Can, iron, clean

Energetic and effervescent at age 80, Marge Rausch, farmers market vendor and canner extraordinaire, thrives on hard work and spirited conversation
Ozaukee Press staff


“Three things I like to do,” Marge Rausch said. “Can, iron, clean.”

The 80-year-old Port Washington resident does much more than that, and she will tell you all about it.

“I’ve got diarrhea of the mouth,” Rausch joked.

The former waitress and home-care worker still cleans for a few people at Berkshire Communities in Grafton, used to make and sell jewelry, is hooked on diamond art, sews masks, makes bread and garden art and is mulling a part-time job offer, all while being annoyed by robo calls.

“Ach, there’s another one. Arizona. This is what I do to them,” she said as she touches “decline” on her cell phone.

“I am not going to sit around. I’ve got to keep busy,” Rausch said.

Her current passion is canning, and not just a few items during normal business hours. Ten different jellies — kiwi and mango raspberry are new this year — along with five different pickles, corn relish, Brussels sprouts, marinara sauce, tomato juice, mushrooms and salsa — medium and hot. She uses the ends of pickles for pickle relish “so nothing is going to waste,” she said.

One day last week, Rausch started early. She went to bed around 10 p.m. but had trouble sleeping.

“I have been doing this since 2 o’clock this morning,” she said. “It seems my adrenaline is in me.”

The living room floor of Rausch’s apartment was full of canned goods organized by product, stacked and ready to be taken to her and her sister’s car.

Ruth Thomas, 77, of Plymouth comes down a few times each week to help can and transport the fruits of their labor to the farmers market in Port.

The sisters’ banter is as charming as the smells emanating from Rausch’s small kitchen.

“When you’re a waitress, you have to be outgoing,” Rausch said.

“You can’t shut her up sometimes,” Thomas said.

Rausch picked up some of her talkative nature waitressing for 17 years at Buchel’s Colonial House — “You used to have to wear a suit to get in there,” she said — and then four years at Nisleit’s Country Inn and one at Newport Shores.

Her work transporting food continues when she cans. When Rausch and Thomas are ready on Saturday mornings, they back their cars up to the back door of the apartment building and load up. “We’re tired when we get done,” Rausch said.

“We’re hard workers,” Thomas said.

They learned their work ethic growing up in the Town of Fredonia, where they used to drive a tractor and do a lost of other chores.

“When you’re on a farm, you know what hard work is,” Rausch said.

Rausch’s mother taught her how to can after learning from her mother by the time she was a teenager. At 13, Rausch’s mother witnessed her mother ­­— Rausch’s grandmother — burn to death when a gas stove backfired after she lit it with a match.

After that, Rausch’s mother did all the cooking for her two brothers and father.

Rausch picked up some tips on her own, such as how to handle the strong smell of the brine for the hot pickles.

“You’re choking,” she said. “I put a cover on it now.”

Most of Rausch’s canning recipes come from a Ball Blue Book, and some from the internet. She proudly displayed the sheet for her marinara sauce that is slightly tattered with remnants of spills.

“Can you tell that recipe gets used?” she asked.

Rausch got into canning after making jewelry for 11 years.

“I think everybody and his uncle is doing that (jewelry), so I did this,” she said.

She gets most of her produce from Witte’s Vegetable Farm in Cedarburg. Mushrooms come from a farm in Eden.

“Everything I have to buy and I still come out ahead,” she said.

Produce hasn’t been the issue the past two years. It’s the equipment.

“You can’t get rings and lids, so you’ve got to buy the jars,” she said.

For people who bring her rings back, Rausch offers $1 off their next jar purchase.

Rausch has sold canned goods at Buechler Farms in Belgium, Luxembourg Fest and craft fairs across the area. This is her first year at the Port farmers market.

“In Port, I’m doing wonderful. Every week it goes up,” she said, adding sales have risen from $600 to more than $1,000 in three weeks.

Rausch has a secret to her sales: free samples.

“You put this stuff out to taste and it sells itself,” she said.

She offers grocery bags as well. Several people donate their unused ones to place on her bag holder, which is made of metal and similar to the ones in stores.

“You’ve gotta double bag the cans,” Rausch said.

She has a solution to that for next year. She will sew her own bags to sell.

“I’ve got denim material. It’s strong,” she said, adding she has two sewing machines, one that cost more than $10,000 and “does everything” on which she used to make her own blazers and sew designs on clothes for her 10 grandchildren.

Rausch is doing it all with one kidney. She had the other removed 51 years ago after having her fourth child.

“People say ‘Marge, you’re 80. How do you do it?’” she said.

“The older you get, the less sleep you need,” she said. “I’ve always had energy.”

Her children ask her to slow down.

“My oldest son last night said, ‘Please mom, don’t overdo it,’” she said.

Rausch is holding off on that for now.      

“I’m just going to keep doing it and next year I’ll do it again, God willing, if he’s going to let me live,” she said.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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