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Hautz left Milwaukee for faith, enterprises in former Rhodesia

By Eldon Knoche
of the Journal Sentinel staff Lawrence A. Hautz was a successful Milwaukee insurance man and noted conservationist when his Baha'i faith took him to Southern Rhodesia in 1954.
March 4, 1999
There he built that nation's first motel, established a school, created a lake for fish for his workers, planted hundreds of fruit and nut trees and started a snake farm.

In 1980, after the country received independence from Great Britain and was renamed Zimbabwe, police or military officers took over the motel and school for barracks, someone cut down the trees for firewood and the lake was allowed to dry up.

The snakes, which had been milked to provide valuable venom, also slithered away.

Hautz moved into the nearby capital city of Harare (formerly known as Salisbury) and lived out his remaining days, according to a friend, Sybil La Budde of Glendale. Hautz had Parkinson's disease.

La Budde has received a letter from the woman who was caring for Hautz, saying he died Feb. 12 at about age 89. A funeral was held five days later in Harare.

"They appropriated his motel and school and paid him for it with government bonds, but he couldn't take money out of the country," La Budde said. "He was terribly disappointed with what happened to the property."

Hautz grew up in Bay View and was living on N. Lake Drive in Whitefish Bay when he got the call to go to Africa. He was involved both with Boy Scouts and the environment here. He was state president and a national director of the Izaak Walton League and built a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary at Pewaukee Lake. He helped establish a 2,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in Rhinelander and published pamphlets about birdhouses for distribution in schools.

He managed the county Boy Scouts drum and bugle corps, and the national scouting organization honored him for his work in conservation.

He was a hands-on environmentalist. When he received a post-midnight call in 1945 that the famous Gertie and her ducklings were in danger at the Wisconsin Ave. bridge because of a storm, he rushed to the site to protect them. (He was there more than 12 hours and, when police issued him an overtime parking ticket the next day, he took his case to court. The judge gave him a suspended sentence.)

Hautz was a national leader of the Baha'is by the early 1950s and had traveled around the globe twice to visit centers of various religions. When he was directed by the world head of Baha'i to go to what was then the Federation of Rhodesia, he and his wife left his insurance agency and Milwaukee. But he would return on occasion to visit friends and give speeches on his experiences there. Wanting to invest his money, he bought 100 acres nine miles from Salisbury and built Rhodesia's first motel. He developed his own brickyard to make mud bricks for the 20-unit motel, which was on the tourist route to Victoria Falls. He provided motor safaris into game preserves for people wishing to photograph big game.

He established a school for 300 to educate children of his workers and others in the area. Among the subjects was the philosophy of Baha'i, which believes in the spiritual unity of the world.

Hautz built a gas station and grocery store and grew 10 acres of vegetables. He dammed a swamp to create a lake where his employees and other could catch fish for their meals.

"They take about 2 tons of panfish out of the lake every year," he said during a visit to Milwaukee.

He started beehives to supplement the workers' diets with honey. He planted thousands of trees.

Hautz opened the snake farm as a tourist attraction and then learned he could sell the venom for serum for use in snakebite treatment. Hautz had 1,000 poisonous and non-poisonous snakes and claimed the market worth of venom was 17 times the value of gold.

In 1971, his wife, Carol, died of cancer. The couple had returned to the United States, where she could be with her relatives in California. After her death, Hautz returned to Africa. The couple had no children.

Lawrence Hautz, a former insurance man, started a snake farm in what is now Zimbabwe.

©Copyright 2000, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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