By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Jul 02, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Debra Usinger, vice president of Usinger's Famous Sausage, passed away Sunday at the age of 58.

Usinger, a great-grandchild of the company's founder, ran the 130-year-old company with her brother, Fritz, until last month when she was diagnosed with goblet cell carcinoid, a rare form of cancer.

Usinger was one of the area's biggest champions and most visible female entrepreneurs. She helped develop the Milwaukee River Walk, chaired the Westown Association and helped fund countless charitable causes. She and Fritz won the Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Deb's father, Frederick D. Usinger III, died of natural causes in 2006. He was 89. It was Deb's dad who helped inspire the Usinger elves that Debra always talked about and embraced. If you've stopped at Usinger's on a Saturday morning, Deb was always there talking to kids who loved to see the elves in the windows.

On a personal note, Deb was a friend and a mentor to my wife when Stephanie started at the Westown Association in 2001. We disagreed for years on traffic flow on Wells Street, but enjoyed our countless friendly debates about one-way vs. two-way traffic.  Several took place at the Usinger's staff kitchen.  I feel privileged to have shared in that Usinger family tradition.

She called me Mr. Jeff, and to me, and countless others, she was Ms. Debra, the "VP of Fun" at Usinger's.

Usinger was not only a leader, but the right kind of get-your-hands dirty civic leader who showed up, worked hard and always had fun. The Fourth of July will be full of Usinger's products, as always, but knowing Debra is pain-free and looking down upon us will make them all the better.  

A private service is being held. According to Beth Nicols, Milwaukee Downtown executive director and close, personal friend of Debra, the Usinger family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers. A celebration of Debra’s life will be planned in the near future.  

Usinger leaves behind her long time boyfriend, Joey,  her mom, Lois, sisters Karen Schnetzky, Barbara Becker, Heidi Maetzold, brother, Fritz Usinger, and the hundreds of Usinger elves that she loved and helped create.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.