Leo John Lisser, 93, passed away quietly on March 27, 2014, at his residence in Huntington Place, Janesville, surrounded by his family.
He was a humble man who truly had everything: the enduring love of his family, the loyalty of friends and colleagues, and the good will of everyone who came to know him. Born to Alfred and Bertha Lisser in Monroe, WI on March 20, 1921, Leo was the second of three children, including brother Otto (deceased) and sister Martha, who survives him.
The son of a farmer who immigrated from Switzerland, Leo as a boy understood the value of work, planting his family's garden, canning fruit, and taking on jobs at the local grain mill – yet he was not above stunts like jumping off the freight elevator and diving feet first into vast bins of oats about to be bagged and sold to unsuspecting customers. His mother's rules for violin lessons did take hold, and he was soon recognized for his talent as a violin soloist. Mentored by a veteran member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he became an acclaimed first chair violinist in the orchestras he joined. While still in school, Leo also discovered a love of photography that would eventually lead him to his life's work.
Leo felt the call of duty (or at least, adventure beckoned), as the US prepared for WWII. Soon after graduation (Monroe HS, 1939) he enlisted in the Army, shipped out to Texas, and was selected for special training, where he became pharmacist to the 30th Evacuation Hospital, a "MASH" unit that would advance with the troops through the jungles of the South Pacific until their eventual victory.
It was in the army that Leo met the love of his life, Army Lt. Mary Lou Tunnell, R.N., of Ben Wheeler, Texas. The two of them shared many adventures on training maneuvers in the swamps of Louisiana ("We moved camp so often we felt like circus freaks", he was fond of saying). Eventually they shipped out together for duty in a leaky, malfunctioning liberty ship loaded with explosives and dogged by enemy subs, whose destination was the other end of the Pacific Ocean. But they did survive, and they served with distinction. Leo and Mary Lou married as soon as the Army released them, and settled in the Milwaukee area, where they began raising two sons, Robert and Chuck, and where Leo could return to his photographic pursuits.
Leo's new venture, Wauwatosa Camera Shop, became a mainstay of the business community for nearly 50 years, providing cameras, equipment, supplies and finishing services to professionals and amateurs alike. Equally adept at dispensing technical knowledge to those in need, his reputation grew as a go-to person in all things photographic. Even more useful was Leo's patient mentoring to the numerous assistants (including his sons) who worked with him, many of whom remained in close contact until the end of his life.
Leo was successful as both a father and a grandfather, whether faithfully relating his innumerable hard-earned lessons, or showing by example how to get the most out of life. Always a family man, Leo joined Mary Lou in teaching his boys how to play, how to work, and how to enjoy whatever they did. They took great pride in their family, and maintained their membership at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Milwaukee throughout their lives.
Next to good food, one of Leo's great pleasures was sightseeing, and because of his success in business, his distributors awarded him many opportunities to see the world again with Mary Lou, enjoying travel all throughout Europe and other exotic locales.
Leo's tireless shutter finger made for a seemingly endless parade of slide shows that were both instructive and humorous, sometimes unintentionally so. Indeed there were so many vacation slides and so little time that he was often forced to subject his audiences to a veritable blur of Kodachrome visuals, barely seating one image in the projector before ejecting it for the next, until his cross-eyed viewers begged for mercy. Yet if Leo was ever victimized by the jokes of his sometimes ungrateful sons, or even grandsons, he never seemed to show it, or at least never seemed to mind.
Leo is survived by those two sons, Robert J. Lisser (Karen Budahn Lisser) of Janesville, and Charles S. Lisser (Dr. Jennifer Westbay) of Santa Monica, CA; grandchildren Stephen and Max; and numerous nieces and nephews in Wisconsin and around the country.
Leo truly enjoyed a blessed life, not least of which included his last years following the loss of his dear wife Mary Lou in 2005. As a resident of Huntington Place for the past eight years, he also cherished his friends and caregivers, with whom he regularly socialized while enduring the challenges of advanced age. Unique and beloved, Leo J. Lisser is now at rest and will be missed.
The family wishes to thank the people of Agrace Hospice Care and Huntington Place for the loving and supportive care that Leo received in his final months.
A brief service will be held at 2:00pm on Tuesday, April 1st in the chapel at Huntington Place, 3801 N. Wright Rd., Janesville; a celebration of his life will follow in the Dining Room at 2:30pm.
A second memorial will take place at the family cemetery in Colfax, TX at a later time.
Expressions of sympathy may be made at the website schneiderfuneraldirectors.com. In lieu of gifts, the family suggests donations to ECHO (food and housing assistance in Janesville) or Agrace Hospice.