Wisconsin’s agriculture secretary drowned late Wednesday afternoon while swimming in Lake Superior. An ag department spokesman said 62-year-old Rod Nilsestuen was on vacation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, working with Habitat for Humanity like he did every summer.
Marquette Police were told about 5:50 pm that a man was having trouble in Lake Superior. After a 50-minute search, two rescuers found him floating about 300 yards south of Marquette’s Picnic Rocks. Efforts to revive Nilsestuen were not successful, and he died later at a Marquette hospital. Police did not release his name. But Governor Jim Doyle issued a statement calling Nilsestuen a visionary leader and a wonderful friend. And under his leadership, Doyle said “Wisconsin has seen the greatest and most beneficial transformation of agriculture in generations.”
Rod Nilsestuen was raised on dairy farm near Arcadia. He was the state’s agriculture secretary since the beginning of Doyle’s administration in 2003. Before that, he headed the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives since 1978. There, he helped create the state’s Milk Marketing Board and a number of other marketing and development efforts.
Among other things, Doyle said Nilsestuen leaves a legacy that includes dramatic increases in milk and cheese production, connecting consumers to local farmers, protecting farmland, promoting bio-energy, a large growth in organic farming, and support for investments in Wisconsin agriculture.