Feith’s generosity made Ozaukee YMCA dream a reality

Town of Saukville resident who came to America with pennies, gave $2 million to build facility, dies at age 92

John Feith
Ozaukee Press staff

John Feith will be known to some people simply as the namesake of the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA.

After all, it was a $1.5 million donation by Mr. Feith and his wife Elizabeth that kicked off the fundraising for the YMCA in 1997.

Without that donation, the YMCA would never have become reality, Chris Lear, the former Saukville village administrator who was a member of the YMCA steering committee, said.

“We were told by so many people that the YMCA, which was needed, wouldn’t get done. It was too much money that had to be raised,” Mr. Lear said. “If you’re going out to raise $3 million or $4 million dollars, you can’t do it $10,000 at a time. You need a couple lead gifts to inspire others to give.”

The Feiths did just that, he said.

“He was quite a businessman, and he was very wise with his money,” Mr. Lear said. “He wanted to make sure to use it wisely.”

Mr. Feith and his wife appreciated good health and fitness as well as the family aspects of a YMCA, prompting their gift, Mr. Lear said.

Before the YMCA was built, the Feiths had increased their donation to $2 million, but their support didn’t end there.

“They were a presence there,” Mr. Lear said.

The couple donated a tree from their Town of Saukville farm to serve as the YMCA’s Christmas tree every year through 2016, and Mr. Feith spent a significant amount of time at the facility.

“I used to time my workouts so I could visit with John post-workout,” Mr. Lear said. “He was kind of a subtle, in the background guy who had a big impact on the community through the YMCA, his church and his spiritual life. I feel blessed to have been among those who called John a friend.”  

But Mr. Feith’s generosity didn’t end with the YMCA.

Mr. Feith, 92, who died of pneumonia Friday, Aug. 17, at the Cottages of Cedar Run in West Bend, and his wife also donated funds to help build the Ozaukee Humane Society and an addition to their church, St. Peter’s United Church of Christ — now Parkside Community United Church of Christ — both in Saukville.

They also created the Feith Family Statuary Park at the entrance to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. 

Mr. Feith had a cancer scare years ago, their daughter Sue Shannon said, and the doctors there did surgery and saved his life.

The couple sponsored a family who immigrated from Hungary and settled in Saukville, and Mr. Feith, who was from Hungary, sent money and support to family and friends there for many years.

He served as chairman of the board of Cedar Community Campus in West Bend and contributed to the community in many other ways, their family said.

“He was generous with his time. He was generous with his money,” his daughter Sue Shannon said. “He felt so grateful to the country that they had such a good and successful life.

“He was just a generous man who believed in giving back.”

Mr. Feith was a native of Belecska, Hungary, born on Dec. 21, 1925, to John and Catherine Walters Feith Fueredi.

He grew up in Hungary and earned a master’s degree in math at the University of Sopron.

During World War II, Mr. Feith was recruited as a translator for the U.S. Army. After the war ended, he went to Germany in search of a better life.

While there, he met Elizabeth Nass when they sat on the same park bench one day while reading. She wasn’t overly impressed with him, particularly because of his strong accent, their daughter said, but agreed to go on a date with him the next day. He took her to a ball in a castle, and she was impressed with his dancing abilities.

The couple married near Heidelburg, Germany, on Feb. 18, 1947.

Theirs was a quintessential American success story. They moved to the U.S. in 1952 with their two young sons in tow and only $1.15 in their pockets.

Mr. Feith spoke little English and his wife and sons spoke none, but the couple settled in Chicago, where a family sponsored them. 

“He had some pretty menial jobs for a while,” their daughter said, including stints as a vegetable grocer, funeral home assistant and church groundskeeper.

Eventually, he began working for Safeco Insurance, learning the business from the ground up. They bought a house along the Milwaukee River on South Main Street in Saukville, and in 1957 became U.S. citizens.

Mr. Feith started his own businesses, Wisconsin Pension & Group Services and Employee Benefit Claims. He retired and sold the business about 1993.

In 1983, the couple moved to a Town of Saukville tree farm they called Tranquility.

“They had a great life,” their daughter said, noting they traveled frequently and saw much of the world. 

Mr. Feith was a passionate poker player who got together with friends in Saukville and Port Washington on Tuesday nights for more than 60 years to play the game, his daughter said.

He was a fisherman and outdoorsman who enjoyed his hobby farm immensely. 

“He loved any outdoor work,” his daughter said. “He loved to chop firewood. He loved gardening.”

Mr. Feith enjoyed picking raspberries and would count how many berries he picked, his daughter said.

“He would say, ‘You might as well keep your mind occupied,’” she said. “He would come over and tell me, here’s 312 raspberries. One year, he counted over 10,000 raspberries.”

Mr. Feith loved children, his daughter said, calling him a baby magnet.

“You put a baby in his arms and they would start smiling,” she said.

He also loved his pets, particularly his cat Poopsie. The kitten showed up at the tree farm just a few days after Christmas one year, and Mr. Feith, who had vowed not to get another cat after the Siamese cat he had for 19 years died, told his wife to get rid of it. His family stalled for two days, and when his daughter came to take the cat to the Humane Society it crawled up his pant leg.

“He held it and said, ‘Doesn’t this cat have an intelligent face,’” his daughter recalled. The kitten stayed, with Mr. Feith wrapped around its paws, she said, noting her father would get up in the wee hours of the morning to feed it tuna fish.

Mr. Feith is survived by his wife Elizabeth of West Bend; children John (Maria) of Grafton, Andre (Helen) of Tampa, Fla., and Sue (Tom) Shannon of Saukville; grandchildren John (Kelly) Feith, Cristina Feith, Paul (Amaia) Feith, Andy (Tara) Shannon, Peter Shannon, Natasha Feith and Richard Feith; and six great-grandchildren.

He is also survived by his brother Adam (Hilde) Fueredi of Naples, Fla.

A memorial service for Mr. Feith will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at Parkside Community United Church of Christ in Saukville. The Rev. Ron Newlin will officiate.

Visitation will be at the church Friday from 2 p.m. until the service.

Memorials to the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA are suggested.

Eernisse Funeral Home in Port Washington is handling the arrangements.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login