Packers' three-month road trip led to Lambeau's first divorce

Marguerite Lambeau, Patricia Vandeveld like mother and daughter


*Patricia Vandeveld (left) and Marguerite Lambeau

  • Cliff Christl started gathering oral histories with former Packers and others associated with the team in 2000 and will continue to gather them as Packers historian. Excerpts from those interviews will be periodically posted at*

A lifelong Packers fan, Patricia Vandeveld worked closely with and was a good friend of Marguerite Lambeau, Curly Lambeau's first wife. They worked together at the H.C. Prange department store in Green Bay from 1940 until 1959. Curly and the former Marguerite Van Kessel were married in 1919, five days after the Packers were founded, and were divorced in May 1934. Before they married, Vandeveld, whose maiden name was Coughlin, and her late husband, Hub Vandeveld, also were good friends with Gene Ronzani, who succeeded Lambeau as the Packers' coach in 1950. Patricia Vandeveld was a native of Green Bay and a 1939 graduate of Green Bay West High School.

On her friendship with Marguerite Lambeau: "She was just a lovely person. I never heard her say anything really bad about anybody, even Curly. She even stuck up for him. She was very kind about him. She said it wasn't his fault; it just went to his head. He had too much publicity and everything. She could be kind of funny, too."

On whether Marguerite dated after the divorce: "She went with Leonard Reiss. He was an architect. She had gone with him in high school. In fact, she was dating him when Curly came back from Notre Dame. Then she started going with Curly again. She had gone with him in high school, too. Then they married and (Curly) didn't go back to college. I think there were three different fellas she went with at that time, when she was in high school. I think the other one was Lawrence Quigley, who became a doctor in Green Bay. She was evidently quite popular. She went with Leonard until the day he died (in 1957). They were at our wedding together. We came back from our wedding trip and we were listening to the radio the next morning, and they broke into the program – because he was well-known – and said he had passed away from a heart attack during the night."

On why Marguerite never remarried, despite living until 2001 and the age of 102: "Because she was Catholic. She wouldn't give up her religion. Leonard was (Catholic), too, but I think he really wanted to marry her. But she just wouldn't give up her religion."

On how her friendship with Marguerite developed: "Marguerite and I got to be very close friends because we always roomed together in New York when we were on buying trips. All her letters (to me) I still have. She said she wanted a daughter and got in the habit of calling me, 'Daughter.' Even in her letters she'd write to me, she'd write, 'Dear Daughter.' We were really close, close friends."

On their working relationship: "She was the buyer for infants and 3-to-6. I started the teen department as a buyer, and then I was buying for sportswear: better blouses and sweaters. (Marguerite) stayed there until retirement, and she started shortly after she and Curly were divorced. Her son was 14 when they divorced. She stayed (at Prange's) until she was 65. She had worked at one of the dress shops after she and Curly were married, I think, and then she came to Prange's."

On whether Marguerite ever talked about why Curly dropped out of Notre Dame after one semester: "I think he dropped out of school because they decided to get married. But I don't think he was doing real well at school."

On whether Marguerite ever talked about Curly suffering from tonsillitis at that time: "I don't recall hearing that."

On whether she knew that Lee Remmel, former Packers historian, once said Curly was "a congenital liar":"I don't remember Marguerite talking about Curly's lying."

On whether she ever met Curly: "I only met him once. It was at Prange's. Her son was in the Second World War in the Pacific, and he had cholera. He was very, very ill. They got word about it, and I think that's when him and Marguerite got friendly again. It was one morning before the store opened, and I walked over to Marguerite's department to see if she had heard how (her son) Don was doing, and Curly walked in to see her. He wanted to see if she had heard anything more, too. I met him at that time, but that was the only time I ever met him."

(Note: Don Lambeau was born in 1920 and was Curly and Marguerite's only child. He served in the Army during World War II and was hospitalized in New Guinea in 1944 with typhus, an infectious disease that was historically a cause of high mortality during wars. Don Lambeau died in 1984.)

On whether Marguerite and Curly had much contact after their divorce: "At that time, they did. For a long time, they didn't. (But) after that they did when Don was so bad."

Did Marguerite talk much about Curly's womanizing?"Oh yes, a lot. She said it really wasn't his fault. Women used to call him all the time. She said she'd answer the telephone, and somebody would hang up. She knew who it probably was, and she listened in a few times. She was amazed at how the women would call him and ask to meet for a drink or something. Even people she knew real well."

On whether Marguerite talked much about Curly's other two marriages, both of which ended in divorce: "She didn't have much to say about that. No. The one thing with the second wife: Do you know how it happened? How he met the gal he divorced Marguerite for? They were going over to Hawaii. This gal was a starlet. Two of the players got in a fight over her, and Curly stepped in to break up the fight and walked off with the girl. He came home from that and asked Marguerite for a divorce. She was shocked. They had been married about 15 years."

(Note: On Nov. 10, 1932, the Packers left on a 32-day road trip where they played six games: one in Boston, three in New York and then one in Portsmouth, Ohio, and another in Chicago on the return trip. The Packers were home for less than 48 hours before leaving on a barnstorming tour, where they played exhibition games in Hawaii and on the West Coast and were gone again for nearly two months. Lambeau met his second wife on the ship to Hawaii. She was a 26-year old actress – he was 37 – and a former Miss California.)

So Curly's was quite a ladies' man? "Very much so. He had a lot of charm, I guess."

On whether Marguerite ever complained about Curly treating her badly while they were married: "No, I don't think he did. One thing he did that was strange, she said she never had a cent to spend. She said she could charge anything she wanted, but she didn't have any money to spend. She was good at cooking, baking in particular. So she started baking cakes for her friends and selling them, so she'd have some money to spend."

On their divorce: "You know (Curly's) father built the house they lived in? His father was a builder, Marcel Lambeau. He built the home for Marguerite and Curly, so when they were divorced, Curly wanted the house. But the judge gave it to Marguerite."

(Note: Curly and Marguerite were living at 330 Miramar Drive when they were divorced.)

On whether Marguerite talked about Curly's relationship with his son, Don: "At first, Don thought his father was wonderful. But Marguerite said Curly never took time to go out and toss the football around with him or anything. He just expected Don to be a good football player. Of course, (Marguerite) never said anything against Curly. She got the divorce. And he (Don) tried to hold it against his mother for a while until he found out what his father was really like. But (Don) still thought the world of his father. I remember during the third divorce, the last woman (Curly) was married to. He called Don. (Curly) had a brand new Cadillac and asked him to come and get the Cadillac, so she wouldn't claim it. Marguerite said Don picked it up right away from his father. (Curly) was fairly close to Don in those later years."

On whether Prange's was a big hangout for Packers players back then: "Jerry Atkinson, who was the head of Prange's, was on the board of the Packers. The players were in there all the time. They'd be in there to eat and up in the Pine Room having coffee. So we saw a lot of the players. They'd shop there. I got to know them as customers. The wives did, too. Cherry Starr even modeled for me at Prange's."

On Gene Ronzani, Packers head coach from 1950-53: "Gene Ronzani lived at the Beaumont (Hotel), all the time he was in Green Bay."

On Ronzani's personality: "Very outgoing. A very friendly person."

On author Larry Names' contention in his fourth edition of his books about Packers history that Ronzani, who was single at the time, was the subject of rumors in Green Bay about his sexuality:"Oh, no. No question about that. Gene definitely wasn't (gay). One reason he divorced his first wife was because she wouldn't have a family. He wanted a family. It was a very short marriage. Gene met Mary (last name withheld) soon after he came to Green Bay in 1950, and he went out with her during almost his entire stay in Green Bay. I don't know just how they met. She was working at Nau's at the time. I met her because we were both helping out with the teenagers at the Y. I met Mary, and she wasn't happy at Nau's. She was kind of looking for another job. I got her the job at Prange's because I liked her. We got to be friends right away. She came over to Prange's, and she was going with Gene at that time."

On the fate of the relationship: "She married someone else. I got a letter from Gene when she got married. He was just heartbroken. That was after he left the Packers, and he was living in Milwaukee. Gene was divorced, of course. Mary was another one who was Catholic and so was Gene. So she wouldn't marry him unless he got his divorce straightened out. I guess he had grounds for it because in the letter I have from him he said he should have gotten going and straightened out with the church and married Mary. She was a Powers model after she left Green Bay and went to New York."

So Ronzani was very smitten over her? "Oh yes. Very much so."

On whether she had fond memories of the times she and her husband went out socially with Ronzani and his date: "Oh, yes. He was very likeable. We went out with him quite a bit. Saw a lot of him. We'd go out to dinner or meet them at the Beaumont. I remember being up in Door County with them to golf and going over to the C&C in Fish Creek. (Ronzani) knew the owner of the C&C Club. He (Dick Weisgerber) was a former Packer player. We'd go to the Riviera Supper Club in Green Bay. Or they'd come over to our house, too."

On Ronzani's failures as a coach: "One problem was the board. I know they were pesty with him. It was such a big board, and they'd all call him with ideas about what he should do, how he should coach. I don't think Gene was like Lombardi. He wasn't the kind to tell them to back off or anything. I think he listened to them and probably did some of the things they said. I don't know if he would have been a good coach anyway, but I don't think he ever had a chance."

On whether Ronzani ever complained about any specific interference: "I remember there was a player from Iron Mountain, so Gene had known him. Gene used to stay up at night and watch for the players. This player stayed out all night drinking, and Gene didn't play him and the board was all over him about how if he played this player they might have won. Gene said the player just wasn't in any condition to play, and he was drunk when he came in. It was a home game."

On whether Ronzani took it hard when he was fired: "He did to an extent, but I think he was relieved, too, because they were just badgering him so much. He couldn't go any place without people interrupting him, too. But I think it was the board that drove him crazy."

On the Packers' presence in Green Bay back then: "They were all over downtown. Any place we'd go, we'd see Packer players. The one place they went to a lot was Manci's. It had been Becker's. It was in that district (Little Chicago) where there were all the taverns. (Manci) was a good friend of Gene Ronzani. In fact, I'm pretty sure Gene owned part of it because they were both from Iron Mountain."

On any other good Packers stories: "One of the salesmen I dealt with at Prange's, Bob Ferguson, was in town once and he had been a roommate of Doak Walker. The Lions were playing in Green Bay the next day and Ferguson threw an early cocktail party at the Beaumont that included Bobby Layne, Walker and other Lions. Then we all went out to Denmark to Irv Leiterman's. We were sitting at the bar and the bartender was feeding Ferguson double Scotches that were being bought by the customers. They thought Ferguson, who was from Texas, was Bobby Layne and they were trying to get him drunk. But Layne wasn't in the bar."

On going to games at old City Stadium: "The stadium would rock when everybody was pounding their feet, and you'd almost think it was going to cave in."

On the Ice Bowl: "I got this from Jerry Atkinson. They were having a terrible time before the game because the lens of the cameras wouldn't come out. Jerry Atkinson went and opened up Prange's and got electric blankets and brought them back and wrapped them around the cameras. That's how they were able to televise the game."

Vandeveld died in 2012 at age 92. The above interview was conducted in 2011.

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