Longtime legislator remembered
BY MIKE WARREN
MARSHFIELD – Don Hasenohrl died Jan. 3. He was 88.
At the age of 39, Hasenohrl was elected to the State Assembly, where he served 13 terms until his retirement in 2000. Hasenohrl served under five governors during his time representing central Wisconsin’s 70th Assembly District, which for a number of years included portions of eastern Clark County, southern Marathon County, northeast Portage County, and northern Wood County. For just one term – 1983-85 – the area was known as the 60th Assembly District.
“He was a very good legislator,” recalled Marlin Schneider, who represented parts of central Wisconsin in the legislature from 1970 to 2010. “He was especially interested in transportation issues and highways. Much of the highway development around Marshfield is there because of Don.”
“The key to longevity lies in serving your district,” said retired journalist and contributing City Times writer Thom Gerretsen, who covered Hasenohrl for 22 of his 26 years in office. “Don was able to use that to his advantage, serving as the Assembly Transportation Committee chair from 1983-93 during the height of the debate over the [Near-East] Boulevard (Marshfield’s Veterans Parkway).”
Schneider said Hasenohrl knew that well from the start.
“He was always good about, for example, going to the Wood County Towns Association and showing up and listening to what people had to say,” Schneider remembered. “In the legislature itself he was quiet. He wasn’t bombastic or anything. He just did the work behind the scenes and got things done. He was a great colleague to have because he was always there to back you up if you needed it, so I appreciated him a lot.”
Schneider said Hasenohrl’s best assets as a legislator were “his integrity, his honesty, his ability to work with both sides of the aisle and his overall friendliness.”
Amy Sue Vruwink, who for 12 years between 2003 and 2015 represented the same 70th Assembly District as Don, echoed those sentiments.
“Every event you’d go to, Donnie was always there asking people their opinions and seeking them out and asking them what’s important and things like that, so that’s something I’ll always remember Don for,” Vruwink told us. “He was a good mentor. When I was in the legislature, he would say, ‘You need to be at this. You need to talk to the people in these organizations and these groups and make sure you get to their events.’ He was a good supporter and a good mentor.”
Vruwink said Hasenorhl was “a true public servant in every sense of the word.”
“He was the peoples’ legislator,” Vruwink said.
She said that was never more clear than when a four-lane Highway 10 was dedicated, and it came after Don’s time in the legislature.
“That took a long time,” said Vruwink. “People don’t always see the immediate results of legislation and the work that goes on behind the scenes. But that (Highway 10) was something that Donnie had enumerated, he had worked on and he kept it on the major-projects schedule and years after he retired, he got to see it come full circle, and he was there that day out on Highway 10 when we had the ribbon-cutting. He was like, ‘Finally I get to see it after all those years.’ He was a true public servant.”
Hasenohrl was first elected in 1974, when incumbent John Oestreicher did not seek reelection. That first race was Hasenohrl’s closest. And it produced the closest outcome in the state. Don defeated Republican James Vedder by a mere 42 votes.
Aided by national Democratic wave against the Nixon-Ford years, Hasenorhl was easily reelected in 1976, defeating Republican challenger Patricia Keith, 64 to 36 percent.
Two years later, Don survived another close race, defeating Republican David Luepke by 581 votes.
In 1980, Hasenohrl got 55 percent of the vote in defeating Luepke and Libertarian John Anderson.
Don enjoyed his largest margin of victory over a challenger in 1982, when he outpolled Republican Gary Hannemann, 77 to 23 percent.
After defeating Ken Machtan in 1984, Hasenohrl was unopposed in 1986 and again in ’88.
In 1990, he defeated Jack Kelly before again going unopposed in ’92.
As part of the national “Republican Revolution” during the midterm elections of 1994, Republican Donna Rozar gave Hasenohrl quite the campaign, getting 47 percent of the vote. The two squared off again in ’96, and Don won by 21 percentage points.
In his last campaign, Hasenohrl again survived one of his toughest challenges, outpolling Pittsville’s MaryAnn Lippert by just 520 votes. It was during that term Don announced he would not seek reelection in 2000.
“Rep. Hasenohrl built great personal relationships with his constituents and served them faithfully for 26 years,” said Lippert, who won Don’s seat after his retirement. “We were on different sides of the aisle, but I always respected his service to the people of the 70th.”
A Mass of Christian Burial for Don Hasenohrl will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20, at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Hewitt. The service will be streamed online at www.facebook.com/rembsfuneralhomes. Burial will be in the parish cemetery. The Elks Lodge of Sorrow service will be at 9 a.m. at the church, followed by visitation until the time of service. Rembs Funeral Home, Marshfield, is assisting the family.
Donald was born on Nov. 25, 1935, at home in the Town of Marshfield, to Charles F. and Theresa A. (Schneider) Hasenohrl and was a 1953 graduate of Marshfield High School.
He married Kathleen J. Stashek on May 13, 1961, at St. Lawrence Catholic Church, Wisconsin Rapids.