He was one of a kind
Our friend and colleague Dave Wiganowski died April 17 while on a flight to Laughlin, Nevada, of a heart attack at age 67. A celebration of his life will be held Saturday, June 2, at Wiggie’s tavern.
Wiggie cut a wide swath through Madison and made friends with everyone he met. If you didn’t immediately take a liking to Wiggie you were one odd duck because he may have been the happiest guy we’ve ever known in public life.
Even if he had never served in public office, he would have been one of the best-known personalities in the Madison area for operating Wiggie’s tavern at 1901 Aberg Avenue, in the shadow of the now-shuttered Oscar Mayer plant, where he was once a proud worker and union steward.
Wiggie’s was a favorite gathering spot for moderate-conservative public officials and neighbors on the northeast side. His faithful companion, business partner, and loving wife Angie helped run the tavern; he had an eclectic customer base.
Your Humble Bloggeur got to know Dave when we both were candidates for the Dane County Board of Supervisors in 1994. That year, 27 of the then-39 seats were contested. This year, only 5 of 37 seats were challenged.
As first-time candidates, we learned the ropes from veterans like Lyman Anderson, Don Heiliger, Jay Moretti, and brother Mike Blaska, who chaired the board from 1992-96. Our election in 1994 continued the conservative-moderate majority that had been won two years earlier. Conservative-moderates held a 22-17 majority. Imagine that!
Wiggie left the County Board four years ago after serving for 20 years. The liberal-progressive-socialist cabal had gerrymandered his district, giving him a lot of Madison areas round East Towne where he had less name recognition. We can’t say Dane County is better off today.
Dave ran for county executive in 1997 and 2001 against Kathleen Falk, but unsuccessfully. Wiggie ran for State Senate in the 1993 special election, losing in the Democrat(ic) Party primary to Joe Wineke.
Contemporaneously, Wiggie served the Town of Burke for many years as a supervisor and town chairman, giving him a unique insight to the City of Madison, where he owned and managed a business, and rural Dane County, where he lived and which he represented. He debated the issues on the county board floor in the best spirit of small-d democratic debate, with passion, humor, and common sense. Not a fake bone in his body.
Dave Wiganowski was a breed of Democrat that doesn’t exist anymore. No identity politics for Wiggie — he judged people by who they were and what they did, not by race or gender. He did not practice the cult of victimhood; everyone has their own sad story. It’s what you learned from your experiences and what you earned from your exertions. Playing the blame game left you only with excuses, not opportunities.
Our mutual friend Bill Richardson says Wiganowsky was respected as a County Board supervisor because of his clear stance on issues: “What you see is what you get.”
Brian Schimming says Wiganowsky had a “good feel about what average people are thinking.”
Second District GOP chairman Kim Babler said of Wiggie, “Dave thought about his community as well as the wider world and decided to do something about it. He went into the process where public decisions are made: local politics. He decided to do that for the same reasons he cared for people in the plant, in business, and the people in his family and his personal life.”
Dave was always a good friend. He loved to laugh and would poke you until you did. He was always concerned about how you felt and would listen to your views. He was fun to be with. He cared about people. He could bounce back from hurt. He would find the sunshine and step into it.
As Dave left the Dane County Board in April 2014 The Capital Times wrote:
Wiganowsky says he’s not nursing sour grapes. “I don’t have any regrets about it,” says the veteran, whose ouster has been long-sought by liberals on the board. “I’m going to be 64 in August so maybe it was time to think about retiring. It’s just a little earlier than I planned on.”
Dave Wiganowski leaves one son and two daughters in addition to his wife, Angie, and thousands of great memories from the many who knew this fine fellow.