Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Gerry Zeniecki, owner and bartender at Reggie and Gerry's Bar in Cudahy
CUDAHY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Reggie and Gerry's Bar has been a mainstay on Packard Avenue in Cudahy for 50 years. To this day, you'll find 91-year-old Gerry Zeniecki pouring drinks. She raised her seven children above the bar after her husband, Reggie, died. The bar kept the family afloat and created community on its corner in Cudahy.
"Everybody ok?" Gerry Zeniecki asked a customer.
She's been asking that important question since 1972.
"Alright, you're ok," she said, moving around the bar. "I love it. I love it."
She and her husband, Reggie, opened the bar in 1972.
"There you go, kiddo," she said, passing a drink.
She's been behind the bar that entire time. At this point, her customers are more like family, some even referring to her as mom.
"Oh, they do. Oh, mom, yeah, that's ok too. I love it," she said with a smile and a wave of her hand.
The bar business is in her blood.
"I'll tell you what, my family history- I was born and raised in a bar. My father had one on 16th and Grant," she remembered.
But that doesn't mean she was sold on Reggie and Gerry's right away.
"My husband was the one. I didn't want a bar," she explained. "He come back, he said, Gerry, there's a bar for sale. I said, so what?"
But she and Reggie agreed to give it a go.
"For us kids, it was great," said oldest son, Reggie Zeniecki.
Zeniecki was 13 at the time and remembers it well.
"We moved out of a two-bedroom house with seven kids, mom and dad. We had three sets of bunk beds in one room," he said.
The whole family lived upstairs.
"Yeah, we all lived up there in three bedrooms," Gerry said.
Reggie and Gerry ran the bar together for five years, but just before they bought it outright, Reggie passed away. And Gerry's question --"And how you doing, ok?" became even more important.
"I don't know how she did it," Reggie said.
With seven children to support, Gerry kept the bar going, one drink at a time.
"I know a lot of stories," said son, Dan Zeniecki, with a laugh.
Most of the kids, including Dan, have spent time working behind the bar, too.
"Off and on for 40 years," Dan said.
"Yes, they all helped out, oh my God, yeah," Gerry said.
The bar, truly a family affair.
"And I would always say hey, I don't mind sharing my mom," Reggie said.
So, it's no surprise that loyal customers feel at home. They know Gerry doesn't play bar dice for shots.
"I don't, no, I don't drink," she said.
But she will take your cash -- a dollar to be exact.
"The buck is enough. I don't want to lose any more money than a buck. And they know it," she said.
It's a long-established rule at Reggie and Gerry's. But it's those who've been coming here the longest that keep her going.
"You've gotta like people. You've got to enjoy what you're doing, and that's what it is," she said.
"People could come in here and tell all their problems to mom and she would listen. And when they left here, they just felt so much better," Reggie said.
Bartending for 50 years is a long time. Gerry is still a very spry 91, and works six days a week.
"She comes down at 7 in the morning every day. And she is sharp," Reggie said.
She's also known to dance to Polka music and get everyone else on their feet, too.
"I love it. I love it," Gerry said of the bar. "Yeah, if they took that away from me, I don't know, I think I would die."
Reggie and Gerry's has been everything to the Zeniecki family. A home. A business. A bar.
"So it is a family monument, actually for the city, too," Reggie said.
Gerry is the life of the party, with no plans to let that party end.
"Somebody asked me that, and I said, 'when I die, I'll be retired a long time. So not right now,'" she said with a smile.
Reggie and Gerry's is located at 4883 S. Packard Avenue in Cudahy.
If you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at [email protected]