Al Kelch in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Below is a story of Al Kelch’s life published by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel shortly after his death.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Thursday, September 30, 2004
by Amy Rabideau Silvers
p. 9

Alfred Kelch had knack for inventing, passion for flying, but he had his priorities in order, his wife says.

Alfred Kelch was the kind of man who could see just how something should go together, whether it was one of his own inventions or a fine, old aircraft.

He spent his professional life as an inventor and manufacturer, long based in Mequon and Cedarburg.

In his private life, Kelch used his mechanical skills on vintage aircraft — most recently working on a Travel Air 4000 formerly owned by Robertson Aircraft and flown by Charles Lindbergh. Last October, he was inducted into the EAA Vintage Aircraft Association’s Hall of Fame.

Alfred H. Kelch died Sept. 21, days after suffering a severe stroke. He was 86. He and his wife, Lois Kelch, had lived in Mequon since 1952, and spent winters in Frostproof, Fla.

Kelch was born in small-town Lake View, Iowa. He was only 6 when his uncle, Percy Bricker, literally flew into town. Young Al fell in love with flying.

Uncle Percy gave “me an incurable disease that’s very expensive,” Kelch said in an interview with Northshore LifeStyle.

“I was walking this high off the ground every day because I had an uncle who flew an airplane and I got to ride in it,” he said. “The banker had to scrape to find the $10 for the ride, but I got to ride in it every day — free.”

His uncle returned a few years later and Kelch, then in junior high, got his first flying lesson. Kelch studied engineering for a couple of years at Iowa State University, until money was too tight. He began working in Chicago, and he met his future wife in Lake Geneva.

“We met and we had a date on July 4, 1944,” said the former Lois Duerr. “And we were married October 21, 1944.”

In 1949 he came to Milwaukee to start his Happy Time Toy Co., which led to the development of Kelch Corp.

One early success was a new process to produce the classic orange traffic cone, which he then manufactured. He also developed the process to cast huge aluminum molds for plastic items and diversified into injection molding.

Kelch developed machinery to produce parts for Allis Chalmers, General Electric, Speed Queen and American Motors. Other products included gas gauges for lawn and farm equipment.

Kelch retired in 1983, selling to a group of employees. It was sold again to Bemis Manufacturing Co., and operations moved to Menomonee Falls.

“He was a really hands-on, engineer-type person,” said Ken Keith, who later became an owner. “He would get an idea, or someone would talk to him, and Al would make a drawing. Then he would go into the shop and make it.”

As soon as he could afford it, Kelch bought his first plane — an antique Piper Cub — the first of many vintage planes.

“He loved antique aircraft — it had to be antique,” Lois said. “He used to have a workshop for his airplanes in Cedarburg, and he’d work nights on his aircraft.

“They were all in show condition. He’d start from scratch and every one is absolutely beautiful.”

He later moved his aircraft to the Brodhead, Wis., airport.

Kelch was one of the earliest active members of the Vintage Aircraft Association, said H.G. Frautschy, executive director for the vintage division at the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh. Kelch and his wife earlier edited its magazine, Vintage Airplane.

“I don’t think I’ll ever hear the expression, ‘Let me tell you about that,’ without hearing Al’s voice,” Frautschy said.

Kelch was also a man who had his priorities in order.

“I was first,” said his wife, laughing. “Flying was second. Everybody knew us as a team. I was involved in the business the whole time.”

Other survivors include sister Winifred Gleysteen; nephews and other relatives.

Visitation will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Crossroads Presbyterian Church, 6031 W. Chapel Hill Road, Mequon. The memorial service will follow at 5 p.m.

Alfred Kelch, shown here with an early Cub aircraft, loved working on vintage planes.