Not your average reunion

Bill LaCroix renews his friendship with Gertrud Ableiter at a reunion last week for the Shiocton High School Class of 1954. The reunion was held at Lake Park. Ableiter, who came to the U.S. from Germany after World War II, lived with LaCroix’s family. - Photo by Ray Barrington

Seeing someone you haven’t seen in years is pretty much normal at a high school reunion.
For Gertrud Ableiter and Bill LaCroix, it was a bit different.
LaCroix wasn’t part of the class – he was 13 at the time – and Ableiter was a bit older – she was 25.
But there they were on June 1 at Shiocton’s Lake Park, along with other members of the Class of 1954.
They were both there thanks to reunion organizer Arlene Van Straten, who said “I like to be an instigator.”
The two people involved went back to the 1950s, when Ableiter, not that far removed from a displaced-persons camp in Siberia, found herself in Shiocton, working farm jobs for room and board.
She ended up with the family of LaCroix, doing cleaning and watching the kids – including Bill – to pay her way as she caught up on her schooling.
Ableiter, who grew up in Poland before the Germans moved in to start World War II in 1939, was a DP – a displaced person – trying to survive. At war’s end, she was shipped back to Germany – “you could say I was nervous,” she admitted – and with the help of friends in Hamburg made her way to the United States, and Shiocton.
She spoke, effectively, no English but managed to learn quickly.
Unfortunately, her feet had been attacked by a virus during her time in the camp, and were in bad shape. “My husband used to say it was like sleeping with frogs,” she said. It wasn’t until she was 32 that the problem was corrected.
She did well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in science.
“They had me working in the morgue,” she said, “because they knew the dead bodies would not bother me.”
Ableiter, who now lives in Hanover Park, Ill., has been at the reunions before, but LaCroix has not.
Still, when he walked up to Ableiter with the inevitable “remember me?” introduction, she didn’t hesitate to hug him.
“I had a feeling he might be here,” she said.
“He was a lot younger then, and he was always getting into trouble.”
LaCroix now lives in Williams Bay, where he owns two restaurants.