Everyone remembers the nicest father in the neighborhood. The one who always had a smile and never seemed to treat you like a kid, but rather as his friend. That was Bernard “Bobo” Kolesar to me. Little did I know how much influence he would have on my personal and business life many years later.
As many of you know, Jacquart Fabric Products started in the basement of my home in 1958 by my father. At the time, he worked 24 hour shifts as a firefighter for the City of Ironwood. On his off days, Dad sewed small bags and did repairs. Bobo was also a firefighter with Dad but they worked on different shifts.
Once I got into high school and then during my early adult years, I didn’t see much of Bobo. Once in a while I might pass him in a grocery store or on the street and there would always be a friendly exchange.
Then in November of 1994, Bobo came into our much-expanded company and had some work done. I bumped into him and started our usual friendly conversation. He was particularly happy because it was almost hunting season. He was beaming with joy because his sons Brian and Charlie were coming back to join him for deer camp – something they did no matter where in the world they were at the time.
I remember going back to my office and envying him a little for having boys and this hunting camp tradition. I wondered what traditions I could build with my two daughters. Then, early in 1995, the Women’s College Basketball Final Four came to Minneapolis (only four hours away) and our youngest daughter KJ was a HUGE fan of the game. We went with Grandpa and a family friend.
While I was sitting at one of the games, I realized this could become a tradition with KJ. Since then, she has only missed one Final Four tournament. My wife Denise and I alternate who goes with her. We then started a tradition where Denise and our oldest daughter Gina go on an art and music trip around Mother’s Day each year. All because of Bobo.
You likely also know that in 2001, I bought a 98 year-old hat company that was so small that all it was at the time was fill-in work for a couple of people. During my first winter of ownership, a woman came to me and told me a story that her late husband’s hat was buried on the shore of his favorite fishing spot on Lake Superior. Soon thereafter, Bobo came to me and told me a story about a dance he went to in 1947 in Ironwood. He reminded me of how dark and drab everything was post World War II and that on that night, he decided to wear his red Stormy Kromer cap. As I recall him telling me, when he walked on the dance floor, a group of beautiful women saw him in his hat and wanted to meet the daring man who wore that bold red hat…and that is how he met his wife.
After I heard these two stories, I wondered if there was more to this hat than I even imagined. I went searching for a marketing company that might advise me. After I showed a 1915 picture of Stormy and Ida Kromer and a 1942 picture of my Grandpa Lopez wearing a hat, the creative director said to me, “You don’t have a clue what you have here.” They almost immediately got me on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal and launched us on the trajectory that we are on today. All because of Bobo.
A few years later, Bobo came into our Stormy Kromer factory store and asked to speak with me. He asked, “How small of a hat do you make?” I said, “It would fit an 8-10 year old.” He sighed and said, “That’s too bad, because one of my sons is about to have a baby and I wanted to buy my grandchild their first Stormy Kromer.”
Less than a week later we were making baby hats.
That takes us to earlier this month when I got an email from one of Bobo’s nephews. He told me that Bobo was very sick and the family would like a batch of customized Stormy Kromer hats to wear when they went to visit him. The order was placed immediately, and the team rushed to get them done by Monday, June 7th. Unfortunately, that was two days too late. Bobo had passed away on Saturday.
The hats are still going to the family. They will be great reminders to all of them what a wonderful person Bobo was.
I know that I will never forget him. May he rest in eternal light.