By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Keeping Cheese Days alive: Past co-chair recalls when 'we put Monroe on the map'
Dressed in a traditional Swiss milking jacket, Archie Myers, 93, is shown at Twining Valley home in Monroe. Myers co-chaired the Cheese Days event in 1965 and 1967, helping bring the event back after a ten-year hiatus. Cheese Days returned in 1970, and has been held every other September since. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
By Emily Massingill

For the Times

MONROE - Look at the crowds coming this weekend and it's hard to believe that Cheese Days wasn't always the booming, bustling three-day event that it is today. In fact, some believe the event might have died completely if a handful of people hadn't stepped forward to take over planning and running the festival for the 1965 event.

Among those people was Monroe native Archie Myers, now 93.

Myers can't help but smile when he thinks about Cheese Days and the fun and planning involved in those days.

After a strong start in 1914, and continuing each year until 1918 when it was canceled due to World War I, Cheese Days became sporadic. It was only held twice during the 1920s, again in 1935 and 1940, then not again until 1950. It was held in 1955, and not again until 1965.

Myers has fond memories of attending Cheese Days as a child. In 1935, he recalled, Firestone in the parade throwing out miniature tires, something he kept for several years. He also remembers the writer of the Andy Gump comic strip from Lake Geneva rode in the parade in a Duesenberg, a German car. He also recalled Cheese Days giving out free grilled cheese sandwiches.

Cheese Days was a one-day even then. In 1940, Myer's father, Archie Sr. chaired the event and there were two raffles for two vehicles, a Buick and a Ford. Raffle tickets were 25 cents and if Archie and his friends sold tickets, they got to keep 5 cents for themselves. He was going to the University of Texas at the time but was home for the summer and was happy to have $1 after selling 20 tickets.

Myers served on the Cheese Days committee in the 1950s, and when Bob Bussen approached him to help take over the event for 1965, he decided to take the reins and keep the festival alive.

"If we didn't take it over then, it would've died," Myers said.

He's proud he and other helped save the event. And he loves to be reminded of a time when a young group of friends from Monroe had plenty of fun promoting and planning the celebration that's turned into one of Monroe's biggest highlights, attracting upwards of 100,000.

Myers said they weren't sure where to start so they took a trip to the St. Paul Winter Carnival to check out that popular event. It was below zero while they were there, and Myers said they were lucky to be in the armory where the parade ended and it was warm.

But they came back armed with ideas for the festival and formed a committee to help.

"We had a heck of a good committee," Myers recalled, saying the group was energetic and enthusiastic. "Bob and I played a lot and had fun. It's more like a business today."

Myers said he and Bussen, along with other committee members, were out almost every night promoting and planning for Cheese Days.

They sold Cheese Days buttons for $1 almost every Friday and Saturday throughout the area, and their biggest headache was always worrying about the weather.

Bill Lentz was the chair the parade. Myers recalled the parade began with the University of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Naval Station bands, along with six or seven drum and bugle corps. "For me, the bands make the parade," he said. The drum and bugle corps slept in the high school gym and ate in the cafeteria.

To promote the event, he said, organizers went to various TV stations for 30-second spots to promote the event. A group went to Rockford and also Dubuque. Martha Bernet demonstrated fondue-making and the late Rudy Burkhalter played the accordion.

"We worked out tails off but we had fun doing it," he recalled.

He also recalled a photo of a man atop the Courthouse, without the cone on top following a tornado, opening Cheese Days by blowing the Alphorn. "Well, it was my suggestion and no one would do it - so I did it," Myers said with a laugh.

He admitted he climbed a ladder no one probably should have climbed and was proud to start the festival in such a unique way. Of course it was never done again, but the photograph still lingers.

"It was a good experience," Myers laughed. "But I wouldn't want to do it again."

Myers stayed on the Cheese Days board for about 10 years, although he wasn't heavily active after 1970.

"I feel a sadness a lot of the people I worked with are gone," Myers said, noting that he made lasting friendships through Cheese Days. "We put Monroe back on the map and we did a good job I think."

Today, Myers still manages to watch the parade Sunday. This year, he'll be featured in the parade for its 100th anniversary, donning his Swiss jacket and white shirt, a gift from his wife - as the man who helped revive the beloved Cheese Days.