A love story in Barton: Business owners in Barton remember Gene Otten

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                                                                                             Photo courtesy Elise Ann Otten

Word spread quickly across the tight-knit community of Barton over the weekend that Eugene “Gene” Otten had died.


Otten has been a fixture in town for nearly nine decades. He embodied the spirit of Barton.


A God-fearing man, Otten was most recognizable behind the counter of Otten’s Store, 1805 Barton Avenue.



That building is currently home to Small Town Bait & Tackle and shop owner Brian Forsythe said it’s been an honor to have known Gene.


“The staff at Small Town Bait & Tackle will have a heavy heart on Saturdays now that we will not have the opportunity to be greeted by a great man, Gene Otten,” said Forsythe.


“Mr. Otten was sure to thank every customer that walked through the  front door for their business and opened the door for them as they left saying ‘God bless you, come back again.’


“Mr. Otten was always willing to share stories about when he and his wife ran the store, all the hours they worked, and his love for the Town of Barton. Mr Otten will be missed, our condolences to his family and friends,” Forsythe said.


Attorney John Best from the Law Office of John A. Best  in Barton used to rent from Gene Otten.


“I had the honor to met Mr. Otten for the first time about 20 years ago,’ said Best. “I had opened my own firm in the Barton Rollers Mills and wandered into his story for a soda. I left two hours later. It was like stepping back in time. Mr. Otten was always ready with a handshake and kind word and if he felt you needed it, some Biblical boosting.


I never heard him say a negative word about a person and I never heard him gossip. When he asked about you or how business was going it wasn’t small talk…he genuinely wanted to know and he genuinely cared.
My best memories of him were chatting with him and his brother as they sat on the porch of my office on a Sunday afternoon watching the traffic go by on Barton Avenue.

Even after I purchased my office from him he insisted on sweeping the sidewalk and putting the garbage in the alley.
He was a very humble, genuine man who lived simply and purposefully.

It’s going to be tough not to see him tomorrow when I get to work.

John A. Best


Grandma remembers Gene Otten

Grandma and Essie heard the news at Sunday Mass that Gene Otten passed.  Essie glanced out of the corner of her eye and while she expected Grandma to be upset… it appeared she wasn’t really even phased by the news.


“Did you know whether Eugene was sick,” said Essie as she walked home, arm in arm with Grandma.


She had been stumbling lately, unsure on her feet but Grandma still had a feisty Norwegian spirit.


“Good long life,” said Grandma. “God-fearin’ man. Respectable.”


Essie knew Grandma had a special place in her heart for Gene. He had helped her through some tough times, like he did a lot of neighbors in town.


Grandma didn’t really care for charity or hand outs. But Gene had a way.


Maybe it was his strong faith or his easy-going nature.  “He had that black pen,” said Grandma. “Mark everything down. Not sure how he made any money.  Didn’t seem to care.”


Essie suggested they stop for a rest. She could feel Grandma’s labored breathing.


“What you stoppin for,” harped Grandma.


“Give me a second here….,” said Essie, setting her hand on Grandma’s shoulder for balance. “I got a little stone in my shoe’s all…. just give me a sec.”


Grandma didn’t lift her head… almost as if the effort was too much to muster. She scanned the grass and looked like she was memorizing the crack in the sidewalk.


She was drifting and Essie was noticing it more and more.


“Did Gene ever get you Grandma? Play a prank or two,” asked Essie. “Seems he had a good sense of humor.”


Grandma didn’t say anything. Essie wondered if she even heard her.


“Candy,” said Grandma. “He’d toss in candy in with the groceries. A surprise. Made you feel special.”



Jeff and Deb Slais from Over the Moon and Wisconsin House Woodworks had just left Sandy’s Barton Cafe and were walking up Main Street.


After some common Sunday salutations, Jeff mentioned if they had heard the news and the ladies nodded in unison.



“We have lost an important piece of Barton,” said Deb.  “You never could and never will be able to talk about Barton without mentioning Gene Otten and his little store.”


Jeff added, how many people were “touched by Gene in some way.”


“Whether it be a kind word, the warmth of his kind smile and positive attitude, his sincere caring for you as a person, or his empathy for you if you may be going through a hard time, no matter who you were,” he said.


“When you entered the store, he would greet you with, ‘how are doing today brother,’ and you always left feeling a little better than you did walking in.  He truly loved Barton and all its people.”


“There will never be another like him,” said Deb. “We owe it to him to keep that spirit alive.”


Brat Fry at West Bend Glass Block




There’s a Brat Fry coming up Saturday, June 18 at West Bend Glass Block, 1527 N. Main Street in Barton.


The event is hosted by the Historic Barton Business Association.  Stop on in and pick up a Barton bumper sticker while you’re at it.


And check out Hank’s ‘Straight Outta Barton’ t-shirt autographed by American Idol winner Taylor Hicks.


Build. Boost & Buy in Barton  – – Shop these local businesses

          Wisconsin House Woodworks

          Reflections by the River

          Albiero Plumbing

           Mies Products
           Lake Lenwood Beach and Campground
  1. Posted by Carol Ehrlich

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