Interviewed 11-19-2008

John R. Shack



Bill Leber and Mary Switzer Leber were Saugatuck-Douglas summer people from the early the 1940s. In 1888, Maryís Grandpa Switzer began making licorice candies in St. Louis. His company flourished and the family became affluent.Her grandmother headed many St. Louis area charities.Along with many other wealthy families from St. Louis, they escaped the summer heat and humidity of Missouri to summer on the Saugatuck lakeshore.Maryís first visit was just before she was born, when her expectant mother arrived to spend the summer with her parents.


The Switzer grandparents had eight children and reared them in Kirkwood and Clayton, Missouri near St. Louis.While Maryís mother was studying at St. Maryís College and her brother at nearby Notre Dame in 1930, her grandfather gave them a winter assignment of coming to Douglas in search of a summer home big enough for the large family.They found a house that proved unworkable after a year.Their grandfather then consulted with Mr. McVea, a realtor, who found them the house just south of Center Street on Lakeshore Drive.This house with nine bedrooms served the family for 30 years before being sold to the Nelsons, the current owners. The property had and still has the only tennis court in the area.


When the Switzerís came up from St. Louis for the summer they brought their cook, house keeper and chauffeur to make life with this big family a bit easier and more gracious. A formal dinner, announced by a dinner gong, was served nightly. They also recalled two women, Marge and Ev, who were the landscapers for the property.Billís sister often rented Joe Bredemanís Elkhorn Lodge near Switzerís house on Lakeshore Drive where he would spend summer visits.


When the extended Switzer family visited their grandparents they often outnumbered the beds available. When this happened, late-arriving family stayed at the Idylease (now the Valentineís B&B) on Campbell Street.It happened that Bill Leberís family also summered at the Idylease during the same period.When Bill was 13 and Mary was 8, Bill pulled Mary from an algae covered pond she had fallen into on the Idylease property, beginning a life-long romance.


Bill was born and raised in St. Louis the youngest of six children. His grandparents had 13 natural children and adopted a 14th on a foundry manís pay. His grandmother opened a millinery shop that at one time employed 50 women.On top of all this, she was an angel of mercy during community disease outbreaks and kept her home open to people in need of a warm meal during hard times.


Billís four older brothers served in the armed services during WWII.When it was Billís turn to go into the Service, after finishing college at St. Louis University, it was during the Korean Conflict with a commission in the Navy.After OCS he served in Destroyer types, then staying in the Reserves for 32 years and leaving with the rank of Captain.


Bill and Mary were married in 1956, a year after Bill finished active duty in the Navy.Billís subsequent profession was in large commercial property and casualty insurance with several major firms. The couple had four children, Mary Patricia, Bill, Laura and Jerome, and 10 grandchildren. These subsequent generations continue to enjoy the lakeshore in the summers.Bill and Mary eventually retired to Douglas full-time where they built a home.Their daughter Laura has a house nearby.Together they can bunk their extended family.Bill serves on the Saugatuck Yacht Club sailing board where, among other things, he consults to the club on insurance liability issues.


Bill and Mary described the Tara and Green Lantern restaurants which provided elegant meals during their youth.They also commented on the relative lack of safety by todayís standards in boating and swimming during their youth that would not be tolerated today.During that summer when Mary was still waiting to be born, he mother became ill and required hospitalization in the Kirby House hospital.On that occasion she was the only patient in the hospital and Dr. Walker would come regularly to sit in her room to just talk.The practice of medicine was much different in those days.