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Glessner says goodbye
Times photo: Tere Dunlap Jim Glessner helps a visitor with information about The Badger State Trail at the Green County Welcome Center and Historic Cheesemakers Museum. Glessner retired as executive director of the center on Thursday, after more than five years of service.

The Welcome Center

Closed in 1979, the 120-foot long, 70-ton railroad depot was moved in 1993 to the corner of 21st Street and Wisconsin 69 to make a county welcome center.

Historic Monroe was formed in 1989 for the direct purpose of restoring the depot, renovating it from 1993-1995.

Historical Cheesemakers came to Historic Monroe to partnership with the museum, with a replica of the interior of a late 19th century cheese factory and displays of cheesemakers' tools, and other artifacts from the area's cheese-making history.

"People say, 'wow, pretty nice, and this is really interesting," Glessner said.

MONROE - On his last day as executive director of the Green County Welcome Center and Historic Cheesemakers Center, Jim Glessner sat at his desk autographing several copies of his book "The Swiss Colony."

"They seem to sell better when they have the author's signature in them; don't know why," he said.

In the Milk House gift shop in one corner of the historic depot, Glessner's books take their place on shelves next to those by Nathan Roth, Jerry Apps and others. The books are about the Swiss, breweries, cheese and "Cheese Central USA," the history of cheesemaking in Green County - the newest release by Doran Zwygart, delivered from the publisher that day.

Glessner admitted he had more to do than he could get done on Thursday. But with a coffee-to-go in hand, he stepped from behind the desk to talk about the history of Green County's cheesemakers and the 1880s Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Depot.

By 10 a.m., Glessner had five people stop at the depot for information. Three more people, who stopped in for the museum tour, were from Tampico, Ill., Glessner's home town.

"I like to talk to people," Glessner said.

Between 20 and 24 people a day stopped in during June and July. Glessner said he's noticed many people, still traveling but staying closer to home, are from northwestern Chicago. But from March through May, visitors came from 35 states and 12 foreign countries, including Europe, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and Columbia.

Glessner calls the museum and welcome center "the undiscovered gem."

"(I love) the whole thing. I love history," he said.

Glessner came to the center as executive director over five years ago, succeeding Anna Anderson. Glessner had retired from Swiss Colony about 10 years before as executive director of New Product Development.

His job at the Welcome Center started with a phone call.

"Jean Tullet called and said, 'How would you like to help us?'" Glessner recalled.

The first thing he wanted to know was whether the position was part-time.

Then he asked when they needed his answer.

"Well, they're in a meeting right now," Tullet told him.

"It was one of those things where you walk in and they say, 'you're it.'" he said.

Glessner intends to keep working at the museum; he will volunteer a couple times a month, especially for the bus tours.

"I love to do bus tours," he said.

With 45-50 people arriving at a time on a bus, Glessner divides the group in half, and tells the story about the depot in one room, while John Bussman, President of the Historical Cheesemakers takes the other half through the cheesemaking displays.

To cover all Glessner's duties until the end of the year, volunteers will be divided into four areas: Mariann Hammel takes over administration and operations; Sharon Riese will do fundraising; Miff and Joann Schwitz will schedule the 50 volunteers; and Bill Schmid will watch over the building and grounds.

Glessner said he is retiring to spend more time with his wife Lois, their three children, four grandchildren, and 2-year-old great-grandchild.

Between family and volunteering, Glessner plans to collect the photos and writings he's done over the years and produce a a book to pass on to his children and grandchildren.

While Glessner was editor of The Monroe Evening Times from 1971-1978, publisher Ed Hamilton wrote a book on the history of Monroe.

"Next time, it's your turn," he told Glessner when he finished.

In 2006, Swiss Colony hired Glessner back to do the book for its 80th anniversary. In three months, Glessner researched and wrote the book, and delivered it to Arcadia Publishers in Chicago.

Now Glessner will have time to do book research all over again. Maybe he'll even sign them.