So this message from the deputy secretary was waiting for me when I got to the office this morning:
Secretary Rod Nilsestuen passed away yesterday afternoon in upper Michigan where he was on vacation volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. We are all deeply saddened by this tremendous loss.
Secretary Nilsestuen was not only a visionary leader, an inspiring innovator and a great champion for agriculture; he was a wonderfully caring person whose compassion, kindness and warmth made us laugh and feel like family. He was a dear friend to us. He was beloved across Wisconsin and the state joins us in mourning.
Governor Jim Doyle wrote the following on Wednesday night:
"Rod Nilsestuen was a visionary agriculture leader. He is one of the most important agriculture leaders in Wisconsin history. Under his incredible leadership Wisconsin has seen the greatest and most beneficial transformation of agriculture in generations. Among many other accomplishments, Rod's legacy includes dramatic increases in milk and cheese production, dynamic growth in organic farming and grazing operations, protecting our state's farmland through the Working Lands Initiative, promoting the development of biofuels and bioenergy to generate homegrown renewable energy in Wisconsin, connecting consumers to local farmers through the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program and strong support for investments in America's dairyland. Rod was an internationally respected leader in the cooperative movement. He worked to make sure farmers received the economic value of their work. On top of all these professional accomplishments, he was a warm, humorous and wonderful husband, father and friend."
The accidental drowning was reported by authorities and media in northern Michigan to their counterparts in Wisconsin. Media questions were arriving soon to several staff, including those working at Farm Technology Days in River Falls.
I know all of our thoughts and prayers are with Carol and Rod's family today.
So, that sucks. I didn't know Rod well, but I saw him pretty frequently, because my cubicle is just down the hall from the secretary's office. He was a good guy, and by all accounts a good administrator. He'll definitely be missed around here.
Here's some media coverage of the story:
Wisconsin State Journal: Rod Nilsestuen, state DATCP head, drowns in Lake Superior
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Ag secretary Nilsestuen drowns in Lake Superior
Eau Claire Leader Telegram (AP): State Agriculture secretary drowns