By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 07, 2024 at 9:01 AM

Questions arrive in my inbox on a weekly basis and I do my best to answer all them if I can. Sometimes, the questions send me down the proverbial rabbit hole and lead to stories like this, this and this, among others.

(All Loomis images from Mount Mary University archives.)

This recent question from Dan Vinson, who is director of the Haggerty Library & Learning Commons at Mount Mary University, definitely set me off digging:

“Here at Mount Mary University, we hold three collections donated by Aileen Ryan, former Milwaukee Journal Woman's section editor, and a co-founder of our fashion design program in 1965,” Vinson wrote. “They were donated in the early 1990s, and we are looking to digitize many items for our digital collections online.

“I am wondering if (you) could answer a question about an illustrator (Dickie) whose work appeared in the section many times. We have dozens of originals and can find nothing about him (or her). Thank you so much for any guidance you can provide!”

Dickie signatureX

“Dickie” was just one of a number of illustrators whose work adorned the Milwaukee Journal’s fashion coverage in the 1950s, some of which was also accompanied by photographs of models.

I went over to see Vinson at the Mount Mary library, and he laid out all 23 of the original illustrations by the artist in their collection. The work, on a variety of paper and paperboard types, was invariably brightly colored with confident lines and a distinctive mid-century vibe.

One of the works was drawn on what appears to be wrapping paper. Another was at least partly executed on a clear plastic sheet. Some are on paperboard and have notations on them, presumably by Ryan, urging the folks printing the newspaper to maintain the skin tones of the drawn models or to keep the blues vibrant.

Court of HonorX

My favorite illustrations include familiar Milwaukee sites – the Downtown YMCA, Court of Honor and St. James Episcopal Church in one; the War Memorial Center, Cudahy Tower, Wisconsin Gas Light Building and the Lake Front Depot in another; and the St. Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette campus in still another – in the backgrounds.

In some cases, Dickie has layered a work, first doing a drawing and then altering or adding to it by pasting bits of drawings – say, a table, or another figure – to create an almost collage-like effect, but one that would not have been been obvious when the work appeared in newsprint.


“Aileen Ryan herself donated them in – I forget what her curator said – 1992,” Vinson says. “I think she may have died in like 93, 94. And did she have a connection to Mount Mary. She actually helped Sister Aloyse Hessburg found the program, which was in 1965. She also taught here for the first 15 years, I think, just, you know, an occasional class.”

Ryan is considered a pioneer not only in the world of newspaper fashion coverage, but in women working in newsrooms, too, according to Kimberly Voss and Lance Speere.


“The Milwaukee Journal is an example of one Midwestern metropolitan paper that fits this model of an unnoticed but progressive women’s section in the 1950s and 1960s produced by a group of women who were doing more than writing about the Four Fs,” they wrote in their article, “More Than 'Rations, Passions and Fashions': Re-Examining the Women’s Pages Post-World War II to 1970s in the Milwaukee Journal.”

“For example, Journal women’s page editor Aileen Ryan opened the door of New York fashion houses for all newspaper fashion editors in 1931. The first color photographs in the newspaper were of fashions in the women’s pages. It was Milwaukee Journal food editor Peggy Daum who started the first ethics-based organization for newspaper food editors after these women came under attack by Senator Frank Moss in 1971. The top prize for furnishings during this time period was the Dawe Award, named for the late Milwaukee Journal furnishing editor Dorothy Dawe.”

Ryan donated a number of “scrapbooks” to Mount Mary. These are over-sized, unbound folders compiled annually and containing fashion coverage from that year’s Journal.

The cover of one of the scrapbooks.

According to Vinson, the scrapbooks had, for many years, been kept in Fidelis Hall on the Mount Mary campus, but in the waning months of 2023 were moved to the library.

“Everyone thought it was a giant stack of scrapbooks, but it was actually scrapbooks and these. They were on these giant carts down in the archives, but as we were pulling them apart, trying to figure out what we wanted to digitize for our collection, we were like, ‘Hang on, these are not scrapbooks.’

“Then we were just fascinated, like, ‘Who was Dickie?’ Unfortunately, our acquisition forms back then were not what they are now, and so there's precious little information. I believe Ryan donated 24 gowns and photographs and illustrations. That was about it (for information).”

Irma Loomis
Irma Loomis in 1957. (PHOTO: Courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Of course, I started by checking old Milwaukee Journals – and Sentinels, too, just in case – and found surprisingly little. But I did find one key fact: “Dickie’ was the pseudonym used by artist Irma Loomis.

With a name, I could get going.

Irma Carol Haak was born Nov. 6, 1901 in Davenport, Iowa to Richard Haak, and his wife Selma Rieck, who were both the children of German immigrants.

By 1910, 8-year-old Carol had a 3-year-old sister, Elsie, and her parents worked in at Ferdinand Haak Cigar Company – a cigar manufacturing business founded in 1870 by Irma's grandfather – work they were still doing more than a decade later (though the company ultimately closed and Richard became a real estate broker until his death in 1936).

Ferd. Haak Cigar
The Ferd. Haack Cigar Co. (PHOTO: Davenport Iowa History Facebook)

On Dec. 30, 1922, Irma married Walhalla, North Dakota-born Casey Vaughn Loomis in Davenport.

It’s unclear how the two met, considering Loomis – the son of Wilbur Fiske Loomis and Nelle Blanche Vaughn – was living on 23rd Street in Milwaukee at the time and working in the nascent automobile sector. Perhaps it was at college, from which Irma graduated in 1923 (though we don’t know from which school).

To describe Casey Loomis as a World War I veteran might be understating things. In fact, he has a Wikipedia page that describes the numerous distinctions and honors he earned.

After enrolling at UW-Madison in 1915, Loomis enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1917 and served for 28 months. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross and a Navy Cross for, “extraordinary heroism while serving with the Seventy-Third Company, Sixth Regiment (Marines), 2d Division, A.E.F., in action near Thiaucourt, France, 15 September 1918. During an enemy counterattack Corporal Loomis voluntarily left a sheltered position, and, in entire disregard of his own safety, set up his gun in the open under heavy enemy fire. By securing enfilading fire on the advancing enemy, he broke up the counterattack within one hundred yards of our line.”


His Silver Star was bestowed, “for gallantry in action. Corporal Loomis distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with the 73d Company, 6th Regiment (Marines), 2d Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in action in Champagne Sector, French front, on 8 October 1918, north of St. Etienne, in inflicting heavy casualties on advancing enemy during counter-attack.”

Casey – who returned to Madison and earned an engineering degree in early 1922 – also served in World War II, as a lieutenant in the Navy stationed in England.

By 1930, the Loomis’ were living on Bartlett Avenue in Shorewood. Casey was a foreman at Holeproof Hosiery Company factory and Irma was home with their infant daughter Nancy, while harboring an apparently unfulfilled passion for art.

By the end of that decade, the Loomis had two more children – 5-year-old Jean and 2-year-old Richard – but Irma wasn’t waiting any longer to feed her desire to draw and paint.

In a 1939 update for her Delta Zeta sorority, Irma wrote, “‘Painting for fun’ and ‘painting seriously’ are indeed two different angles for me. I have been painting, mostly, in water color, with local groups at nearby lakes, rivers and romantic backwoods around Milwaukee – for fun and to ‘keep my finger in.’

“The raising of three children has been my most important job for 11 years, and so that’s all my efforts in art have amounted to. The family is now at a ‘leavable age,’ and I am giving one day a week to serious art work. I am going to school again and am trying to adjust my laissez-faire attitude to the business angle, commercial art. It’s a grind, but I love it. I know I need it and will feel an overwhelming satisfaction someday if I ever reach the stage of feeling competent enough to make the public rush in hordes to buy what I advertise!”

In 1940, Irma sent one of her paintings – "Sleeping Child, painted by his mother" – to the Delta Zeta convention at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island for display. Over the years, she would also design and create a variety of things for such events, as well as for the Delta Zeta magazine, The Lamp, of which she served as editor for a time.

In May 1947, Irma wrote an article for The Lamp about her second trip to Mexico, from which she returned that February. A notice in The Lamp, presumably written by Loomis herself, in the third person, read, “'Dickie' Loomis returned from her second trip to Mexico much too soon but plans another. This time she spent time with the natives. She will be busy for a long time to come with art material characteristic of Mexican daily existence.”

Sketches from Mexico. (PHOTO: Courtesy of Delta Zeta/The Lamp)

Her nickname, one assumes (but cannot be sure), derives from Richard, the name of her father and her son.

Early the following year, she returned to Mexico for, “a month's study in Mexico,” according to The Lamp. “She attended the Escuela Bellos Artes in San Miguel Allende, a colonial town in the heart of Mexico. It is not as yet too spoiled by Americanisms, but recent publicity (in LIFE) is increasing the influx of American students and tourists. Dickie enjoyed the sunny weather, personalities, the outdoor classes and side excursions through the country.”

Loomis wrote another article about her Mexico experiences for The Lamp.

“With San Miguel Allende, where I was enrolled in the art school, as a base, I wanted to explore the region from which Mexico's most significant revolution developed,” she wrote. “Although the Escuela sponsors weekend sketching jaunts, none was scheduled during my stay, so I hopped off on my own and made the ‘loop’ around San Miguel. I returned with loads of material, due mostly to that quality I fail to find in our people. It was courtesy, backed by sincere pleasure in the giving of time and assistance. From San Miguel I went to Dolores Hidalgo, then west to Guanajuato, capital of the state, via one of these open-air buses.

“Like Taxco, Guanajuato is built practically straight up; some of the streets are stairs, a ‘natural' for painters. Here I met Manuel Leal, a master of the old school as opposed to Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros. He is enjoying his peace and quiet as the head of the college art department there. I had tried to find a few pieces of Conde (sic) crayon to take back to my fellow students. There was none to be had in the shops. Senor Leal wished to give me his, but I could not take it.

“By Turismo I travelled on down through Salamanca and Celaya to Queretaro. Queretaro has history, mines and material to paint.”

War MemorialX

During this period, it appears that Dickie also attended the Milwaukee Art Institute, where she took part in a July 1948 members’ exhibition featuring “hundreds” of artists, including Ruth Grotenrath, Schomer Lichtner, Mary Nohl, architect Maynard Meyer and artist/educators Alfred Pelikan and Edward Boerner.

Not long after, however, the Loomis family relocated to King, Washington, where Casey had secured a job as a production manager at a frozen foods company. However, by 1954, Dickie was creating illustrations for the Journal, either on staff or as a freelancer.

By 1957, we know for sure that she was on staff at the paper, which carried a photo of her along with the other “Women on The Journal.” Another issue that year named her as the fashion illustrator for the newspaper and still another clarified that she, “devotes full time to sketching women’s clothes, in Milwaukee shop and at New York shows.”

In 1958, she took part in another exhibition, this time one featuring illustrators and designers at the Layton School of Art.

Sadly, very few of the drawings in the collection at Mount Mary are dated. The earliest appears to be from 1954 and the latest from 1959, though as I noted earlier, one illustration includes the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, which was not moved to Milwaukee until the mid-1960s.

It is here that the thread appears to run out and we know very little about the next decade, except that the Loomis family seems to have either moved back out to Washington State, where Casey had a sister living in Seattle, or perhaps the family never left and only Irma returned to Milwaukee.

When the Loomis' daughter Jean married Richard Raymond in 1958, both the bride and her father were living in Snohomish, Washington, while Irma was living on Park Place in Milwaukee. The following year, their son Richard married Jerri Hesseltine in Silver Lake, Washington, too. In fact, it appears that Richard, who went by Mike – his middle name was Michael – was attending high school in Snohomish in 1952.

But at some point, Irma also moved to Snohomish, where Casey died in 1973 and where, a decade later, Dickie passed away at the Parkway Nursing Home on Jan. 20, 1983.

While readers often send me questions, articles like these also help me get queries answered because folks who know more will see the post and make contact. I’m hoping that will be the case here; that one of Dickie’s relatives will see this and tell us more about her life and her work.

But, in the meantime, Vinson says he’s pleased to know more about the hand that created the artwork in the Mount Mary library archives.

Because Mount Mary is a women’s institution, he says, “I did want her to be a woman.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.