ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin



Furniture & Funeral

611 East Main Street

Hafemeister website


   Kohls and Knaack Funeral Home became the Hafemeister Funeral Home


___ c.1885 __________________


      SE corner of E. Main and S. Sixth streets


___ 1918 __________________



Notice.  The partnership heretofore existing between Fred A. Behrens and Henry Hafemeister, conducting a saloon and restaurant business at No. 10 Main Street, in the city of Watertown, was dissolved by mutual agreement on the first day of January, 1918.  All liabilities and assets are assumed by said Fred A. Behrens, who continues the business at the said address.


Dated January 17, 1918.

Henry Hafemeister


___ 1922 __________________


Hafemeister Funeral Home was established in 1922 by Henry Hafemeister.  In the beginning, and until 1999, the funeral home was run in conjunction with a furniture store.  Raymond Dobbratz and Roland Harder purchased the business from the Hafemeister family.  Roland passed away in 1974 leaving Ray as the sole owner.  He sold the business to the Koepsell family in 1999.  Richard Nienow, a funeral director with the firm for over 23 years, purchased the business with his wife Ann in 2003.


Henry Hafemeister



___ 1947 __________________

Raymond C. Dobbratz had been affiliated with Hafemeister Funeral Home from 1947 until he sold the business in 1999 to the Koepsell family which operated funeral homes in Beaver Dam and Mayville.  The business was later sold to longtime employee Richard Nienow.


Dobbratz completed mortuary school and became a licensed funeral director and embalmer in 1950. 


___ 1956 __________________


A picture containing text, building, outdoor, street

Description automatically generated


___ 1957 __________________

Ad, 1957 City Dir, Henry Hafemeister


___ 1966 __________________

When Henry Hafemeister died in 1966, Dobbratz and the late Roland Harder became partners.  Harder died in 1974 and Dobbratz and his wife, Marie, became sole owners of the business until it was sold [1999].


___ 1974 __________________

RAYMOND C. DOBBRATZ AND HIS WIFE MARIE owned and operated Hafemeister Funeral Home from 1974 to 1999.


___ 1987 __________________






___ 1992 __________________


Hafemeister’s Funeral Home and Furniture Store, 607-613 E. Main St., has started work on an addition to the building to the south.  The expansion is one of the projects that received building permits from the city’s building inspection office in July.  Overall, the value of new construction in Watertown for the month was $931,820, bringing the year’s total to $6,989,007.  The one-story addition to the Hafemeister’s building will expand the facility by 1,800 square feet, according to James Kersbergen of JK Architecture.  The existing building has 5,000 square feet on each of its top two floors.  The addition includes a visitation room for the funeral home, two bathrooms and storage space.  The exterior construction of masonry will be detailed to match the Watertown brick of the existing facility.


___ 1999 __________________


The Hafemeister Funeral Home, one of Watertown's well known businesses, has been sold by Ray and Marie Dobbratz to the Koepsell family which operates funeral homes in Beaver Dam and Mayville.  The Koepsell family said the funeral home will be staffed by Richard Nienow of Watertown, who has been associated with Hafemeister for over 20 years, and Maurice Sefton, a Watertown resident who also has 20 years of funeral directing business.   WDT


___ 2000 __________________


Hafemeister Funeral Home, Inc., was given permission Wednesday to tear down a 115-year-old Main Street building it owns, known as the Krebs building.  An appeals board said it approved an application to demolish the cream-brick warehouse, and overturned a July decision by the Watertown Historic Preservation Commission.  The Watertown Civil Service Commission/Administrative Appeals Board cited the cost to renovate the Krebs building as a reasonable estimate.  That cost, $189,000, was estimated by a firm hired by the Koepsell family, which owns the vacant structure at 605 E. Main St.  The board said the $189,000 renovation cost is not justified for the building, deemed by the Koepsells as deteriorated and too expensive to repair.  [This building was moved in 2001]   WDT



A longtime area business couple will be honored by the Watertown Elks Lodge for their donation to the lodge which will help the citizens of Watertown for many years to come.  Ray and Marie Dobbratz have donated all of their hospital and rehabilitation equipment to the lodge.  While operating Hafemeister Funeral Home and Furniture Store, the Dobbratzes provided this equipment free of charge to people in need.  That tradition will continue under the leadership of the Elks Lodge.  The lodge will honor the Dobbratzes for this donation to the lodge and other civic work they have done.  They will be the special guests of honor at the lodge’s Harvest Ball on Oct. 28.  The Harvest Ball will also be the kickoff for the lodge’s third phase of remodeling.   WDT


___ 2001 __________________

02 11       RENOVATION

The Watertown Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday gave the green light to Hafemeister Funeral Home's more than $500,000 addition and renovation plan.  The commission gave its nod by accepting a certificate of appropriateness for plans by the Koepsell family-owned funeral home at 611 E. Main St.  But the approval is subject to four conditions.  Building owners in the city's historic district need the commission's OK before they complete external changes to their properties such as those to awnings, windows and the general facade.  The Hafemeister project is being done so the entire building is renovated “to meet our needs as a funeral home,” said Rich Nienow, funeral home director and associate.  He said the project is under way and will take three months to complete.   WDT



The Watertown Plan Commission approved the concept of selling a portion of a city parking lot for the relocation of the historic former Krebs building downtown.  Commissioners unanimously agreed to the concept of selling the northern third portion of the lot at 208 S. First St.  Later in the day the finance committee recommended the sale at a price of $10,000.  That recommendation will come before the full council for action on Monday, April 2.  Commissioner Carol Bohlman abstained from voting on the matter because she proposed purchasing the lot space to relocate the Krebs building at 605 E. Main St. for potential commercial use.   WDT



Relocation of the Krebs building this morning to a riverfront location was a “smooth” operation.  Movers of the 115-year-old brick building were doing a “really good job,” Robert Hallett, owner of RJ Hallett House Moving in Beloit.  RJ Hallett supplied equipment for the move.  At about 9 a.m., the building arrived in the 200 block of South First Street after traveling from the 600 block of East Main Street, a distance of about nine city blocks.   WDT


12 13       GRAND OPENING

A grand opening to celebrate the renovation of Hafemeister Funeral Home of Watertown will be held Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at noon with Lorna Harder, the only remaining descendant of the original Hafemeister family, present to cut the ribbon along with funeral directors Richard Nienow, Maurice Sefton and Russ Koepsell.  The restored 100-year-old buildings retain the funeral home as part of Watertown’s downtown business section and allows for continued growth of the business. Both floors of the funeral home and that of the former Hafemeister Furniture store are now used for “state-of-the-art” facilities for the Hafemeister funeral business. The renovation project has resulted in approximately 12,000 square feet of space being made available for the business.  WDT


In 2001, the building underwent a major renovation, including an addition.  Prior to the renovation, portions of the funeral home were not accessible to many of our physically challenged clientele.  Space for simultaneous visitations and casket display was not adequate, and the facility did not meet standards for privacy and comfort.  The original funeral home operated in approximately 12,300 sq. ft.  The building was once used as a furniture store and funeral home but since the renovation, it is all used as funeral home.  This was expanded to over 26,000 sq. ft.  Some of the improvements include a second chapel, a new entrance to the funeral home, a business office, a 2+car garage, and a unisex, accessible restroom in addition to accessible separate men’s and ladies restrooms.  Includes a lounge area equipped with kitchen facilities to be used during visitations and a play area for children.  A new elevator was added to gain access to a new casket selection room located on the second floor, along with a new preparation room that meets our needs and exceeds state regulations.  The building also features a sound system to be used during visitations and funeral services.  A second lounge located on the second floor adjacent to the selection room can be used for finalizing funeral arrangements.  Facility is totally handicapped accessible. Parking lot will accommodate thirty vehicles plus two handicapped stalls, and a large amount of convenient street parking is available in the area.



Following the renovation, Hafemeister Funeral Home received the Chamber of Commerce Professional/Service Business of the Year Award for 2001 in recognition of the valuable improvements and dedication to the downtown business district.



     Video clip       

___ 2003 __________________


Rich and Ann Nienow of Watertown have purchased the Hafemeister Funeral Home of Watertown from the Koepsell family of Mayville and Beaver Dam.  “We are continuing to provide dignified and personal services to the families we serve,” said Rich Nienow, who has been affiliated with the Hafemeister Funeral Home for over 25 years.  Both Rich and Ann Nienow were born and raised in Watertown and are 1975 graduates of Watertown Senior High School.


After graduation, Rich attended four years of college in Madison and Milwaukee.  While in college he was employed by funeral homes in those cities.  He was also employed by Curtis Ambulance of Milwaukee and is a charter member of Middleton Emergency Medical Service in Middleton, which he helped organize.

___ 2005 __________________


Richard A. Nienow, owner of the Hafemeister Funeral Home in Watertown, received an award at the 124th annual Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association convention in Sturgeon Bay recognizing his 25 years of service.  His career in funeral service began in 1980 when he obtained his Wisconsin funeral director license.   WDT


___ 2010 __________________



___ 2012 __________________

-- --           RICHARD NIENOW

      Watertown Fire Dept  



___ 2013 __________________

-- --         CREMATORY ADDED

In the fall of 2013 a state-of-the-art crematory was added to the current building. 


___ 2022 __________________

-- --         CENTENNIAL YEAR



Cross References:

                Max L. Noffz employed at Kohls and Knaack Funeral Home, became Hafemeister Funeral Home


Wally Tietz, worked with Max Noffz at Hafemeisters




2015 article


A Report on the History of the
Hafemeister Funeral Home,
Watertown, WI
Compiled by
W.F. Jannke III

In January, 2015, I was contacted by Rich Nienow, owner of Hafemeister Funeral Home here in Watertown. I was rather taken aback by his call, because, let’s face it, you never expect an undertaker to call you. I mean, did he know something I didn’t? I know I had the sniffles at the time, but I certainly wasn’t ready for the bone yard. Yet.

The reason he called was to ask me to do a little research for him. It seems that no one in the firm knew about the beginnings of the funeral home. Rich recalled stories that the late Ray Dobbratz, long-time owner of the business, had told him, but there were no records or anything in their files, and could I help them out?

I agreed and began the work. Before I began to dig into the records I assumed that the history would only take me back to, at best, the 1920s. So I was amazed to discover that the roots of this local and well-established firm go back nearly 150 years and would reveal some rather surprising (at least to me) data.

The history of the firm all began with the arrival in this country of three brothers named Nowack....

The Nowack Brothers Arrive

In 1865 three brothers from the Brandenburg, Germany area arrived on the shores of America. They were Henry, Frank and Carl. Each were skilled wood-workers. Their married sisters had come before them and settled in Watertown and so the brothers made their way here, to the bustling city of Watertown. The Civil War had just ended and men were returning to their homes. Business was on an upswing, even though in the next few year the city would be plunged into the midst of what has since become known as the “railroad bond scandal,” which would ham-string the city for nearly 30 years.

Still the family came and went straight to work for Phillip Heinrichs and William Grams, bedstead and furniture manufacturers, located on what is today Market Street. They did very well and by 1870 the brothers purchased the firm from Philip Heinrichs and set up shop for themselves, calling the firm Nowack Brothers. They moved the firm from its Market Street location to what is today 303 E. Main, the current (2105) site of a nightclub called H2O.

In about 1873, according to Nowack family lore, the brothers split up the business and Frank and Carl moved to a location the corner of Fourth and Main and took on a partner, Edward Schmutzler, and began operating a furniture and undertaking establishment.

The Founding of Several Funeral Homes

The firm of Nowack and Schmutzler lasted for many years. Ultimately Carl Nowack withdrew from the firm and Leonard Oestreich became the new partner in the firm. In 1919 Oestreich’ s interest in the business was purchased by Oscar Schmutzler and firm became known as the Schmutzler Funeral Home. Today this establishment is known as Schmutzler-Vick and they are located on the west side of the city. The old address currently (2015) houses the bookstore and coffee shop known as Tribecca.

Carl Nowack Sr. had three sons, Carl Jr., William, and Louis. Louis became a popular physician and hero of WWII, William became a Moravian minister and served as a missionary to China, and Carl Jr., along with his Uncle Frank, opened a funeral home which is today the Pederson Funeral Home.

The family joke was, the three boys covered all the bases²one to deliver you, one to marry you, and one to bury you!

Meanwhile, Back to Our Story

Henry soldiered on alone at the 303 Main address. In 1880 he entered into a brief partnership with pioneer furniture maker John Keck, but by 1885 this partnership was no more. Henry prospered and added undertaking to his furniture business from almost the start. By 1896 he took in as a partner his son, Otto H. Nowack. Later, in 1901, Henry Nowack Jr., became a partner.

The Move to Present Headquarters

The present business is headquartered at 607-611 E. Main St. This building was, according to The Architectural and Intensive Survey Report of the City of Watertown, written in 1987 by Joan Roush, built about 1901 or so by the Needham family and was known as the Needham Block. The first tenant was Otto Jaedecke, who operated a grocery store. The Nowack firm moved into the upper floor in 1902.

When the firm moved it was known as Nowack & Kohls. Otto H. Nowack, now the senior member of the firm, had taken in a partner, William A. Kohls. William A. Kohls had been in business in Watertown for many years and would be active in the funeral home for many years to come, through several permutations of ownership.


The Firm Changes Hands

In 1913 Otto Nowack sold his interest in the funeral and furniture business to his partner, William Kohls. Later that year Kohls brought in a new business partner, Edward A. Knaak. This firm lasted until 1923 when K naak retired from the business and Leonard Oestreich, formerly of the firm of Schmutzler & Oestreich, becomes a new partner in the firm. This new firm lasted until 1925. In 1922 Max Noffz, himself the owner of a funeral home in later years, joined the firm of Kohls & Knaak.

In 1926 Oestreich retired from the firm and William Kohls took on two new business partners, Anton F. Mayer, who had previously been involved with the furniture end of the firm, and Henry Hafemeister, who took charge of the funeral business. Kohls acted as the company chairperson. Sadly, this partnership only lasted a year and then Mayer retired from the firm, citing ill-health, and the firm then became Kohls and Hafemeister.

In 1932 the firm expanded and took over the entire building, moving the furniture department to the lower level and keeping the undertaking business on the upper floor. But changes were in the air.

The Formation of the Hafemeister Funeral and Furniture Company

In 1936 William Kohls, a partner in the firm since 1902, retired and Henry Hafemeister became the sole owner of the business. In 1945 he took in as a partner his son-in-law, Roland Harder, as well as Max Noffz. In 1947 Ray Dobbratz joined the firm as an apprentice and in 1950 he gained his funeral director’s license and would later become a partner in the firm.

Shortly after Dobbratz joined the firm, in 1948, Max Noffz purchased the Henry J. Krier Funeral Home on S. Third Street and he left the Hafemeister Co.

Henry Hafemeister and his partners Harder and Dobbratz continue on. It was once a common custom of the firm to give a free piece of furniture to anyone who paid off their funeral bill. The Hafemeister Co. became the home of choice for the burial of German residents, chiefly because Henry Hafemeister could parlay the language and people appreciated that. He died in 1966.

Roland Harder and Ray Dobbratz, now owners of the funeral home, decided to keep the name by which the public readily identified and they carried the business forward. Sadly, Roland Harder died in 1974 and Ray Dobbratz became the sole owner.

In 1978 Richard Nienow joined the firm. He received his license in 1980 and quickly became the second in command at the firm. In 1999 the furniture business was discontinued. Also in this year Ray and Marie Dobbratz sold the Hafemeister Co. to Russ Koepsell, the owner of several funeral homes in Dodge Co.

The Koepsells decide to keep the old firm name and began a program of remodeling of the firm’s building. In 2001, in the heart of a controversy over a historic former grocery building located on the corner of the property, they agree to allow it to be moved to its present location on S. First St., thus preserving it for years to come.

In 2003 the Koepsell family sells their interest in the Hafemeister Co. to long-time employee Richard Nienow who as of this writing (2015) is the current owner.



The following ads were culled from newspapers, city directories, and copies of the Watertown High School annual, The Orbit.


Watertown Weltburger, 1887











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History of Watertown, Wisconsin