by Eddie Morales from https://www.jsonline.com
The owner of Cedarburg’s Wayne’s Drive-In and a Harley Davidson dealer in Thiensville is remembered as the community’s unsung hero.
When Wayne Houpt achieved his goal of becoming a business owner with Wayne’s Auto Body in 1962, it was just the beginning of the many accolades he would earn and lives that he would touch.
Houpt, born Oct. 1, 1938, was a family man and owner of several North Shore businesses for nearly 60 years. He died March 28 due to heart failure.
The Famous Wheeler Dealer
Houpt met his wife and business partner, Joan, during their senior year in high school. The pair were together for 59 years.
He started his entrepreneurial career with Wayne’s Auto Body in Saukville. Houpt expanded the business with a used car lot and moved the shop to Grafton, where he opened Suburban Motors of Grafton Inc.
In 1975, Houpt added Harley-Davidson motorcycles to his inventory and in 1985, he moved Suburban Motors to its current location, 139 N. Main St., Thiensville.
That’s when Houpt earned the moniker “The Famous Wheeler Dealer.” He was known for accepting trades like cows, dental service and boats from customers who were a bit short on cash.
Houpt’s daughter, Sandy Rath, said she remembers her father taking the family to various burger restaurants when she was a kid.
Rath would later realize Houpt was taste testing the food in anticipation of opening his own restaurant one day.
Houpt opened Wayne’s Drive-In in 1998, at 1331 Covered Bridge Road, Cedarburg.
Rath said when the drive-in first opened, Houpt would eat there all the time.
“He would go to Wayne’s the minute it opened,” she said. “He was like a kid in a candy shop. He loved that drive-in. He loved going there, and he would sit there like all the other customers and get himself something to eat.”
Remembered by his family
Rath said her father’s passion for life was in making sure other people were having fun.
On Sundays, Houpt and his wife would take their kids to places like Sunburst Winter Sports Park or a roller skating rink to experience things that he didn’t do as a child.
“He was so in touch with us and what we did,” said Rath.
She said that even when she was taking care of Houpt at home after his final hospital stay, he would muster up the energy to ask how everyone was doing.
His big heart extended beyond his family. Rath said her “humble” father would help others in secret.
Houpt’s wife said he didn’t want recognition for helping his employees buy their first home or for helping pay their medical bills.
“I remember one of our employees, their house burned down, and we took them in for a couple of nights,” Joan Houpt said. “He was just a giving person. He did a lot of things, and most of the things he did anonymously.”
Rath said her father would always root for the underdog.
“He had this sixth sense of seeing the good in people that others might not necessarily see,” said Rath.
Honored by the community
In the ’90s, Houpt supplied chalkboards and books to inmates for the Ozaukee County Jail Literacy Program.
Rath said he was very involved in the Special Olympics, and he earned a Friends of 4-H award in 2002.
Houpt’s community involvement was recognized by in 2004 when he was named Ozaukee County’s Exemplary Citizen for his efforts in ensuring that local organizations and businesses would profit from events related to Harley-Davidson’s 100th anniversary.
In 2019, the FBI Milwaukee Citizens Academy Alumni Association presented Houpt with an Unsung Heroes Award, in honor of his dedication to the community.
Houpt is survived by his wife; four children, Sandy, Mary, Joe and Nancy; and 13 grandchildren.
Visitation is scheduled for 3 to 8 p.m. April 5 at the Eernisse Funeral Home, 1600 W. Grand Ave., Port Washington. A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 6 at Our Lady of the Lakes St. Mary Chapel, 300 Butler St., Random Lake.
Wayne’s Drive-In will postpone its opening day for the season to celebrate Houpt’s life with his family. The Drive-In will open at 11 a.m. April 6.