History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - People - Bios

 
Richard Allen Kowal

Born:
Died:

October 4, 1929
April 28, 2020
Primary Involvements:

Bar owner (Ballgame)
other

 

 

 

 
       
 

Richard Allen Kowal is best known by members of the LGBT community in Milwaukee as the owner of the 'Ballgame' bar for over 30 years.

Local LGBT historian Michail Takach had the following comment on owner Rick Kowal's death in 2020: "Ball Game still holds the second-place record (38 years!) for the longest running gay bar at the same address. Rick’s decades of contributions to the community cannot be overstated. During my decade in the neighborhood, he was kind enough to let us host parties free of charge, as long as we tipped the bartenders well. So many people, passed and present, have so much gratitude for this man, this space and the memories he created." He recalls that Rick was so upset over the circumstances of the bar's closing that he declined several requests to interview him about the bar and his experiences. This is an unfortunate loss to attempts to document our history.

Richard's obituary reads as follows:

    Milwaukee - Born to Eternal Life on April 28, 2020 at the age of 90. He was a very close longtime friend and companion of Dan Bartelt. Good friend of Bob Bartelt and Lynn Vogt. Richard is preceded in death by his parents Alois and Nettie Kowalewski. He will be loved, remembered, and missed by all who knew him.

    Richard proudly served in the United States Army. He owned and operated the Ball Game Tavern.

    Due to the Covid-19 virus Richard will be laid to rest privately at St. Adalbert Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials appreciated to St. Anne's Salvatorian Campus.

    A special thank you goes out to all the tremendously capable and wonderfully caring warm hearted employees of St. Anne's. Richard was appreciative of the staff and the many loving residents for their friendship and care.

Recollections: The following are recollections of others who have been kind enough to submit their personal memories to the webmaster. You are welcome to do the same!

    (At hearing of Rick's retirement, Aug. 2012:) "So sorry to hear this, but hoping Rick has a wonderful retirement. God knows he deserves it. (The Ballgame) was the first gay bar I was ever in. I think the year was either 1974 or 1975, had the pleasure of knowing Gene O'Brien, met my first love there, Dr. Bob Richter who has since passed on. Bob and I would meet at the Ball Game most every night after work, and enjoy Kenny Wenzel the bartender, aka Keniesha! Rick and his mom Nettie came out to my bar and restaurant in East Troy often to visit me and my Dad. Hard to wrap my head around that such a long running great place will be coming to an end. I used to drive into town and cash checks at the Ball Game just so Rick knew I was in Milwaukee and had not forgotten him! Tuesday will be a big one. Heartbreaking as well. Love you Rick Kowal!"
                                    - Gregg Fitzpatrick (Aug. 2012)

Recollections: In the days after his death, numerous people came forward with recollections and tirbutes to Richard. Some of these are as follows:

    "This makes me so, so, so sad. Ball Game still holds the second-place record (38 years!) for the longest running gay bar at the same address. Rick's decades of contributions to the community cannot be overstated. During my decade in the neighborhood, he was kind enough to let us host parties free of charge, as long as we tipped the bartenders well. So many people, passed and present, have so much gratitude for this man, this space and the memories he created.
     
    And now, he has left and taken his story with him."
                                    - Michail Takach (2020)

    "When I was 23yo, I helped open the first Applebees is Wisconsin at Southridge. Rick would always bring in his mother and they would always request me. They were awesome and tipped me very well. I did AIDS fundraising shows there. He was a great guy!!! I got to meet him through playing softball many years ago. As a young gay man, they would tell me the Ballgame was a "wrinkle room", where older men hung out. I didn't care, because it was a fun place to go. I meet some great people there and from their softball team!!"
                                    - 'Packer Chad' Bowman (2020)

    "So sad to hear of Rick"s passing. I bartended there for quite a few years on weekends, I had a great time and met a lot of wonderful people. Rick would bring his mother Neddie in and we would play dice, she was a very sweet lady. I have many good Ballgame memories. Rick was very good to his employees.
                                    - Ron Schmidt (2020)

    "Rick was one of those bar owners who made EVERYONE feel special. He never let me leave without buying me at least one drink. He went "all out" during the holidays, so people had a warm, friendly place to be."
                                    - Jamie Taylor (2020)

Rick (on right) with winner of
Turkey & Things Giveaway at Ballgame
November 1984 (In Step vol. 1 issue 14)
 
Rick (second from left) at
12th Anniversary celebration at Ballgame
March 1986 (In Step vol. 3 issue 6)
 
Rick (seated) with long-time bar manager Ken Wentzel and
winner at BallGame annual turkey give-away
November 1986 (In Step vol. 3 issue 22)

 
Top: Rick (right) with long-time bar manager Kenny Wentzel;
Photos from 14th Anniversary
March 1988 (In Step vol. 5 issue 4)

 
Rick included in photo page from traditional
combination St. Patricks Day/ Anniversary party
March 1989 (In Step vol. 6 issue 6)

 
Rick included in photo page from
St. Pats/ 17th anniversary party
March 1991 (In Step vol. 8 issue 6)

 
 


Rick (unknown date)


Rick with mother Nettie
(unknown date)


Photos from 19th Anniversary party
(not their 20th as the caption states)
March 1993 (In Step vol. 10 issue 6)


Article about Rick, 2009
Oct-Nov 2009 (Quest vol. 16 issue 18)

Color photos of Rick and recollections gathered by Jamie Taylor from 'History of Gay Wisconsin' Facebook group
Collection of other images and Ballgame pages by Don Schwamb.
Web site creation, concept and design by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: May, 2020.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.