The state has lost one of its dynamic agricultural leaders with the death of Russ Weisensel, who passed away after a brief illness on Sat. Jan. 5 at the age of 81.
"Russ was one of the most influential leaders of agriculture in our state," said Ferron Havens, executive director of the Wisconsin Agribusiness Council, an organization which Weisensel helped found.
He later served for many years as executive director of the group, which encompasses all aspects of state agriculture, from food processors to farm supply businesses to pheasant farms.
Havens remembers him as a "dynamic supporter, advocate, and spokesman for the entire agricultural industry.
"His outstanding personality, tireless work ethic and love of agriculture made him well known and respected by all who worked with him. He will truly be missed," Havens said.
Friends remembered him this week as a cheerful and stoic man who moved on in a businesslike fashion after a fall from a silo on his farm left him paralyzed.
He was a fixture at any legislative hearing that involved agriculture, finding a way to get around by himself, hoist his wheelchair from his big car and get wherever he was going.
Weisensel was born on Dec. 23, 1931, to August and Julia Weisensel. As a kid he was active in 4-H, showing purebred Black Angus cattle and winning the state speaking contest.
It was through his activities in 4-H that he met the love of his life Mary Devine. They married in 1954 and began farming with his parents on the family farm, where he was to live his whole life. Their farm received its Century Farm designation in 1976.
The Weisensels had five children, David, Kathleen Schink of Potosi, Brian of Waterloo, Daniel (Jan Chapelle) of Sun Prairie, Mareen (Tony) Kilian of New Richmond.
That farming accident in 1961 left him a paraplegic but it didn't seem to slow Weisensel down.
He was elected to the Wisconsin Legislature in 1966 and served two terms. He served as the first executive director of the Wisconsin Agribusiness Council until his retirement in 2000.
He was a lifelong champion of agriculture and worked tirelessly as an advocate for physically and mentally handicapped people, helping establish groundbreaking accommodations and services.
Weisensel was recognized as Wisconsin's Handicapped Person of the Year in 1968, by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Honorary Recognition in 1993 and by the UW-Madison's Honorary Recognition in 1997.
He gave of his time to causes he believed in, including the Dane County Day Care Services board, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Easter Seals and St. Joseph's Catholic Church in East Bristol.
But at heart he was a family man, sharing love and pride, integrity and work ethic with them through the years.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary, their five children; grandchildren, Henry Schink, Julia (Matt) DeLong, Raymond Schink, Jennifer (Tony Zenke) Weisensel, Nicholas (Sasha Kohn) Weisensel, April (PJ) Eilers; Aron (Kassandra Huffman) Weisensel, Elaine (Bruce) Harris, Ryan Weisensel, Travis Weisensel, Adam Weisensel, Christopher (Lisa) Kilian, Colleen (Lou) Larsen, Patricia, Michelle, Susan and Russel Kilian; and their families including 18 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents, brothers, Lloyd and Jerome; grandson Timothy Weisensel, daughter-in-law Karla Gooch Weisensel and son-in-law Thomas Schink.
A Funeral Mass was held on Wednesday, Jan. 9 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in East Bristol and burial was held in the church cemetery.