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Family runs tree stand after dad’s death

CALEDONIA — Jeff Longo thinks of his father like the keystone of an archway, especially when it came to family businesses like their annual Christmas tree stand.

John Longo Sr., or “Poopa” as he was affectionately nicknamed, was in charge. He was the boss of the family’s businesses, and he kept his family close-knit.

John Longo Sr. died Sunday after battling pulmonary hypertension. The patriarch is survived by his wife, Shirley, four sons, siblings, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In passing, the 78-year-old left behind a web of businesses for his children to run, including a car wash, storage units and, of course, their Caledonia Christmas tree lot in the 4500 block of Douglas Avenue.

“He’s the biggest part of our world,” Jeff Longo, 52, said. “Up until practically the day he died (he) handled everything, was in charge of everything. Even the last two years where he was so sick, it didn’t matter.”

John Longo Sr.’s father opened the business to start earning money after he left the military in 1945. The business started at a house on Randolph Street, Jeff Longo said, and has changed locations a few times since, settling now on Douglas Avenue. Their trees are always from a Wisconsin farm, this year from Antigo.

The trade has passed from generation to generation, with John Longo Sr. taking over the business from his father and teaching his own four boys, John Jr., Troy, Jeff and Dean “Deano” Longo how to run the lot.

“Ever since I could walk, I’ve been around the Christmas trees every year,” Jeff Longo said. “When I was old enough to drag a tree, which probably was about 7 or 8 years old, they had me working.”

On Friday, the Longo boys faced a new challenge: With about 420 Christmas trees in tow, the brothers opened for sale for the first time without their father at the helm.

Although John Sr. wasn’t present, the brothers drove his van to the lot to keep him a part of the enterprise. The van, Jeff Longo said, is his father’s favorite color: blue.

The Longo family will honor John Sr. by wearing blue flannel shirts to his viewing on Monday. His funeral service is scheduled for Tuesday.

The brothers said they plan to continue operation at the Christmas tree farm and other family businesses.

“He left us a lot,” Jeff Longo said. “He said if his boys don’t take care of it, I’m going to haunt you … now it’s up to us to not screw it up and try and keep things going.”

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Sari Lesk covers the City of Racine, Gateway and UW-Parkside. She is new to the community and moonlights as an amateur baker.

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