husband to his wife of 51 years, Winifred; cherished father of Julie (Andrew) Burish, Thomas, Peter, John (Tami) Zembrowski; loving grandfather of Lauren, Rachael, Andrew, Kathryn, Jenna; further survived by other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by each of his siblings.
Visitation with Leo’s family will take place Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at Suminski Life Story Funeral Home-Suminski/Weiss, 1901 N. Farwell Avenue, (414) 276-5122 from 4:30– 7:30 PM and again Thursday, January 19, 2012 at Three Holy Women Parish–St. Hedwig Church, 1702 N. Humboldt Avenue from 9:00 AM until the funeral Mass at 10:00 AM. Entombment Holy Cross Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials to Catholic East Elementary School, 2461 N. Murray Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53211. To share a favorite memory and photo of Leo and to sign his online guest book, please visit www.lifestorynet.com.
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