Jim and Jack Briegel
Remembering an earlier Ann Arbor
by Jan Schlain
From the August, 2020 issue
When Jack Briegel was a young boy, he'd watch for his father walking home from work. They lived on Rose Ave., near Michigan Stadium, and Ernest Briegel worked at the U-M laundry, near today's Power Center.
"He always wore white pants and a white shirt," recalls Jack, eighty-four. After work he'd stop at Frey's Cafe on Washington for a beer, then walk back down State St. "When I'd see this guy all dressed in white, I knew it was him," Jack says. "Then I'd go down and meet him."
Jack was the fourth of Ernest and Louise's six children. His big brother, Jim, is ten years older. The house on Rose was a converted garage with no hot water, but as Jack describes it, it was a wonderful place to grow up, especially for two brothers who loved sports.
"Golf was first with him," Jack says of Jim. "Baseball was first with me ... We left the house in the morning, and we always had our baseball gloves with us" to join the game at the park down the street.
Jim had been caddying at the U-M Golf Course since he was thirteen. "That was a way to make a buck back in those days as a kid," he says. The caddies "had what you call a 'pitch and putt' course built from one side of [Allen Creek] to the other, and we would play there in the shade of the trees, and sometimes gamble for nickels."
But Jim doesn't share Jack's fond memories of their father. During the Depression, Ernest Briegel was often out of work and the family was on welfare. And "he was an alcoholic," Jim says. "My sister tells stories [about] how he used to beat me."
Jim moved out of the house right after he graduated from Ann Arbor High, and married his high school sweetheart, Geraldine, just before his nineteenth birthday. It was only after he started his own family that
he saw a softer side of his father.
"My firstborn son became very ill, and the hospital wouldn't take him unless I made a $60 deposit," Jim recalls. "I didn't have 60 dollars. I walked from the University Hospital to my parents' house, then on Summit St., and told my dad I needed $60. He gave me the $60, and I got my son in.
"He was a working man," Jim says. "He did the best he could to take care of our family. I don't say I ever loved my dad, but I have a lot of respect for him."
Jack says the younger kids had it easier. Their mom was the foundation of the family. And he looked up to his big brother.
"Jim's always been my hero," he says.
"Well, he's always tooted my horn, I know that," says Jim.
"We grew up with a very strong work ethic," says Jack. "We shoveled snow. We mowed lawns. We did anything we could" to earn money.
On football Saturdays, "we used to park cars in our yard. Our dad wouldn't let us leave until the last spot was filled ... then we'd head for the stadium." He says the "ticket takers were always good about letting kids in, unless it was a sold-out game, and then you climbed the fence."
At an early age, Jack started picking up ticket stubs dropped by fans. He now has them from every home football game since 1927, and all but five away games (see "The Missing Ticket," September 2011). "I also have seventy-one tickets that are older than 1927."
Jim won his first golf trophy at the Ann Arbor junior championship in 1944. Fifty years later he won the Ann Arbor senior men's championship. In between, he won the men's championship four times. Jack calls him "arguably the best golfer to come out of Ann Arbor."
But they played sports for love, not livelihood. After high school, Jim worked at book manufacturer Edwards Brothers for eight years. "Then I went to Braun-Brumfield, which is now Sheridan Books, and I worked there for the next forty years."
"When I was in high school, I worked at Naylor Motor Sales as a janitor after school, cleaning the showroom," Jack recalls. When Braun-Brumfield needed extra hands, Jim came by and pounded on the dealership's door. "He asked, 'How would you like to make a dollar an hour?'" Jack says. "At that point I was making 68 cents an hour ... I ended up switching jobs." He stayed until 1975, when he and four partners started McNaughton & Gunn in Saline; he retired in 2001 as vice president of manufacturing.
Jim retired from Sheridan in 1992, a month before his sixty-seventh birthday. Three years later, he went back to work part-time at the U-M golf course.
"I like teaching golf," he says. "I like to see people improve."
Along with all the fun, and brotherly love, came loss and tragedy, especially for Jim. In the last decade he lost Gerry and two of their five children, David and Wendy. Both died of glioblastoma, a brain cancer.
"Dutch is still going strong," Jim says. "He's a retired carpenter. Kathie is the only daughter who never married. I live with her today. Laurie's the baby. She worries more about me than Kathie does."
Jack and Jeannette, his wife of sixty-three years, have two grown children, Judy, who works for the university in child care, and Jeffrey, who works for McNaughton & Gunn. Jack's still expanding his collection of football tickets, and wonders what will become of this year's already-truncated season.
At ninety-four, Jim still shoots below eighty in golf "quite frequently."
"His golf swing is beautiful," says Billy Green, who's played with him often since Gerry died. "And when he putts his ball into the hole, he bends down to pick it up like a fifty-year-old."
The two men recently had a "heart-to-heart," Green says, over a post-golf dinner and bottle of wine.
"We were talking about mortality," Green says. "We both had tears in our eyes.
"I told Jim that everyone says that I'm setting myself up for a fall, for heartbreak, because you're ninety-four, and you're not going to be here for much longer," says Green, who's sixty-two.
"'I'll outlive you,' was his reply."
"Fun is my thing today," says Jim. "I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
[Originally published in August, 2020.]
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