Michael Zeidler

Michael Zeidler is not your average 64-year-old. He starts everyday at 5 a.m. with a 6 mile run and finishes by a quarter of (that’s a 7.5 minute per mile pace). This fact alone puts Michael far above the norm for a sexagenarian. Might as well mention that he’s won Gold at the Badger State Games 8 times and took 5th in a National competition in Illinois recently. But be careful using a word like “average” around Micheal. For this math-aholic, averages are not as interesting as the detail and richness of the data from which the mean is derived. His enjoyment of mathematical detail is similar to his appreciation of Riverwest’s rich history. Michael keeps a log on his laptop of how long it takes him to run his usual route each morning. Not just the total time – but also the time at several different points along the run. Why would someone want to keep track of this minutia? Well, maybe it will all make sense when we are done getting to know Michael. “There is math in everything,” says Zeidler. Here are just a few data logs and charts he pulls out as we are talking about various things, as he demonstrates how math is in everything and how he uses math to enjoy the detail in his life: the change in value of his Pierce Street home (an average yearly increase of 17% since he bought it in 1991 for $11,000), how much money he and his wife spend on various things, the calculus of a runner’s energy consumption, how to build a computer (he built one in 1975), and the math involved in building a garage. We’ll get to the garage in a minute. Son of the last Socialist Mayor in Milwaukee, Frank Zeidler, Michael grew up on 2nd and Locust Street. His neighborhood consisted of families who worked for the Schlitz Brewery or other local businesses. The Brewery employed street sweepers and cleaners to help keep the surrounding neighborhood clean and tidy. Back during Michael’s formative years in the 1940’s and 50’s, German and Polish residents dominated the neighborhood. “Everything was very clean and orderly then,” says Zeidler. The neighborhood, he says, declined when the Schlitz brewery and other major employers went out of business or to a different city. It frustrates Michael that our history is getting lost over time as the fabric that makes up the neighborhood’s quilt is getting sewn over and forgotten. It’s not that Michael dwells in the past. In fact, he very much lives in the present and thinks toward the future, working on ways to improve his neighborhood now and for his grandchildren. Michael says that when he moved into his house, there was rampant gang and criminal activity in the neighborhood. “The quality of residents in Riverwest has really improved since I moved back here from the East Side in 1991,” says Zeidler. “People are more educated, we have more university students, and people are restoring these beautiful old homes. The neighborhood will keep improving, but we need to have more useful stores instead of bars.” Now to the garage… or should we say a storage facility for the next vehicle of the century. Michael wanted to learn how to build something, so he decided to build a garage. Not just your ordinary garage. One that would last at least 100 years, survive a tornado, and serve a function beyond the car-dominated transportation we have today. During the summers of 1993-97, he designed and built – by himself – a garage like no other in Riverwest – or Milwaukee – or perhaps Wisconsin. The roof has a domed shape, and the walls bow out, a bit like the hull of a boat. “I wanted to make something that would live past the death of the car, because automobiles will not be around forever,” said Zeidler. So the design eliminated pillars in what would otherwise be a 2 car garage for some future, non-fossil fuel-powered vehicle. Michael dug up and saved 12”-18” of topsoil “that took over 10,000 years to develop after the glacier retreated from this spot,” says Zeidler. He dug a 4-foot deep foundation for each footing, and mixed and poured over a thousand 80-pound bags of concrete for the hand-cast footings. The arched roof is supported by a series of interlocking triangles joined together that also add to the feeling of being inside the hull of a boat. Sounds like a lot of work to learn how to build a structure this way. But Michael enjoyed the learning process, and is very proud of his accomplishment. It also adds value to Riverwest as a forward-thinking enclave of progressive residents. Neighborhood safety is another interest of Michael’s, and he is not one to shy away from being a vigilant neighbor. Now that Michael has retired from teaching math for Milwaukee Public Schools, he has time to monitor the police activity with his scanning radio. “Once, I caught a burglar hiding on my front porch! I heard that a suspect had just robbed someone at the corner of Pierce and Center. I looked out my front door, and there was someone hiding right there on the porch, so I called the police and the thief was caught within minutes.” Michael still has a lot of care and respect for his neighborhood, and we’ll probably see him running at 5 a.m. down to the Lake for quite some time. Or perhaps building dodecahedrons out of wood. Or some other project that allows him to do some math… which as we know now, is in everything.