By Thom Gerretsen
MARSHFIELD — It’s been four years since Marshfield lost its most influential modern-day leader. It’s just a blink-of-an-eye in the overall scheme of things, but Marilyn Hardacre’s death on Nov. 29, 2019 at age 84 sometimes seems like an eternity to me.
I feel bad that she’s not around to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her crowning accomplishment; a boulevard that later led to faster and more efficient highway connections to much of Wisconsin and beyond. No one can really measure the benefits of what she did.
If you want to know why I’m such a fan of Hardacre — well, timing is everything. It was blind luck that I started a new reporting job at WDLB Radio just 10 days after she became Marshfield’s mayor in the spring of 1978. It gave me a front row seat to virtually all her accomplishments — and many of her passions behind them. We talked so candidly during our near-daily meetings in her City Hall office.
The ways Hardacre grew into numerous roles on both the city-and-state levels helped fuel my knowledge of Wisconsin’s governing and leadership systems. That helped me play my own larger roles in whatever success I’ve achieved in my own career.
Many people have pointed to a vast array of local assets that still carry her fingerprints. Starting the Leadership Marshfield leader training program. Creation of the city’s Dairyfest celebration. Tireless efforts to grow the local business climate during her 8 years as mayor (1978-86) and during the following 11 years as she led the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
And she kept going. Hardacre lent her good name to raising funds that built the Marshfield Area YMCA and the Hope Lodge home-away-from-home for families of cancer patients. The American Cancer Society couldn’t keep Hope Lodge going through the COVID-19 pandemic, but Marshfield Clinic Health System is bringing it back with a new name of “Cattails Place.”
Have you ever thought about how much of this may never have been built if Hardacre’s leadership did not achieve the millions of dollars invested in new and improved streets?
You may not recall how many Marshfield streets had rougher-and-outdated asphalt in the 1970s — and some were gravel. In addition, we’re now seeing many of those new streets of the 1980s and ’90s needing major repairs or rebuilding. It’s a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever: BuilderSpace.com says even the most properly-maintained city streets last 30-50 years depending on traffic, weather, etc.
That shouldn’t take away from Hardacre’s legacy. Even before these and other roads were built, Hardacre attracted political blood on her hands just proposing all this. That was especially true for the 4-lane Veterans Parkway, a compromise she offered as Marshfieldians debated for years about where a bypass should go.
Through it all, her openness and integrity carried her through. And while there could be more development along the parkway that relocated State Highway 13 with its opening in 2003, it finally gave this city four-lane access to much more of Wisconsin. Hardacre helped with that, too, pushing heavily for the expanded U.S. Highway 10 that finally opened in 2012.