Remembering Marilyn Hardacre: Big Heart, Big Dreams, Big Accomplishments
By Thom Gerretsen
If anyone is synonymous with modern-day Marshfield, it’s Marilyn Hardacre. The former mayor, business group leader and community sparkplug leaves an imprint that will continue to benefit people long after her death on Nov. 29. In my 41 years here, Hardacre is THE name I associate with this city. Mel Laird and Gary Varsho and others proudly shared their Marshfield roots with our nation. Hardacre brought her Ohio roots to central Wisconsin in her early 30s and made herself at home like no one has. Big heart. Big dreams. Big accomplishments.
I first met her when I became a reporter for WDLB Radio in 1978, just 10 days after she became the mayor. In one of my first visits to City Hall, I was waiting for her to get off the phone when a caller brought her to tears. I forgot why, but I recall that it did not intimidate her. Hardacre’s big heart welcomed me into her office almost every day when I covered City Hall. She rarely stopped talking about her big dreams. Improving neighborhoods. Growing Marshfield’s business climate. Moving to a more modern and functional City Hall. And taking her first steps toward what would become her true hallmark: Making it easier for people to live in this city with a long-range street improvement program, and making it easier for people to get here by connecting Marshfield to Wisconsin’s network of four-lane highways.
As with most visionaries, patience was not always a virtue with Hardacre. She’d both publicly and privately stew to me about how slow the Common Council could be in keeping up with her agenda. All the while, the progress continued. Of course, I got to know her personally. She helped welcome my baby son Bryan to this world in 1980 when Jean & I took our newborn around City Hall. In 1983, when the Milwaukee Brewers still had “community nights,” buses of Marshfieldians rode to the old County Stadium for a game against Baltimore. Hardacre tossed the game’s “first ball” from near the Brewers’ dugout. It was one of my proudest moments as a baseball fan.
Hardacre’s vision continued after she left the mayor’s office in 1986 and began leading the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Besides trying to attract new businesses and add jobs, she continued to push like a bulldog for a crosstown boulevard as a compromise to an east or a west bypass that residents could not agree upon. Once Veterans Parkway was set on the relocated Highway 13, she worked to connect the boulevard to what would be a four-lane Highway 10 from Marshfield to Appleton.
Hardacre also maintained her eye toward the future by starting the region’s first leadership program to train and cultivate leaders in all aspects of our community. I was proud to be a part of Leadership Marshfield’s third annual class in 1995-96. It taught me that leadership and management are two different things — leaders make those around them better — and they can emerge from any part of an organization, not just at the top. My final business contact with Hardacre was my favorite. As part of the Marshfield News-Herald’s “Legacies” magazine in 1999, I spent hours asking Hardacre about those big dreams and accomplishments. I filled a notebook that day, and I wrote what I hoped would be the story of her life that an obituary writer would find handy someday. As it turned out, it wasn’t needed. Her family wrote the official obituary; a very comprehensive story of her life.
I’ve been asked if I felt a part of history by covering Marshfield’s first female mayor. Not at all. Her ideas and her vision were so complete; it was just natural to see her as a mayor – a passionate visionary like none other that I had seen, before or since.