July 26, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Updated July 26, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
“The people,” was Al Wessel’s answer when asked what he liked about owning Big Al’s Corral in Greenwald from 1981 to 1994. Wife Lucy agrees.
“Some weekends the bar was packed, like when the Buck Band – Pat Sieben, Terry Haider, Mark Schwieters and Scott Spanier – played. They had a lot of followers,” Al said July 14 sitting around the living room table with Lucy. “In later years, Eb Fuchs joined Mark and Terry and Pat, and now Mark and Eb are still going as the Buck Band.”
Lucy said Sunday morning was bar cleaning time – and a family affair – in a town she knew well.
“All my life,” she said when asked how long she has lived in Greenwald. She remembers when there was a grocery store, hardware store, implement shop, multiple blacksmith shops, bank, church and a creamery in town.
Al was raised on a farm in rural Sauk Centre, one of Cyril and Regina Wessels’ eight children. Since 1983, Al and Lucy have lived in the Greenwald house where Lucy was raised with her 13 siblings; the children of Jack and Mabel Kraemer. It is where Al and Lucy raised their four children, Dustin, Becky Hoffman, Amber Fleischhacker and Eddie. Their four grandchildren are frequent visitors.
Chances are, family will be on their front lawn at 11 a.m. Aug. 6, as Al and Lucy ride in the Barley Days Parade, as grand marshals. The plan is for them to ride in the rumble seat of a 100-year-old Model T Ford owned – and possibly driven – by Virgil Niehaus, who was the Wessels’ neighbor on the farm.
“My brother, Bill, is lining that up,” Al said.
Their grandson, Nolan, will be throwing out candy.
The Wessels, married 48 years, said it is a humbling honor, but one they graciously accepted.
They married May 17, 1975, eventually moving to a house in Greenwald, just south of the railroad tracks, before moving to their current home in 1983. At the time, Al worked at Kraemer Lumber in Greenwald before they purchased the bar in 1981. They recall names of the bar before they owned it – Earl’s, Wunderbar and The Clinic; Al was a bartender at the first two bars.
When they took over the bar, bottled beer and drinks were 75 cents.
“But if you specified what (booze) you wanted, it was more,” Lucy said.
Al started the still popular Thursday night special, she said.
“Angie Kulzer was working for me for noon dinners, and we discussed getting it going,” Al said.
“She used to cook years ago when there was a café in the same building but on the west side,” Lucy added.
Bands performed on their stage most weekends. The Wessels rattled off a few bands – Crystal Breeze, Top Notch, Swingtown, Switch, Heartbeat and the Buck Band.
The bar was open seven days a week, but Al took off a few hours a couple of nights a week, and Lucy made sure he took off Sunday afternoons.
“We raised our family on it,” Al said. “It was good.”
From there, he worked at Jennie-O Turkey Store in Melrose, retiring May 31.
Lucy enjoys putting puzzles together, and Al has coached Legion team baseball in Greenwald for years. They both pitch in during Barley Days; Lucy in the hamburger stand and Al in the beer gardens. Their grown children also volunteer during the St. Andrew’s Catholic Church and Greenwald Recreation Club event.
Greenwald is a town they are happy to call home, even if a few pranks have been pulled over the years. That includes when Maynard, the goat, made the rounds when residents left home on vacation, thanks to local softball team members.
“One night, the goat was in the Wunderbar,” Al said.
As people persons, small town living is for the Wessels who live next door to the post office, across from the bank and down the street from a bar they owned, now the Greenwald Pub, where the Thursday night special is still offered.
“We enjoy life in Greenwald,” Lucy said.