Daniel E. Wisniewski, 73, died from complications of heart failure on April 16th, 2020. Dan dedicated his life to the betterment of Wisconsin and love of his family and friends, sharing his wisdom, kindness, and optimism with all he encountered.
Dan's career spanned numerous government roles at the city, county and state levels, including serving as Chief of Staff for former Governor Tony Earl, running legislative affairs for Dane County Executives Rick Phelps and Kathleen Falk, and serving as Senate liaison for late Gov. Patrick Lucey. Always active in Democratic politics, Dan preferred to be the behind-the-scenes guy, working out strategy, coordinating successful campaigns, mentoring others, and getting legislation passed.
Later in his career, Dan's work emphasized environmental conservation efforts, translating his love of nature into tangible action. He found great joy in this work, which included being appointed by Governor Jim Doyle to head the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, providing fifteen years of Board leadership with the Northwoods Land Trust, serving on the Dane County Parks Commission, as well as holding numerous local, state, and national roles with Trout Unlimited. It is estimated that Dan preserved nearly 50,000 acres of land from development. In the final years of his life, Dan received two lifetime achievement awards, from the Wisconsin Council of Trout Unlimited and the Gathering Waters Alliance for Land Trusts, honoring his formidable body of conservation work.
Dan grew up in a working-class family in Milwaukee. He often credited the nuns at Pius XI High School for encouraging his intellectual growth. A favorite nun told him: "If you want to be a scholar, you must subscribe to The New Yorker." Dan took the advice to heart, maintaining his subscription from high school until his death, never letting it lapse. Dan graduated from Marquette University with degrees in Journalism and English literature. He was a constant, thoughtful reader, co-founding a men's book club that has met for over a decade. Less well known were his skills as a cribbage player, a pick-up basketball player and a poet.
Dan loved his Northwoods cabin on Spring Lake in Vilas County. He spent many hours exploring the land, envisioning and constructing his own rustic cabin in the spirit of Aldo Leopold, and personally planting over 5,000 trees. An avid catch-and-release fly fisherman, Dan dedicated countless hours to exploring Wisconsin's trout streams and tying his famous soft-hackled flies.
Most importantly, Dan was a loving husband, dedicated father, and enthusiastic grandfather. He was exceedingly happy in his 32 years of marriage to Frances DeGraff. In addition to Fran, Dan is survived by sons Daniel (Hana) and Jonathan; daughters Jennifer (Andrew), Laura (Jerry), and Kate (Ian); grandchildren Nate, Zoe, Gwen, Sylvia, Cassidy, Griffin, Sawyer, and Amelia; Joyce Phillips (mother of Daniel and Jon) and sister-in-law Barbara Wisniewski. Dan was preceded in death by his parents Edmund and Lucille Wisniewski (Ramczyk), siblings Joyce Wisniewski and David Wisniewski.
Dan was buried in the woods at the Farley Center Natural Path Sanctuary. His many friends will be invited to participate in a celebration of his life at a later date. In lieu of flowers, tributes may be made to: Northwoods Land Trust, Southern Wisconsin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, or the Friends of Dane County Parks Endowment Fund. We will miss your buoyant spirit, Dan, and wish you farewell on this, your next madcap adventure.
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Since a dinner at Dan’s years ago, probably a political event, I always make my chili with beer. I can see him now, pouring the bottles in, to my amazements. Funny how little things can stay with you for a lifetime!
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