Ask anyone in Medford, and they can tell you a little about Joe "Pep" Simek. "They were probably our local royalty," said longtime friend Jeannie Deml.
Pep was a co-founder of Tombstone Pizza. The now famous pizza recipe originated at the Tombstone Tap in Medford. "He broke his leg. So, he couldn't bartend, and while he was recovering, he actually got a pizza recipe and started making these pizzas, selling them across the bar," said Mike Wellner, Mayor of Medford.
The patrons couldn't get enough, and Tombstone Pizza grew from there. "Starting to truck them through the Medford area and then throughout Wisconsin, throughout the United States. So, it really is an unbelievable success story," said Wellner.
"It was absolutely a fairytale what they managed to do. Very few people ever become as successful as Pep and Fran did," said Deml.
But Pep is more than a pizza legend in Medford, and you don't have to look far to see the impact he's had on the community. "We have the Simek Library. We have the Simek Fire Department, the Simek Center, the hockey rink, all things that were built by Pep," said Wellner. Friends said Pep will be remembered as a down-to-earth, generous man who was always trying to help others.
"They expected a lot out of the people that worked for them, but they gave back tenfold to those people and to the community," said Deml.
And community leaders said that's what Pep will be remembered for. "He left a footprint in the city of Medford that will never be forgotten, and our community is certainly going to miss him," said Wellner.