This file portion of website


William F. Voss

1847 - 1921


Long Prominent in the Public Life of Watertown

Held Many Offices at Time of Death – The Whole Community Mourns


Watertown Daily Times, 11 02 1921 [portrait]


William F. Voss, died suddenly this morning at 6:15 o’clock.  The sad and shocking news was soon spread about the city and a whole community was in deep mourning for no one ever held the veneration of a people to a higher degree than this veteran leader in the civic and business life of Watertown.  He actually “died in the harness” and it is remarkable that one who had attained his age should be engaged in so many activities of a business and public nature, holding the leadership and carrying the principal burdens of a number of them.


Those close to Mr. Voss were aware that his heart was not physically good, but little did they imagine any near eventuality such as that of this morning.


Only yesterday afternoon he was at the Wisconsin National Bank of which he was president, in a meeting with the examining committee which was holding a regular session, and was in consultation with the bank force considering important matters.  He displayed that grasp of affairs and enthusiasm for which he was noted everywhere.


The ex-senator passed away very peacefully.  He came home from the bank shortly before the super hour and spent the evening with his family and exhibited the usual happy spirit of the fireside.  He retired at the usual hour and evidently went to sleep without any thought of the near approach of the Angel of Death with the final summons.  At about 2 o’clock this morning Mrs. Voss heard him moving restlessly in the bed and went to his room.  He assured her that he had been in a restful sleep and was all right.  He again went to sleep.  It was his practice to arise mornings at about 6 o’clock.  Shortly after six Mrs. Voss heard him trying to cough and went to his room. She was unable to arouse him and soon discovered that he had passed away in death.


A Model and Eventful Life


Senator Voss was almost a continual resident of Watertown since he was a child of five years, and during that time the highest honors and greatest responsibilities of the community were conferred upon him.  No public servant ever entered upon a trust with loftier aims and discharged the duties with greater ability.


The deceased was born near Berlin, Germany, December 23, 1847, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Voss, also natives of that section.  The father was a mason by trade and thinking to better his financial condition and obtain better opportunities for his children, emigrated to this country in 1850 and landed in Milwaukee where the family resided for two years.  He came to Watertown, and successfully followed his trade until his death in 1861, at the age of 43 years.  His wife, who died in 1856, became the mother of three children, William F., Frederick C. and Pauline. 


After the death of his first wife, Frederick Voss married again and by his second wife became the father of one child, Minnie. 


Thus, through the death of his parents, Mr. Voss was thrown upon his own resources at an early age.  His youth was characterized by that ambition, industry and perseverance which made him so successful in life.  He craved for knowledge and was a student until the hour of his death.  Although the oldest of the children, and accepted responsibility as their guide and protector, he did not neglect the educational advantages of this city.  He entered the public schools and went through the grades, and had the distinction of graduating from the high school at the age of fifteen years. 


The day after he graduated he set out to secure employment and walked to Columbus, in the vicinity of which place he secured employment in the harvest field; and afterward began clerking in a dry goods and grocery store for William Volkmann & Co., of this city with whom he remained for three years.  The boy then went to Cincinnati, Ohio and for two years thereafter was in the employ of John Schillito & Company. 


He then resolved to return to Watertown and start upon a business career in his home town.  He accepted a clerkship in the store of J. T. Moak and when the latter received the appointment of postmaster of Watertown, Mr. Voss became his deputy, thus obtaining the first glimpse of public life in which he afterward became so distinguished.


About six years later he decided to go west and engage in gold mining and started for the Sweetwater mines but upon reaching the North Platte River, the serious Indian troubles prevented him from carrying out his determination.  He then purchased a team and made his way to Denver, where he worked on a farm for about two years, then returned to his old home in Wisconsin.


Becomes a Banker


After filling the position of deputy postmaster here for some time, he became teller of the Wisconsin National Bank of this city, in the spring of 1873, which place he held for a number of years, until he became the president of the institution.  He was one of the organizers of the Philip H. Heinrich Company planning mill, the Watertown Grocery Company of which he served as director, and in many other enterprises which he assisted in establishing.


Notable Political Career

Four Term Mayor


Mr. Voss was widely known and distinguished, but in recounting that long and varied career, we are led to the belief that his greatest prominence was as a public man during the constructive period of his city and state, when true statesmanship counted on behalf of the public.


As a young man he was elected alderman of the Sixth ward for five terms, and then retired from the council to become city treasurer.  He then became mayor and was elected to the office four times, at different periods, a record that is unique in the annals of any municipality.  He was elected at a time when public improvements such as waterworks and sewers were becoming a necessity and he entered upon a leadership in this new age with energy and vision that brought unsurpassable success.  During his administrations as mayor very many of the splendid improvements which do honor to the city were either originated or completed and will stand as an everlasting monument to his devotion to the best interests of this community.


A Stout Friend of Education


If there is one public concern in which Senator Voss took more interest than another it was the cause of popular education.  He saw in our public school system the grandest triumph of a democratic form of government and was always a vigilant and active supporter of all matters pertaining to our schools.  He was elected to the school board over thirty years ago, resigning each time that he had been elected mayor, and being reelected by his constituents as soon as he became legally eligible by relinquishment of the mayoralty.


He served a number of terms embracing two long periods as president of that body, and was in that position at the time of his death.  His interest in the working of the schools was so intense that he was intimately versed in all of the work of the schools and was in close touch with all of the plans necessary to be made.  His interest in the school board was almost passion and his leadership was an inspiration to fellow members of the board, teachers and all in any way connected with the work.


President of Library Board


He was also president of the library board and never missed a meeting of that body.  The most thorough attention was given by him to this important public function.  He was one of the original supporters of the free library and took keen satisfaction in its success.


Secretary of Waterworks Board


Mr. Voss was an authority on all matters pertaining to the waterworks system of this city.  As mayor and alderman he advocated the establishment of a waterworks board and his interest was so outstanding that he was prevailed upon to accept the secretaryship.  He held that position continuously since 1896.


The deceased was also one of the directors of the Oak Hill cemetery association.


Prominent in State Affairs


Senator Voss was for many years one of the leaders of the Democratic Party in this state and in 1890 was elected to the Wisconsin state senate.  While in that body he was chairman of the committee on banking and currency, and also a member of another important committee, that of railroads.


Almost from the beginning he took front rank among the leaders of the senate.  He possessed a strong, well trained mind and always had the courage to assert his convictions.  The late justice of the Supreme Court, Robert M. Bashford, served in the senate with him and was rightfully regarded as the ablest lawyer in either branch of the state legislature.  In speaking of Senator Voss and his great activities as chairman of the banking committee, Judge Bashford some years later said, “Voss of Dodge County possessed the greatest executive ability of any man in the state senate during my time, and he was always prepared for any task before him”.


His nature was such that he naturally gave precedence to things political or public in their nature, but after his service in the senate he decided to apply himself to business and public activities of a purely local nature.


He was often urged as a candidate for congress and for governor, but having decided upon his course, declined to consider these honors.  He was naturally a leader of people, and the high honors and responsibility that came to him – hardly ever paralleled in the history of any city – were justly bestowed and not selfishly sought, because he was preeminently a man capable of great things and was therefore turned to by his fellow citizens when public movements were ripe.


He considered it a laudable ambition to seek political preferment, but he was in no sense what might be termed an office seeker.  The two qualities necessary in a successful political general were strongly developed in the deceased.  He loved his city, his state, his country and the people.  He had faith in the people and an unselfish willingness to serve and above all a clear mind and a stout heart, ready to meet and conquer any difficulty.  It is easy to replace a mere public servant; it is a matter of real difficulty to replace a man like William F. Voss.  The business men of this city, those engaged in public matters and in social enterprise, will long miss the impetus which he daily gave them.


No person ever had a higher conception of friendship.  That it was man’s duty to be obliging and helpful to his neighbors, and sacredly true to friendships.  That was his simple rule of life and governed his conduct toward his fellowmen.  Mr. Voss was one of the most devoted of husbands and fathers, and found his greatest rest and comfort in the bosom of his family.


A Christian man he always asked God to guide his feet along the paths of greatest usefulness.  The benefits which his activities bestowed upon this community are inestimable but fully appreciated by fellow citizens.


Married in 1878


Mr. Voss and Miss Mary Schempf, daughter of George L. Schempf, a pioneer merchant, were married in this city May 21, 1878, and their union was blessed with five children, who with their mother survive.  They are:  Miss Edna Voss, a teacher in Douglas school of this city; Albert E. Voss of Denver, Col.; Mrs. Josie Shealy of Madison, widow of the late Prof. Edward Shealy of the State University;  Mrs. Max Baumann of Chicago, and Fred E. Voss of Miles, Montana.  A sister, Mrs. Pauline MacClanahan, resides in Chicago.


Mr. Voss was a member of Watertown Lodge No. 49, F. and A. M., Watertown Chapter No. 11, R. A. M. and Olivet Commandery No. 18, K. T.  He was also a member of the Elks.


The funeral arrangements have not been completed and the date of the services will be announced later.  Friends are requested to omit flowers. [Buried in Oak Hill Cemetery]


Flags at Half Mast


Out of respect to  his memory and in public recognition of the valuable services rendered the community during his long and active life the flags of the city hall and Phoenix engine house will be placed at half mast.  The whole community is in mourning over the death of this honest and useful man.


Death Deeply Regretted


Deepest of expressions of regret over the death of Mr. Voss were heard on all sides. He was known to almost everyone in this section and through his kindly nature he made friends of all.


City Attorney E. F. Wieman, in speaking of his death said:  “In the death of Hon. Wm. F. Voss, the community has lost its strongest political, fraternal and business influence.  A wonderful man, fair, upright, honest, a just adversary, yet with a ready, helping hand for those who sought his assistance”.


Col. Solliday:  “I became intimately associated with William Voss in 1873 and we have been fast friends and close associates every since.  We were together engaged in the banking business and served together in the state senate.  He was one of the ablest men in the senate and was so regarded.  Not only in his business but in his public life, he was extremely conscientious, painstaking and very anxious to serve the best interests of those who reposed confidence in him”.


Postmaster J. M. Moore:  “On my way to the post office early this morning a neighbor of Hon. Wm. F. Voss hailed me and said: “Have your heard Mr. Voss is dead?”  It was a terrible shock! And I halted and stood still for a moment and replied: “Well, a good man and a good friend has been called to his final reward.  I have known Mr. Voss intimately for over fifty years as a citizen, as a friend, in a business way, as a politician, as a co-worker on the board of education for over twenty years, and on the library board for eleven years, and have always found him honorable, conscientious, capable and ever mindful of the rights of others in all his transactions.   In many ways and at many times I have had occasion to judge him – he was fair-minded in politics, in business and especially liberal in his civic and religious views, striving at all times to do unto others as he would be done by.  As a banker his judgment could always be relied on, and were there more men in the banking business possessed of his sterling honesty and conservatism, there would be fewer banks wrecked in the country.  In common with all our follow citizens, I mourn Mr. Voss as a splendid type of citizen, and as a man whose friendship I prized very highly.”


Mayor H. Wertheimer:  “Mr. Voss and I were associated together and worked in harmony in business and matters of public concern for these many years.  He was a noble soul, genuinely devoted to the upbuilding of Watertown and the very best interests of our people.  His nature was so noble that it was a great pleasure to work with him.  His life work brought many benefits to Watertown.”


Stands High As a Banker


Officers of banks in this city discussed his high standing as a banker.  He was well known to the banking world and took an influential part in shaping the policies of the state and regional organizations.  He was the dean of Watertown bankers.



Mrs. Mary Voss nee Schempf

1858 - 1937

01-21-1937   WG

Death of Mrs. Mary Voss


Mrs. Mary Voss, 78, widow of the late William F. Voss, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Josephine Shealy at Madison last Monday night.  Death was due to influenza and pneumonia.  Mrs. Voss, whose home is at 906 North Fourth Street here, has been living with her daughter since last September.  She was born in Watertown on May 24, 1858, the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. George Schempf.  With the exception of the few months she has lived in Madison, she has resided in Watertown all her life. 


Surviving are two daughters, Mrs. Shealy of Madison and Mrs. Max Bauman of Los Angeles, Cal., one son Dr. Albert Voss, of Glendale, Cal.; two grandchildren; one sister, Mrs. H.O. Christians, Eagle Rock, Cal.,, (also of Johnson Creek).  One son Fred, passed away in January, 1929, and one daughter, Miss Edna Voss, former principal of the Douglas school, died on October 11, 1935. 


Funeral services will be held on Saturday afternoon at 2 o’clock at the Schmutzler funeral home, with the Rev. O. W. Pinkney officiating.  Burial will be at Oak Hill cemetery.  Friends may call at the funeral home to pay their respects on Friday afternoon and on Saturday up to the time of the funeral. 


Mrs. Voss was well known to most of the people residing in this city, and was greatly beloved by the people here.