By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hilgenberg, Steven J.
Placeholder Image
DODGEGEVILLE - Steven J. Hilgenberg, 66, Dodgeville, after living with cancer for four-and-a-half years, passed away at his home on Sunday, March 27, with his wife, Mary, and daughter, Molly, by his side. Born on November 26, 1944, to Jack and Dorothy (Baier) Hilgenberg in Appleton, Wisconsin, Steve was the sixth of ten children. Growing up in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, he came to be considered the peacemaker of the family, and enjoyed playing ping pong with his brothers, sledding down Mt. Misery and playing basketball under the streetlights. He was an avid athlete at school, quarterbacking freshman football while still in eighth grade. His participation in varsity sports also included four years of cross-country, a year of volleyball during which the team went to State, three years of basketball, and four years of baseball, for which he pitched, played first and second base, and, as a senior, was chosen as his team's Most Valuable Player.

After graduating from Kaukauna High School in 1963, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for three years. In 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany, where he served in an anti-aircraft division. Upon his discharge in 1969, he returned to Madison and met Mary Mayo.

Steve and Mary were wed on January 20, 1972, and moved to Wyoming Township, Iowa County, in 1972. The following year, after receiving a diploma in graphic arts and printing from Madison Area Technical College, he and a partner founded Inkwell Printers in Dodgeville.

Steve served on the Dodgeville School Board for seven years. For three years, he was a community representative to the Head Start Policy Council.

Steve and Mary have one daughter, Molly, whose lunches Steve faithfully made from elementary school through medical school. He loved taking her to work with him as a child, and they enjoyed playing softball together, Steve delivering countless pitches and pop-ups for her and her friends. He was Molly's coach throughout her scholastic career, and for ten years he acted as volunteer coach for the Dodgeville High School girls' softball team.

Steve enjoyed playing city league basketball, and after a torn ACL ended his career, he continued refereeing for the league. He also refereed middle and high school freshmen and JV basketball for many years. In addition, he played Home Talent baseball for Ridgeway and eventually assumed the role of coach for the team, many members of which became lifelong friends.

Steve was active in bowling leagues throughout Iowa County for over thirty years and was quite a good bowler. In this current season, he bowled a 243 game and a 668 series. Steve was also a member of the men's golf league at Deer Valley in Barneveld, and in the later part of his life golf was a high point of his summers. He especially enjoyed golfing with his son-in-law, Mark Herr, who would keep him up to date on the newest equipment. This was a fortuitous arrangement, because occasional unsatisfactory shots would cause both words and clubs to pierce the sky, with at least one club landing in a tree.

Steve loved all Wisconsin sports, stayed up to date on all Badger football, Green Bay Packers, and Milwaukee Brewers news, and felt fortunate to attend the Rose Bowl in January with his long-time friend, Mike Gondek and brother, Rich. Steve was a huge Badger basketball fan, and along with Mary, attended the exciting game at the Kohl Center this past February when the Badgers beat the #1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Steve has his nephew John Weiland to thank for the tickets. Coincidentally, he also witnessed the previous time the Badgers beat the top-rated Buckeyes, in 1962. As might be expected, Steve had a few pointed observations on the Badgers' recent performance in their NCAA tournament game against Butler.

Mary and Steve had a wonderful marriage, lasting 39 years. He routinely made her morning coffee and would gently awaken her by wafting its fresh aroma under her nose. To help her get off to her job as a school occupational therapist serving multiple schools, he would fix her lunch, warm up her car and scrape her windshield. He also helped with Mary's extensive gardening, digging many holes for perennials, shrubs and trees that occasionally "needed" to be moved to new spots in the yard. Steve also belonged to the Wisconsin Garden Railway Society and developed a G-scale train garden in the backyard, which featured two appropriately scaled holes of a golf course along with a replica of the club house at Sayner, Wisconsin, where he enjoyed golfing vacations.

Steve worked at his business, Inkwell Printers, for 27 years. He sold the business in 2000 but continued working there part-time as a pressman. He said listening to the rhythm of the press led him to start thinking about running for State Assembly, but even as a child he was influenced by his Progressive-minded father, a postal employee, and recounted many lively political discussions around the kitchen table at their Kaukauna home. In 2005, he decided to run for State Representative. Unfortunately, several months before the election, Steve was diagnosed with an aggressive prostate cancer. After talking with physicians at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Wisconsin Hospital, he decided to continue his bid for election. Steve launched an unprecedented grassroots campaign. Steve and Mary, along with many friends, worked tirelessly, knocking on 13,000 doors in the district. He was surrounded by many jubilant friends and relatives on election night as the results came in. In 2006, Steve was inaugurated to his first term as a State Representative of the 51st Assembly District.

Steve always said that it was the greatest privilege to represent the people of southwest Wisconsin, and he served with a sense of integrity, cooperation, and a dedication to service that often lies dormant in Wisconsin politics. He recognized how fortunate he was to have his staff, Max and Lois, on board to assist with constituent concerns. Steve always put principle above politics, and that launched him into a leadership role when it came to advocating for fairness in health care, education, elections, and veterans issues. Steve was integral to the passage of a wide variety of commendable proposals, including legislation to restore impartiality to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, legislation to protect county nursing homes, and a bill to provide health care to children with hearing disorders. Steve also played a key role in securing grants and expanding needed services at local community entities, including the Dental Clinic in Dodgeville and the Hodan Center in Mineral Point.

Steve was a firm advocate for the betterment of our public schools. He believed that government's most important responsibility is to provide each and every child with an education that they can use to better themselves and improve the quality of life in their communities. He passionately fought to support our schools, and he moved forward with a wide variety of reforms to instill greater fairness in our school funding system.

At the beginning of the 2009-2010 Legislative Session, Steve was appointed as Chair of the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs. Here, he showed true leadership and dedication to better serving our veterans, using his capacity to continue Wisconsin's tradition of progressive action to protect and assist vets. During his tenure, veterans saw a marked improvement in the availability of assistance programs, including education, employment, and health care benefits, and Steve took great strides to produce solutions to current veterans issues relating to the Veterans Trust Fund and veterans health issues. As a VFW member, these issues were additionally meaningful to Steve.

Beyond these accomplishments, Steve possessed a unique ability to restore people's faith in the democratic process. He was genuine, and he entered politics for the right reasons not to protect special interests or promote an abstract economic philosophy, but to work across party lines to challenge the status quo and improve the quality of life in Wisconsin. This unassailable credibility and profound compassion for the betterment of his community, is his everlasting gift to Wisconsin.

During his terms as representative, Steve underwent two six-month rounds of chemotherapy treatment. He would report for treatment at University Hospital and then proceed to his office at the Capitol. He never complained or became angry at his cancer prognosis, but continued to greet each day with enthusiasm. However, in 2010, as his cancer progressed and he considered the rigors of another re-election campaign, he decided not to run for a third term.

After his cancer diagnosis, Steve was blessed with two joys of his life, grandsons Evan, 4, and Carson, 2. He loved playing with them, going on walks through the woods, pulling them over the snow on a sled, reading to them, and having Evan read and sing back to him. Carson was his little angel with wings - but also devil horns. Steve greatly loved his grandsons and was incredibly sad about not getting to watch them grow up. Fortunately, they will remember and cherish his caring, loving influence.

Steve is survived by his wife, Mary Mayo, Dodgeville, his daughter, Molly Mayo-Hilgenberg Herr and son-in-law, Mark Herr, grandsons, Evan and Carson, Eau Claire, WI. Siblings, Jack (Pat), Daytona Beach Shores, FL; Tom (Charlene), Newnan, GA; Bob (Sharon), Everett, WA; Hope Moede (Karl), Neenah, WI; Marilyn Verkuilen (Joe), Kaukauna, WI; Don (Barb Lewis), Mineral Point, WI; Dennis (Annie Waitzman), Fennimore, WI; Frank (Fran), Orlando, FL, and Rich (Teri Miller), Long Beach, CA. His sisters- and brothers-in-law, Marge Weiland (Jim), Madison, WI; Jeanne Tessendorf (John), Clyde, WI; Mike Mayo, Madison, WI, Ellie Mayo, Madison, WI; John Mayo, Marshall, WI, and George Mayo (Karen), Sun Prairie, WI. He has many very special nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, infant sister, Donna; nephew, Chris Hilgenberg, great-niece, Olivia Hammond; great-nephew, Brady McFarlane and parents-in-law Don and Charlotte Mayo.

Steve's family extends many thanks to relatives, friends and neighbors for their concern and support in recent weeks. We would also like to thank Mayo Clinic, University of Wisconsin's GU oncology clinic, and Upland Hills Hospice for all their care and support.

A memorial celebration of Steve's life will be held on Sunday, April 17, 2011 at DEER VALLEY LODGE in Barneveld, WI from 1:30-4:30pm with a service at 2:30 p.m. Feel comfortable coming dressed as Steve knew you. If you would like to write an anecdote about Steve, please bring it for posting.

In lieu of flowers, a higher education scholarship fund is being established in Steve's name or contributions to a local charity in Steve's name would be appreciated.