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Moments in Time: Tom Fey
Tom Fey (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - The stories and conversation starters that Tom Fey has in his back pocket are seemingly endless. He's traveled to unique places and in a unique manner, taken on interests few know about and still finds comfort in calling Monroe and the people here home.

He landed in Green County by chance and says he's glad to be a part of the community and alongside its businesses and dear friends.

He was born in Washington D.C., but his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 1955. His father was a physicist, and there was a new facility in Boulder where he worked. At that time Boulder was a small college town, and Fey recalls attending games with family while rooting for Nebraska, where his family was from.

The family moved to a farm in Lyons, Colorado, where Fey was expected to help with the chickens each day. He took the bus to Lyons Grade School until third grade when he chose to ride his bike the 3 miles each morning.

Eventually, the family moved back to Boulder, where Fey attended high school in the late 1960s. He said he was politically aware and was involved in several peace marches. He also enjoyed being a part of the chess club and on weekends would often travel to a cabin where his father played the washtub base in a folk band.

Fey was 12 when he learned he had a brain tumor. It was removed, but he would have to learn how to speak and walk again. He was kept out of school and spent a lot of time alone, he said, which could be the reason why being alone now doesn't really bother him.

The 1972 Boulder High School graduate had a plan to see the world after he finished school. He started almost immediately, hitchhiking through several states, including Montana, Oklahoma and Missouri. He worked along the way as he saw different places and met new people.

In 1973, he came to Wisconsin with $10 and some clothes tucked away in his father's old World War II Army duffle bag. When he made it to Monroe, he slept in his tent for a few days on the train tracks north of town and began looking for work. A friend at the Corner Cafe suggested he check Swiss Colony.

"I got to know the lady at the bakery, and she let me leave my duffle bag there (during the interview)," Fey said.

Despite having no phone number or address, the company gave him a chance as a baker's helper. He kept the job for more than three decades, leaving here and there to go back to Boulder and to travel, but always returning to the town that seemingly welcomed him with open arms.

Eventually, Fey became a baker and said it was a good fit. He enjoyed baking and cooking while growing up and his parents were into very healthful foods. He recalled his father often making scrapple - a recipe with meat from a pig's head and corn meal.

While back in Denver for a year, he attended college to become an archeologist, but he said something always drew him back to Monroe. He enjoyed the historic Square and the people, and the size was perfect for him.

When he retired at Colony Brands after 32 years in 2012, he was ready to start the next phase in his life.

He was a part of the Badger Rock Club since he came to town - it was a way to meet people and feed his interest in rocks and other land formations. He's also a big history buff, finding a map in the Courthouse from 1831 that included all 16 townships. From there, he went in search of old trading houses and found one along the Sugar River north of Brodhead.

He contacted an archeologist at the University of Wisconsin, and a year later, the professor called him hoping to excavate it. Fey spent two years under his realm and found what was the cabin of Jules De Muns and several artifacts. An article detailing the project, written by the professor and Fey, was published in the Wisconsin Academy Review.

Since then, Fey has kept his passion for learning about and finding early sites in southern Wisconsin.

"I've always been interested in the gold mining history," Fey said. "When I came here that kind of changed to a lead mining interest."

In 1990, Fey began to dabble in photography when he began traveling. He still sells photographs at The Wooden Trooper in town.

When there was a slow season at the bakery, Fey would often find himself traveling. He flew to New Zealand once to visit a friend, and after a few days, decided to tour the country by hitchhiking. He said it was the best way to be able to spend time with the people and see the land. He's been back a few times to do the same thing.

"I just like to see new people and be in new circumstances," Fey said. He would often stay in "backpacking motels" that were cheap and offered shared kitchens and several beds in communal sleeping spaces.

He loved New Zealand so much, he said he even considered staying.

He has also been to Fiji several times, after discovering it during a layover, and has also hitchhiked there extensively.

"I've always been adventuresome," Fey said. "New situations don't bother me."

Recently, Fey has taken in a homeless family to live with him. He said it was always something he wanted to do and when the situation presented itself, he decided to give it a try.

For the last 12 years, Fey has been teaching English to people in Monroe. He used to teach through the literacy council and now does it on his own and enjoys spending time with people from all walks of life.

Fey relishes in what Monroe has to offer. He has been a YMCA member for about 30 years and said his second homes in town are Baumgartner's and The Red Apple. He enjoys the company and staff greatly.

He is a lifetime member of the Green County Historical Society and spent four years serving on the board. For the past 35 years, Fey has belonged to a reading group in Monroe that meets on Sundays and reads classic novels. The group has read 208 books, and he is one of two charter members.

Fey continues to travel but hasn't been out of the country in a while.

"I'm probably a little too old to hitchhike now," he said. "Actually, if I went back to New Zealand I might. Or maybe I'd take the bus."

He visits his father in Nebraska a few times a year. Fey was also an avid biker for years and still enjoys biking around town. He helps out at Fireside Books, which he enjoys as well as gathering there with friends on Thursdays.

Fey wrote for The Monroe Times in the early 1990s with a column called Territorial Tales where he shared his discoveries around New Glarus, Wiota and other findings. He still has a website,, where he shares photos and bits of history from the area.

"I'm so glad I settled in Monroe," Fey said. "I don't know where I would be otherwise."