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Moments in Time: Tracy Hamilton
Tracy Hamilton. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

Moments in Time

Moments in Time is a weekly series featuring recollections of area residents. To suggest someone to feature in Moments in Time, please contact Mary Jane Grenzow, editor, at

MONROE - The enthusiasm that resonates in the voice of Tracy Hamilton is contagious. And most people in Monroe would agree that the hometown guy who came back to build a business and share his creative talents, ideas and energy are the exact kind of people small towns need on their team.

Hamilton, soon to be 50, was born and raised in Monroe. His interest in music was strong as a young man - Hamilton's youth was part of the early MTV years and he spent his free time and money attending concerts and buying music.

He landed his first job on the Square at the bakery. He was 15 and saw the opening in the newspaper. He started working to buy music: His goal in life was to have a great record collection, and he remembers turning most of his paychecks over to the Columbia House Records. The music lover has held on to all of them.

When he started his first job, the workload surprised him.

"I thought (my boss) was bringing over something for me to sit on, because I had been physically working so hard," he said with a laugh. "But really it was a large container of icing so I could keep working."

He still remembers being treated weekly to a cherry torte.

Hamilton worked several jobs around Monroe over the years, including J.C. Penney and Schultz Pharmacy. The pharmacy was where he met his wife, Pam, or "Frauch" as he calls her.

The 1984 Monroe High School graduate had a goal to become a disc jockey and attended DJ and radio announcer school in Wausau for two weeks. However, he was homesick and returned, deciding instead to attend Black Hawk Technical College for marketing and promotions.

But he and Frauch decided to head for La Crosse where Hamilton had a friend working in commercial arts. He went back to school there, earning two associate degrees.

"Both of those degrees have helped me so much in my career and with my business," he said.

The two then decided to move to Madison - a big dream of theirs at that time. But that lasted just four years when they realized that when the fun opportunities came up, they couldn't afford to participate in them.

"We lived there for four years," he said. "But we had no money to do anything."

Their first child, Ian, was born in 1993, and Hamilton said that as new parents, he and his wife had a mind shift. The Monroe natives were ready to come home.

Hamilton and his wife purchased Heartland Graphics in Monroe in 1994 and have added and expanded since then. They kept the name and strong Midwestern feel and hoped to continue its success.

"Monroe has just been so good to us," Hamilton said. "Everyone is just so supportive."

At first, the business required lots of learning for Hamilton, who said he would regularly research what was popular and became intrigued by the retail end of things. He had previously worked for a screenprinter in Madison and had a marketing and communication art degree under his belt, so the transition was smooth.

The work is exciting but stressful at times, Hamilton said, as deadlines are one of the most important parts of his job. From local sports to family reunions, it's Hamilton who's the designing force behind much of what the local business puts out. He loves to help people dress up any event.

A few years after purchasing the business, Heartland Graphics moved next door for more space. The business doesn't have trouble keeping busy, but like any business, certain times of the year are always more hectic.

"Cheese Days is our Christmas," he said with a laugh.

One of the things Hamilton is proudest to be a part of in Monroe and that he actively stays involved with is the annual Celtic Pub Crawl. His Grandma Hackett lived in Beloit while he grew up and the native of Ireland celebrated St. Patrick's Day in a big way. At age 90, she decided to move to Monroe and that's how Hamilton got involved with the Monroe St. Patrick's Day activities. Mike Ganshert offered up the celebration and Hamilton was happy to take over the opportunity.

Although Grandma Hackett died a few years ago at age 102, her memory lives on within Hamilton - in many ways, in the effort he puts into the Irish heritage staying and being celebrated in Monroe.

"It's very important for us to keep that Celtic heritage in Monroe," Hamilton said, noting that Green County is 17 percent Irish.

During the crawl, Hamilton can be found checking people in bright and early, but then letting loose in the evening, enjoying the hard work coming to fruition. The half-Irish guy said he tries to get to each of the pubs and enjoys seeing old friends. His wife, he said, is an important behind-the-scenes person as well.

The first year, they welcomed about 250 people, and last year's event brought in 1,100. It's fast-growing and fun - and that's most likely because of Hamilton.

He said the group works closely with the police departments, eight pubs and other businesses on the Square, and he's proud that Ganshert has stayed on as the bagpiper. Last year, Celtic dancers were brought in. Some come from up to an hour away and busloads will come in from other states.

Hamilton is happy to have the opportunity to expose more people to Monroe.

"We try to keep it as authentically Irish as we can," he said.

His family from Beloit also still comes to celebrate.

"You don't have to be Irish," he said. "Anyone is welcome, although we do love to get Irish families together for corned beef and Guinness."

It was the St. Patrick's Day parade that originally got Hamilton involved with the Main Street programs too. He was interested in helping and has now served on the committee for about 10 years as the promotions chairman.

This is the group's sixth year to welcome a theme to the Square to help bring people to Monroe's downtown. Main Street turned an empty lot into a garden, and there are big plans in the works for this summer's theme of Super Cows.

Although he's not that 15-year-old kid at the bakery anymore, Hamilton is still working hard and still loves being a part of Monroe's downtown.

"I just love looking at the Courthouse every day," he said. "The Square is so gorgeous. It's like a movie set. I love being a part of that."

Hamilton has an affinity for the town he holds so near and dear to his heart and Cheese Days is no exception. He has memories early on of attending the huge event, and he enjoys preparing Monroe for so many others to enjoy it.

"Main Street is a great way for me to express myself," he said. "It's not work, it's a release. It amazes me, the people who have nothing to do with the Square but the amount of time they spend on each event and all of the committees and meetings. A lot goes into these things."

While Hamilton's sons were younger, he coached soccer and served on the soccer board. Today, Hamilton and his wife enjoy spending time with family in town and their sons, Ian and Connor, who are currently both in the Madison area and have helped with the business as well. They also enjoy traveling when they can, and a favorite spot was a recent visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

The longtime Rolling Stones fan said he's always looking for the ultimate song - no matter who it may come from - and is always looking around for ideas to bring to Monroe.

"I love Monroe," he said. "It's so fantastic for the business and for our family. Monroe is a perfect fit for me."