UPDATE: Dept. of Agriculture Head Nilsestuen Dies

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UPDATED Tuesday, July 27, 2010 --- 7:40 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Jim Doyle and other state officials will be gathering to pay respects to state Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen who drowned Wednesday while swimming in Lake Superior.

Nilsestuen had served as Doyle's secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection since he first took office in 2003.

The 62-year-old was volunteering with Habitat for Humanity last week in Michigan's Upper Peninsula when he went for a swim and drowned.

A visitation followed by a memorial service is planned Tuesday at Bethel Lutheran Church just blocks from the state Capitol in Madison.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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UPDATED Friday, July 23, 2010 --- 4:20 p.m.

Public Notice of Visitation and Memorial Service for Rod Nilsestuen:
Release: July 23, 2010
Contact: Joel Nilsestuen

Our family invites friends, colleagues and all of those whose lives have been touched by Rod to a memorial service in his honor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, Wis. on Tuesday, July 27th. The visitation will run from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. The memorial service will start at 1 p.m.

Bethel Lutheran Church
312 Wisconsin Avenue
Madison, WI 53703

Parking will not be available at Bethel Lutheran Church. Those attending are encouraged to park in public ramps located near the church (a map is available here: http://www.bethel-madison.org/BLC_map.jpg )

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the Rod Nilsestuen Memorial Fund, care of the Nilsestuen Family at 329 South Street, DeForest, WI 53532. Charitable contributions will be directed to charities close to Rod’s heart.

We very much appreciate the outpouring of support we have received from so many -- it sustains us during this most difficult time. Please join us in celebrating Rod's wonderful life.

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UPDATED Thursday, July 22, 2010 -- 5:00pm
By Zac Schultz

Madison: Wednesday night Wilda Nilsestuen got terrible news. Her younger brother Rod had drowned in Lake Superior. "It still doesn't feel anything close to real."

That afternoon Rod Nilsestuen went swimming at Picnic Rocks Park in Marquette, Michigan. Det. Capt. Gordon Warchock of the Marquette Police Department says at 5:30 witnesses say a wave washed him off a sandbar and into the dangerous riptides in Lake Superior.

His body was recovered a few hundred yards to the south by a boater.

Nilsestuen was in Marquette with his church to build a home for Habitat for Humanity. "I'm sure they were just relaxing after a hot day of working on the house all day and just went for a swim for relaxation and cooling off," says Wilda. "That's what they would have done."

Back here in Madison, Rod Nilsestuen is being remembered as a visionary leader. Since 2003, Nilsestuen has served as the Secretary of the Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection.

"It's a very sad day here," says Randy Romanski, the Deputy Secretary of DATCP. He says Nilsestuen left his imprint on the agency. "His vision and innovative policies have led to what many consider to be a rebirth in the dairy industry in the State of Wisconsin."

Before he came to DATCP, Nilsestuen became a national leader in organizing co-ops. John Manske worked with him for a decade at what is now Cooperative Network. "Terrible sadness. Very sad, across the board."

Manske says while many people outside the ag community may not have known his name, Nilsestuen impacted the entire state. "He left a huge mark, for the cooperative movement, agriculture and rural Wisconsin."

Nilsestuen leaves behind a wife, Carol, and three adult sons.

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UPDATED Thursday, July 22, 2010 --- 12:27 p.m.

Release from DATCP:

The family of Rod Nilsestuen asked that the following statement be issued today on their behalf:

“Our family is saddened and shocked by the unexpected death of our husband and father. Rod passed away yesterday while swimming near Marquette, Mich., where he was volunteering with his church’s Habitat for Humanity team. Rod was a devoted father and exceptionally proud of his three adult sons. He cherished time with Carol, his partner and wife of almost 40 years. We will sorely miss Rod’s compassion, wit, humor, love and generosity. He will always be in our hearts.

Funeral arrangements will be announced in the near future. We truly appreciate the outpouring of support for our family.”

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Posted Wednesday, July 21, 2010 --- 11:35 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Gov. Jim Doyle's office says the head of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture has died.

The governor released a statement late Wednesday calling Secretary Rod Nilsestuen "one of the most important agriculture leaders in Wisconsin history."

Doyle spokeswoman Carla Vigue says Nilsestuen had been doing volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She says the governor's office was told he drowned Wednesday while swimming in Lake Superior.

Police in Marquette, Mich., say they responded to a drowning Wednesday evening at Picnic Rocks, a recreation area along the lake. The victim's name hasn't been released.

Nilsestuen was appointed by Doyle in 2003 to head the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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Governor Doyle Statement Regarding
Secretary Rod Nilsestuen

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today issued the following statement on behalf of himself and the First Lady, Jessica, as well as the people of Wisconsin, regarding the passing of DATCP Secretary Rod Nilsestuen:

“Rod Nilsestuen was a visionary agriculture leader. He is one of the most important agriculture leaders in Wisconsin history. Under his incredible leadership Wisconsin has seen the greatest and most beneficial transformation of agriculture in generations.

Among many other accomplishments, Rod’s legacy includes dramatic increases in milk and cheese production, dynamic growth in organic farming and grazing operations, protecting our state’s farmland through the working lands initiative, promoting the development of biofuels and bioenergy to generate homegrown renewable energy in Wisconsin, connecting consumers to local farmers through the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program and strong support for investments in America’s dairyland. Rod was an internationally respected leader in the cooperative movement.

He worked to make sure farmers received the economic value of their work. On top of all these professional accomplishments, he was a warm, humorous and wonderful husband, father and friend.”

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Dane County Executive Falk Statement: Passing of Secretary Nilsestuen

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk issued the following statement regarding the sudden, tragic passing of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection Secretary Rod Nilsestuen:

"Rod was a warm-hearted friend to many and I was fortunate to be one of them. He was a committed public servant with enormous integrity, intelligence, and compassion.

Rod served Wisconsin so well as its Agriculture Secretary and was a friend to Dane County.

Rod dedicated decades of his life to helping farmers. He knew that agriculture could be productive, vibrant, and healthy while sustaining a healthy environment. Rod championed so many important causes to this effect, including his work to preserve working lands for farmers.

My sincere condolences go out to Rod’s family and friends during this most difficult time.”

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Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold On the Death of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen

“I have known Rod for many years and was deeply saddened to learn of this tragedy. He was a passionate advocate for farmers and a champion for rural Wisconsin. I was honored to work with him over the years, most recently at the joint USDA/Justice Department workshop in Madison focusing on ensuring fair competition in the dairy industry. I join all Wisconsinites in mourning his loss and offering my condolences to his family and all those whose lives he touched.”

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Statement on Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Protection Secretary Rod Nilsestuen

On behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Deputy Secretary Randy Romanski issued the following statement on the passing of Secretary Rod Nilsestuen, who died in Lake Superior Wednesday evening during a vacation trip to volunteer with his church for Habitat for Humanity:

“Rod Nilsestuen was a visionary leader, inspiring innovator and a true champion for agriculture. Rod was an extraordinary servant for the people of Wisconsin during his nearly eight years as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, where the policies he put in place have contributed to a renaissance of the dairy industry, seeing record highs in milk, cheese and specialty cheese production. His belief in investing in agriculture at all levels has helped diversify Wisconsin's agricultural economy. Whether promoting investment credits for dairy farms and plants, working to break down barriers for interstate meat sales, or promoting homegrown biofuels, Rod worked tirelessly for Wisconsin agriculture. Perhaps one of his greatest legacies will be his efforts to protect Wisconsin's best farmland through the Working Lands Initiative. Rod was too modest to call attention to his accomplishments, but his tenure at the Department as well as his many years of leadership in the cooperative movement have marked an amazing career that has meant a stronger agricultural economy for Wisconsin. Rod was a wonderful person whose compassion and humor made those around him feel like family. We are deeply saddened by this tremendous loss and all of our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

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Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton’s Statement on the Passing of DATCP Secretary Rod Nilsestuen

MADISON - Lt. Governor Lawton released the following statement regarding the passing of DATCP Secretary Rod Nilsestuen:

"Rod Nilsestuen's passion for the farm and his vision for Wisconsin's leadership position in agriculture's future, as well as his high energy and enthusiastic style, made him a true leader. It was a privilege and a joy to come to know him and watch him in action. This state is on a better path for his generous contributions. I extend my deepest sympathy to his family, and to all the friends and co-workers who grieve with them."