Wit and wisdom by the water

With headquarters at the Port Washington lakefront, the Sunshine Gang doesn’t rob banks, but gives valuable stuff—local knowledge and free advice— to visitors while solving the world’s problems.
Ozaukee Press staff

The Sunshine Gang may sound like a bank-robbing enterprise, but it’s really a distinctive Port Washington version of a coffee klatch.

This coffee klatch, sans coffee but with plenty of conversation and laughs, occupies a bench along the harbor walk near the entrance to Rotary Park from around 9:30 to 11 each morning, dispensing decades’ worth of local knowledge to visitors.

It’s information “with a smile,” group leader Randy Kasten said. “It’s a friendly sort of gang.”

Members are all Port residents, but each  brings a different background to the bench.

Greg Ross was a meat manager. Bruno Primas operated a laser machine at Simplicity for 36 years. Jim Noll was part owner of Jackson Concrete. Charlie Liefert worked for the City of Milwaukee. Pat Corrigan was a welder and works part time for the City of Port. Kasten worked on a dairy farm, as a custodian at Marquette University and as a landscaper. He also used to work for Corrigan.

Primas joked that Corrigan worked and Kasten “just put his time in.”

Good-natured ribbing is one of the gang’s commonalities.

The group began informally three years ago. Kasten liked to spend time relaxing near the north slip of the marina and eventually Noll joined him. Word spread to friends of friends, and now they’ve got a group.

Some members had seen others around the city but didn’t know each other well. They joked they didn’t meet at church but at a “local watering hole.”

The Sunshine Gang got its name from a 1979 comedy “Going in Style” starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, who play three bored senior citizens who meet in a park and decide to rob a bank.

The real-life Sunshine Gang, Kasten confirmed, has no plans for the nearby Port Washington State Bank.

This group’s mission is to be unofficial tour guides for the area.

Visitors they have encountered hail from Texas, Virginia, Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan and even Russia and China.

“The people we meet are good people. They tell us stories about where they’re from,” Kasten said.

Tourists often come from the charter boats the group watches as they go in and out of the harbor. Members know many of the charter captains.

One of their first questions of visitors passing by usually is, “Are you from around here?” Kasten said.

The group directs people to Bernie’s Fine Meats and Ewig Bros. Fish Co. in addition to restaurants. The most common inquiry, Kasten said, is for good places to eat.

Someone has an answer for whatever question the group fields.

“If somebody wants to know where something is, one of these guys will know,” Kasten said.

If they don’t know, Noll said, they’ll throw out “a little white lie.”

Liefert can discuss recreation. He has played golf at Whistling Straits in Haven, the site of three PGA Championships and next year’s postponed Ryder Cup.

“Expensive,” he said of the experience. “If you shoot 100, I figure that’s $5 a stroke.”

The group encounters at least 30 people per day, more on Fridays.

Some people head to the nearby restrooms that have signs saying masks are required.

“We ain’t gonna turn you in if you ain’t got one,” Primas said.

The group also pays attention to those who don’t stop to chat, such as attractive female joggers.

“You should see all the heads turn,” Kasten said.

Not everyone who walks past is a stranger. One girl last Friday said, “Hi grandpa—see you at my house later,” to Noll as the group laughed.

Many people come by walking their dogs, but they don’t get past Corrigan.

“Every dog that comes by, he’s got to pet it,” Kasten said.

There are encounters with other animals too.

Last summer, a cormorant got stuck in the rocks. The group told someone who works for the city who tried to free it with help from Primas. The bird survived the experience and was taken to a refuge.

Last Friday, a mink hopped around the pier and dove into the water. A worried passerby asked if it was OK, and the group told her it was diving for fish.

Kasten said Noll has noticed Canadian geese flying overhead.

“Don’t even talk about that,” he said. “They’re bombardiers.”

In between chatting with passersby, “we talk politics, sports, whatever’s going on for the day,” Kasten said.

“Some people say it’s a meeting of the minds. We correct them and say it’s a meeting of the mindless.”

The Sunshine Gang caters to more than just visitors and regulars, however. If a member is missing a couple of days in a row, another will call to check on him.

“You haven’t called me yet, Randy,” Ross said.

“I don’t have your number,” Kasten said.

“That’s right,” Ross said.

“We’ve all become friends,” Kasten said. “We pick on each other, laugh with each other and we’re concerned about each other.”

He added, “I shouldn’t say this, but they’re my friends.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Liefert said.

The gang welcomes others to join.

“We have open enrollment,” Kasten said. “We don’t have a password, do we?”

“It’s $25—you pay here,” Primas said as he put out an open hand.



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login