Joseph Sherburne Elfner, known as Sherb to his family, was a
professor of landscape architecture at the University
of Wisconsin - Madison. According to my father, Eliot Elfner,
Sherb spent some time every spring redoing the yard of their home on Manitou Way
in Nakoma, a suburb of Madison. Here he is, in the spring of 1955,
preparing for a new season.
He married 'Dit', Zylpha Mary Wadsworth, in 1939. They initially
lived in South Bend, Indiana, where Sherb worked for the parks
department, but moved to Madison in the early 1940s. Here's a
picture from their wedding of an unidentified maid of honor, best man
Eliot Wadsworth, Sherb and Dit.
Sherb and Dit had two children, Eliot and Richard.
Uncle Rick died very young in 1974. Eliot has been a professor of
Business Administration at St. Norbert
College in De Pere, Wisconsin for over 35 years, and is the proud
grandfather of eight. It is pretty awesome that today my kids know
all four of their grandparents, whereas when I was a child, it was
pretty common to have only one or two.
Sherb served in the
army during World War II. My understanding is that he was an Army
officer serving on a transport ship that ferried allied soldiers to the
appropriate theaters and German prisoners back. The family story
is that since our name, Elfner, originates in
territory France and Germany have disputed for centuries, he was able to
connect with the French soldiers and the German prisoners who were
passengers on his ship. I asked my Dad to make a request to the
military archives for
Sherb's service record. Although his original documents were
destroyed in the 1973 file, they compiled this record showing that he
enlisted on October 5, 1942, accepted a commission as an officer on
April 29, 1943 and was honorably relieved from active duty as a First
Lieutenant after the war on November 19, 1945. This photo is from
May 1943, just after he accepted his commission as an officer.
While doing a search for 'Elfner' on
Amazon.com, I found some articles
written by Joe Elfner for the UW Extension. I got on UW's library
site and found out where they were housed. My library was able to
request them and I was able to get a copy of his
from 1949, an article from 1950 on
Landscaping your Grounds and a pamphlet from 1951 about
Unfortunately he passed away in 1957 when he was only 50, so I never
got to meet him. We Elfners owe him and Dit a debt of gratitude
for purchasing our cottage in 1954. They purchased the land in
1954 and brought a surplus trailer home from UW-Madison to the
land. In 1955, Sherb built the porch (which remains relatively
unchanged today.) He had the cottage built in 1956, which has been
changed quite a lot. It's a great place for
our family to get
together in the summer and a wonderful legacy he left for us.
In October 2012, on the way back from Florida, I searched the name
Elfner in google books and and found a reference to 'Joseph
S. Elfner - A Biographical Minute' in the journal, Landscape
Architecture from January 1958. It was written by his boss, George
William Longnecker. It is a nice memorial and provides us with
some details we didn't have before, such as his professional positions
and that he was a Transportation Commander in the European Theater in
World War II. Thanks to the fine people at UW's Steenbock Library
who were kind enough to send me a scan of this article.
October 2010 - Added a Letter Sherb wrote
to his niece Ellen in 1944. He told her to make sure her Mom
saved it. Evidently she did and Ellen or her parents got it back
to my folks. Very cool.
October 2012 - Added the
1958 article from Landscape Architecture.