Debra Usinger, director of retail operations and corporate services for Milwaukee-based Fred Usinger Inc., passed away Sunday at the age of 58, her brother and company president Fritz Usinger said.
Debra, a great-grandchild of the company's founder, ran the 130-year-old company with Fritz, until last month when she was diagnosed with cancer.
In 2011, BizTimes Milwaukee presented the Usinger family with the Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award. Fritz and Debra accepted the award.
"I view Fritz as the person who has one foot in the future, and I have one foot in the past," Debra Usinger said at that time. "It's a balance, that reminder of where we are and where we come from while protecting our great-grandfather's dream. There's something really special when I can go through the building and I can be in areas that I know that my great-grandfather bought, and my grandfather and my father worked."
Debra Usinger was very active in the community and will be missed by many philanthropic organizations in the city.
Beth Nicols, executive director of the Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District and a close friend of Debra Usinger, issued the following statement to friends of the Usinger family: "Dear Friends, Yesterday, Sunday July 1 at 6:45 am we lost our dear friend Ms. Debra L. Usinger. There is a private service being held. The family would like to thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers. They have asked me to let you know that a celebration of Debra's life will be planned in the very near future and that they would be honored if you can be there. More details will follow soon. I am so sorry - I know how heavy this makes your heart feel. I hope you can find some comfort in knowing how much Debra cared about you and our community. She will be sorely missed but never forgotten. Peace, Beth."
Contacted later, Fritz Usinger said, "She had a big personality at work and will truly be missed by everyone she worked with and the community at large."
Deb played a big role in keeping the Usinger elves legends alive, Fritz said.
"Debra was our family historian and archivist. She was very much a keeper of the flame of the Usinger elves and all of the stories that went with them," he said.
Debra was a passionate supporter of promoting downtown Milwaukee and was involved with several downtown organizations.
"One of her real loves was in promoting downtown," Fritz said. "She had a big heart and was always there for me."