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Luminous legacy of fighting for justice
Former Green County District Attorney Gary Luhman, center, gathers around the Christmas tree with son Ethan and daughter-in-law Sherry, son Jordan and Jordans fianc Elizabeth Brown, wife Beth, son Christopher and daughter-in-law Graziela, son Bryant and daughter-in-law Brittany, and his grandchildren Abram, Roman, Matthew, Nichollas and Owain. (Photo supplied)
MONROE - A man who shaped much of the legal landscape of Green County over the last three decades died Tuesday at age 60, leaving a legacy of advocating for victims and leading within his community.

Former Green County District Attorney Gary Luhman spent his time in office establishing programs to make the county better. At home, his wife Beth said Gary was only interested in the outdoors and being a dad to his four sons: Ethan, Christopher, Bryant and Jordan.

"We just spent a lot of time outside with our kids," Beth said, noting Gary was a leader at their church, Kiwanis and even 4-H. "Everything the kids were involved in."

Gary noted during a speech to the Green County Board of Supervisors he had married into a farm life, after originally starting out in one, when he and Beth wed in 1984. Beth noted that their home was built on farmland acquired from her parents Merlyn and Gloria Gordee. The family had a menagerie of animals while the boys grew up.

Beth said her husband knew how to balance his work dedication with his determination to be a father.

"He never missed out on the kids' lives," Beth said.

Ethan remembers his father sitting at the computer poring over work at night and again when Ethan awoke in the morning.

"He was always full of joy," Ethan said. "He was just larger than life, but down-to-earth. You couldn't help but love him."

Since falling ill just over a month ago, Beth said the respect from those he faced in courtrooms was apparent. Hundreds of cards wishing him well included handwritten notes from lawyers throughout the state and words of support came later for the family he left behind.

"He always saw himself as so much more than his career, but was always proud to be a DA," Ethan said. "Everywhere he went, he was always making connections. Wherever he went he just naturally sought out ways to help."

Current Green County DA Craig Nolen met Gary when he worked as an intern in 2009. Nolen said Gary's example was what led him to become a prosecutor while still attending law school. Nolen returned to Monroe in 2010 as an assistant city attorney, forging a working relationship with Gary since then.

"Gary implemented so many things people don't even realize," Nolen said.

In the late 1990s, a multi-disciplinary team was put in place to develop the Green County Child Advocacy Center. DA Luhman was the person who applied for the grant to make the program possible and organized the connections between law enforcement, the district attorney's office and psychologists for things like forensic interviewing.

"Had it not been for Gary's efforts, we'd be like other counties within the state," Nolen said, noting Green is the smallest county to have an established advocacy center for children.

When Gary was slated for retirement in 2016, he instead pursued a position with the Wisconsin attorney general office, working on cold cases. Through a Department of Justice grant, officials were looking to end the backlog of untested kits related to sexual assault cases.

"Gary was always committed to helping victims," Nolen said. "He was an advocate."

Ethan said the same of his father, noting Gary "naturally became an advocate" through his job.

Former Assistant District Attorney Jeff Kohl noted on a Facebook post by Nolen that people would recognize the programs Gary put in place during his tenure, even if they didn't know the former DA was the reason they existed. Kohl served under Luhman from 1991 to 2016.

"He always set a level headed and objective example," Kohl wrote. "Always putting the victims and the cause of justice first."

Nolen said it wasn't just the impressive career that helped Gary influence the county. He said the former DA "was overall a good man," noting he felt "blessed to have him as a mentor and a friend these last nine years."

"He was involved in everything," Nolen said, noting Gary's time-consuming leadership of the Green County Republican party in addition to his other volunteer commitments. "He was a truly great man and he had a great heart."