Sunday, June 1, 2008


Old traditions often die hard. Whenever any of our children come home to visit in the summertime, we know that sooner or later someone will suggest that we go to Prairie du Chien to get some "Pete's hamburgers." When the kids were still small, our favorite kind of a summer weekend picnic was to take a cooler with some cold soda from home, then stop at Pete's outdoor stand for some of his famous hamburgers, and head for a picnic table down near the river, at Lawler Park, where we could enjoy the playground equipment and spend a pleasant hour or two.

The sign on Pete's stand says "Since 1909." I remember the tiny establishment from the late thirties. I've been told that Pete Gokey first came to Prairie du Chien with a church decorating crew, and decided to stay around. He soon became widely known throughout the area as a builder and painter of signs. Most or all of his signs with their beautiful brush work are gone now, but his part-time project, the hamburger stand, still remains and serves burgers, not only to the locals, but to tourists from all over the country.

Pete's first small, portable stand on Blackhawk Avenue (Prairie's main drag) has been replaced by a new and slightly larger, more substantial one. But the tasty product and the methods of producing it are still the same. A large, oblong stainless steel pan containing about an inch of water is heated by gas burners. Sixty-five large round balls of hamburger are put into the pan and flattened out in the bouncing, bubbling liquid. A large mound of sliced onion occupies the middle of the pan. Hungry people gather and wait in two lines. If any aren't lucky enough to be served from the current batch, the hardworking crew will have another panfull ready in twelve minutes.

Pete Gokey died in 1971, but his tradition lives on. His summer weekend hamburger business is now operated by his grandchildren. Every year on Memorial Day weekend all of the proceeds from the stand's sales are given to the American Cancer Society and the Prairie du Chien Rescue Squad, in memory of one of Pete's sons, the late Robert F. Gokey.


Our old family traditions
Are well-used, almost outgrown,
As our children and grandchildren
Start traditions of their own.

Holidays have become simple,
We just load our car and go
To the homes of sons and daughters
Where we'll be welcome, we know,

To join in the celebration
Of the things we still hold dear,
New versions of old traditions
That will live year after year.

We talk about good old days when
We all played ball on the lawn,
How the family has grown, and
Things have changed as time moved on,

How deer hunting and Thanksgiving
Brought a jolly group around.
Yarns of big bucks "almost got," and
Other tall tales still abound.

Christmas was our favorite day when
The grandchildren were still small,
With all Gloria's great cooking,
Gifts and candy, tree, and all.

Easter Sunday was a special
Time as we welcomed the Spring.
And an early morning egg hunt
Can, to small kids, much joy bring.

Fourth of July (and Pam’s birthday)
Brought fireworks when it got dark,
But first we’d get “Pete’s hamburgers”
To eat down at Lawler Park.