SMALL TOWNS: Oconto Falls woman displays big heart in giving back
OCONTO FALLS, Wis. (WBAY) - In recent years, an Oconto County woman has made it her mission to give back to her community. The result is a much more vibrant downtown filled with pride year-round.
This week in Small Towns, we travel to Oconto Falls to see this amazing lady in action.
On this early evening in Oconto Falls, the holiday spirit is alive on Main Street. The town’s annual Christmas festival is being held tonight, and right in the middle of it all is Barb Salscheider.
“It’s just time to give back, they gave to me for a long time,” says Barb. In 1976, Barb and her husband John took a big leap of faith taking over the Antique Bar.
“After we paid our bills, we moved up here, we had 50 dollars left and that’s what we started with, beers were only 25 cents a glass though,” recalls Barb with a chuckle.
Barb soon learned though, she didn’t have to worry. Through her customers, she quickly discovered Oconto Falls was a special place.
“They all have your back, we’re all like a big happy family I think,” says Barb.
In 2016, Barb lost John to cancer. He had served 35 years in the fire department, and the last 25 as assistant chief.
“And he took care of all the fire prevention with the kids every year, just was really dedicated to it, so I worked many hours in the bar next door while he did his community work, so now it’s my turn,” explains Barb.
The following year, Barb decided how she would go about doing that.
“I thought our Main Street does not look that good, let’s see if I can do something, so I started a fund and sent letters to all the business owners on Main Street and said would you like to go to the library and meet me there, I’ll bring pizza. They all came and it was exciting, they were all excited about it too because I think they wanted to see change come because there were a lot of empty buildings at the time,” says Barb.
The fund Barb started soon started growing thanks to donations from her customers. And she led the charge to give downtown buildings a facelift.
“This is the building we did this year, but we’re not finished, we’re working on the brick next spring,” says Barb pointing to one of many photos on her kitchen table.
Flowers in the spring and summer, along with fall decorations were also on Barb’s Main Street to-do list. She then hired a local artist to paint colorful murals, and she’s constantly raising money for the local fire department, humane society, and a number of other community organizations.
Two years ago, she revived the town’s Memorial Day Parade.
“That kind of died off there for a few years and people are like, ‘oh, it’s the same old thing.’ And I said OK, so I started offering prize money and make some floats, besides honoring our veterans, let’s do some floats and we took a theme and it went off from there, and it like just kind of snowballed,” says Barb.
It’s safe to say, Barb is known, and adored, by just about everyone in Oconto Falls.
“Oh she’s a wonderful lady, she does a lot of the community,” says Carl Vowinkel inside the Antique Bar.
“Barb not only is our hero, she is a friend to all of us and a great friend,” adds Marie Meyers.
“She’s a great lady, we tried to get her to run for mayor, she just won’t do it, but I’d be more than happy to be her campaign manager,” says patron Keith Meyers.
After 46 years of owning the bar, Barb has no plans of slowing down. She enjoys it too much.
“You know you can be a psychiatrist, you can be a banker, you can be an adviser, I always wanted to be a nurse, well now I give out shots, but it’s a different kind of shot,” says Barb with laughter.
And by continuing to work, Barb figures she’ll be able to give back even more, like sponsoring the wagon rides and an igloo full of treats at the holiday festival.
“You know I watched my parents do this growing up, we had a family of 12 but my mom and dad could still give back when they wanted to and they were giving food to other families and clothing and we always rode along in the car and I’m like this is so cool,” recalls Barb while becoming emotional.
It’s a feeling, and a calling, still deep in Barb’s heart.
“I just like giving back and helping my community, I really, really do,” says Barb with a smile.
When we asked Barb what was next on her agenda after the holiday festival, she said some sleep. But then right after that, she’ll be busy once again, organizing all the games and prizes for the annual Firemen’s Christmas Dinner.
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