John Manke is an active former Bay View resident who is involved in numerous neighborhood organizations, including the Bay View Historical Society, the Humboldt Park Fourth of July Association and the Shore Shore Farmers Market. He believes Bay View has a fine tradition in its past that we do not want to lose in the future.
In 1913, Giocondo and Giorgina Groppi came to Milwaukee. This immigrant family operated a grocery store at 1441 E. Russell Avenue in what we now call "Little Italy". They had 12 children, but two of them died young, and James Groppi was the eleventh child born. The family lived next to the family store and all of the children worked in the store at one time or another. When they came to Bay View, Father Fagan, at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, would not allow Italians to attend his church. He tried to send them to the Blessed Virgin of Pompei Roman Catholic Church in the Italian Third Ward of Milwaukee. Earlier he had made the Germans leave his church and tried to send then to St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church, which was a German speaking church at the time. Instead, these people built St, Augustine of Hippo Roman Catholic Church at 2530 S. Howell Avenue. The people there used their own labor and skills to build this church. An Italian priest celebrated Mass for the Bay View Italians in a small shoemaker's shop near the grocery store. Immaculate Conception Church was an Irish as said by Father Fagan. In his later years, Father Fagan gave in and allowed the Italians to attend Immaculate Conception Church. All of the Groppi children had been baptized at the Blessed Virgin of Pompei Church. The Groppi children attended I.C. Grade School. Jim Groppi did the same and then went on to Bay View High School where he played first string guard in basketball. After attending I.C. Grade School, Bay View High School seemed easy to Jim. He was captain of his basketball team in his senior year at Bay View High School. While Jim Groppi was in the Seminary in 1956, his father Giocondo Groppi died. Giocondo had been very strict with his children and did not allow them to make any snide remarks about anybody of a different nationality, faith or race. The Groppi family became one with the neighborhood. Anybody who came to their store felt welcome. Mario seemed to know everybody who came in the store and always had a kind thing to say to everybody. While the family operated the store, they did things the old fashioned way. They used an adding machine instead of a cash register. They were always generous with friends, customers and all who came in contact with them. This store seemed to be relic of an older time. The homemade sausages and fresh meet were always delicious. The Italian bakery was also good. They had candy coated almonds and candy that could be measured out in the amount that you wanted. If you wanted rabbit food, they had it. They always had service with a smile. Father Jim Groppi went on to become a famous leader in the civil rights movement, but he never forgot his roots. The store was his home away from home.When Mario Groppi died, it seemed like the end. His skills could never be replaced. The family did their best to continue without him, but it became too much for them. When John and Anne Nehring agreed to buy the store and keep the family sausage recipes and style of business open as the Groppi's had done since 1913, a deal was done. I am glad that Groppi's is still open in a very similar style to the way it used to be operated. You can almost visit the past by shopping inside of this store. My hat goes off to John and Anne Nehring for their work in keeping this store open and to the Groppi family for all of the sweet memories of the past. I am sure that if meet any of the Groppi family, you can learn more about their great family. Racing pigeons could be seen on top of the grocery store at one time. The kindness of the Groppi family will never be forgotten. Please visit Groppi's Grocert Store at 1441 E. Russell Avenue and see it for yourself..