As information becomes available, the Journal Sentinel is working to memorialize each of the people who lost their lives in the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy.
Young or old, Bill Hospel wanted everyone to be active.
“His favorite saying was ‘keep moving.’ He kept saying as we got older, how important it was to keep moving and keep active,” his wife, Lola, said.
And despite being 81, Lola said her husband was as active as he had ever been.
Every day, she said, Hospel went to his local YMCA. An avid outdoorsman, he enjoyed hunting deer, squirrel and the occasional pheasant with a gun or a bow. He loved dancing with his wife — ballroom, Latin dance and even family square dances with their son, Brian, and daughter, Lori.
And he and Lola started learning the sport of pickleball in the spring.
“He took to it right away,” Lola recalled. “Every Tuesday and Thursday, it was on his calendar; we were playing pickleball.”
Hospel also was known for riding ATVs — or going “buggy” riding as he and his friends called it — in the northern part of the state. Hospel had planned a trip up north for Dec. 11, to ride with Mike and John Donavan, two people who had lost their father young in life and looked up to Hospel as a father figure.
Hospel was helping with the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies group at the Waukesha Christmas Parade when he was struck and killed Nov. 21. He is one of the six people to die following the tragedy; his wife was one of the dozens injured.
Lola described her husband as a quietly affectionate man. “He was not a real outgoing person, but the people he was friends with, he was really close with,” Lola explained.
‘What you want as an inspiration’
Wilhelm Hospel — known as “Bill” to friends and loved ones — left Kleve, Germany, at the age of 15 with his parents, Gerhard and Theodora Hospel, and three older brothers.
Lola and Bill met after one of her friends, who was dating a German man, set the two up on a blind date. Hospel, Lola recalled, was only 18 or 19 years old.
The couple was married for 61 years.
Nita Hospel, Wilhelm Hospel’s 55-year-old niece, described her uncle as “truly the American success story.”
“All the boys came over on the boat with mom and dad and created new successful lives in the States,” she said. “He was what you want as an inspiration.”
Hospel, Nita said, worked at a steel company and did carpentry in his spare time.
Lola described Hospel as an all-around handyman who was ready and willing to tackle any home improvement project.
“First, he was a cabinetmaker, then a patternmaker,” Lola said. “He liked to repair things and do handiwork. He had a good eye for making the best use of spaces.”
Lola said he was often deep into his projects, installing fresh wood trimmings and even drywalling the entirety of their West Milwaukee home.
The week before he died, Nita said Hospel was at his daughter Lori’s home, helping her reconstruct her floor because it had started to buckle.
His willingness to lend a helping hand to family was common, said Nita, who lives in Tampa Bay, Florida, and describes her family as very close-knit. Relatives would often gather from all over the country to attend family events prior to the pandemic. “Uncle Bill and Aunt Lola,” she said, would always be there.
Like her father, Nita said Hospel retained his German accent, making storytimes at those gatherings even more special.
“It was always so heartwarming to see him and all the boys together and listening to him talk with his brothers,” she said. “(Hearing them) talk about stories of the farm and where they grew up and their childhood was always fascinating.”
Two years ago, Hospel returned to Germany for the first time since 1955.
“He had always said he had been there and didn’t need to see it again. But when he was there, even in 1955, there was still a lot of damage from the war,” Lola explained.
When she talked him into going on a river cruise in the country of his birth, the couple met several relatives and family friends, learning new stories and seeing the country through new eyes.
“He (grew up) in the rural area of a bombed-out city and now it’s a thriving town,” she said. “We met so many relatives and past friends of the family. He was so happy he went.”
‘The consummate family man’
At the family’s dining room table, Hospel would often say how important family was, “and really mean it,” Lola said.
“He was the consummate family man,” Nita said. “He was helping with the Dancing Grannies because my aunt Lola was one of the Dancing Grannies. He was there to help all of them.”
Even though he didn’t have much interest in joining the parades at first, once he came out as a helper, Lola said he was hooked.
“When we needed helpers, and I got him to come and help with us, he became our biggest supporter,” Lola recalled. “He just couldn’t get over the level of support we’d get, how people would cheer the loudest when the Grannies came out. He became so enthusiastic about the Grannies that I would tease him about it.”
On the day of the parade, Lola said she asked Hospel if he would give up the opening weekend of the gun hunt to help with the Dancing Grannies because they were so short on helpers.
Lola, who suffered a bruised shoulder from the incident, said she will be OK. She said she will attend a gathering of retired and active Dancing Grannies this week.
“It’s just a caring, loving group of ladies as strong and independent as we all are; I think it’s going to be really hard,” she admitted. “I am so thankful for the support from my family’s side and Bill’s family’s side.”
Lola said she is especially sad for the young people who were hurt at the parade. “I just feel so bad for all of the children who were injured in that debacle,” she said. “My heart goes out to those families.”
Lola said that Hospel was a realist about life, knowing a day would come when one of them would have to live without the other. “Bill and I often talked about it,” she said. “We’re (in our 80s), we’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve had a good life.”
Since his death, the motto of Hospel’s life — “Keep moving” — has taken on new meaning for Lola.
Lola shared a condolence letter from her sister, Debi, where she described Bill’s life like a book and encouraged Lola to cherish the memories she shared with her husband through all those chapters.
“I got it today and it took my heart away,” Lola said of the letter. “It grabbed my heart.”
“This is how his book ends. And he was doing something he loved.”
Hospel is survived by his wife of 61 years, Lola; his two children, Lori and Brian (Mary); two grandchildren, Nicole and Tyler; siblings Johannes, Theodore and Aloys; and close friends Christopher Small, Peggy Small, Mike Donovan and John Donovan.
Talis Shelbourne is an investigative solutions reporter covering the issues of affordable housing and lead poisoning. Have a tip? You can reach Talis at (414) 403-6651 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @talisseer and message her on Facebook at @talisseer.
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