January 15, 2002 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin statesman who envisioned Peace Corps proved visionary

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Wisconsin statesman who envisioned Peace Corps proved visionary

Read and comment on this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about on Henry Reuss who along with Hubert Humphrey proposed the idea of a government service "Peace Corps" in the late 1950s at:

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Wisconsin statesman proved visionary

Jan 15, 2002 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Author(s): Amy Rabideau Silvers

HENRY S. REUSS 1912-2002

Wisconsin statesman proved visionary

Congressman's work leaves state with Ice Age Trail, world with Peace Corps


of the Journal Sentinel staff

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

As a U.S. congressman for nearly three decades -- and for the rest of his long life -- Henry S. Reuss helped create and then nurture organizations as diverse as the Peace Corps and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Reuss died of congestive heart failure late Saturday in the San Francisco Bay area. He was 89. He moved from Washington, D.C., to Belvedere, Calif., in 1995.

"He was conscious -- he wasn't in pain -- talking to his doctor right to the end," said his son, Michael Reuss. "He was legally blind, he could barely walk, but his mind was completely active."

It was, friends and colleagues agreed, a brilliant mind.

"For me, he was a person who had so much vision, kind of an incredible statesman," said Michael Brady, now employee benefits manager for the City of Milwaukee, and formerly staff director with the congressman's Milwaukee office.

"One of his traits was being able to switch gears," he said. "He might talk with a central city group on low-income housing and then meet with the well-to-do and the movers and shakers."

He was, by all accounts, a complicated man. He was born to a conservative banking family but embraced liberalism. He was a man who identified with the disadvantaged but was never himself disadvantaged. Early on, he attempted an everyman touch, occasionally calling himself "Hank," but he was Henry Reuss and more comfortable with big words and big ideas.

He was a politician despite his personality, not because of it.

"I'm not a back-slapper," Reuss once said, "but I'm not a recluse, either. I love friends, I love to be somebody's friend, and I like to kid around."

Created Ice Age Trail

Reuss, regarded as the father of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, was probably most proud of its creation. He fought for the trail early on, writing the legislation for it in 1964, and also serving on the trail foundation's board and contributing money to the cause. He later helped promote an auxiliary project to preserve the Hartland Marsh.

"The Kettle Moraine is Wisconsin's Grand Canyon and Yosemite," Reuss said, declaring the rolling topography to be "Wisconsin's No. 1 jewel."

His environmental legacy also included advocacy for the Clean Water Act.

Reuss is regarded as the legislative founder of the Peace Corps, with support from then Sen. Hubert Humphrey and President John F. Kennedy.

"He was the founder of the idea," said U.S. Rep. David R. Obey (D- Wis.). "He originally sponsored a plan for the 'Point Four Youth Corps,' which eventually became the Peace Corps."

Michael Reuss said that the idea, the result of his father's travels, "blended the concept of public service and the internationalism that was important to him."

Throughout his life, Reuss remained interested in what others thought.

"He had an interest in everything," said his daughter, Anne Reuss. "He would ask a grandchild, 'Tell me what are the 23-year-olds thinking about . . .' whatever the latest thing was.

"He had a large head," she said, affectionately. "I always thought the reason was all the things he was thinking about."

Raised on Grand Ave.

Henry Schoellkopf Reuss was born in Milwaukee on Feb. 22, 1912, the son of Gustav A. Reuss and Paula Schoellkopf Reuss. He grew up in a fine old Victorian house at N. 17th St. and what is now W. Wisconsin Ave., which his maternal grandmother, Emilie Vogel Nunnemacher, later willed to Milwaukee Children's Hospital.

His grandfather, Gustav Reuss, went into the banking business in Milwaukee's early days, becoming one of the early presidents of Marshall & Ilsey Bank, now M&I Bank. His father also was a banker, as well as an amateur musician.

In 1933, Reuss earned a degree in history and government from Cornell University. In 1936, he graduated from Harvard Law School, third in his class, and returned home to practice law.

By 1939, he was assistant corporation counsel for Milwaukee County; he next went to Washington as an assistant counsel for the Office of Price Administration.

He met his future bride, Margaret Magrath, an OPA economist from Winnetka, Ill., in July 1942. They married that October.

In 1943, Reuss volunteered for service as an Army private with the 75th Infantry. He was promoted to the rank of major and later awarded a Bronze Star. His service included time on Gen. Eisenhower's staff.

"He was one of the key lawyers in implementing the original European Economic Recovery Act -- the Marshall Plan -- after World War II," Obey said.

A liberal despite background

Despite his conservative family background -- and the fact that he worked for Quarles, Spence & Quarles, a conservative law firm -- Reuss returned from the war with a different political perspective.

He became active in liberal circles and, as a relative unknown, ran for Milwaukee mayor in 1948. Using the slogan "Our Choice is Reuss," he survived a crowded field of 17 candidates in the primary only to lose to Frank P. Zeidler.

Reuss next ran as a Democratic candidate for state attorney general. He lost. Two years later, he tried for the privilege of getting licked by Sen. Joe McCarthy. He lost in the Democratic primary.

He didn't shoot as high on his next try, winning a seat on the Milwaukee School Board in 1953.

Although service on a school board isn't usually a springboard for Congress, Reuss was off and running. In 1954, he defeated incumbent Charles Kersten in the 5th Congressional District. Until he retired in 1983, the job remained his.

The only other election he ever lost -- and one that political observers couldn't believe he wanted -- was the job of Milwaukee mayor. Reuss ran again in 1960, losing to Henry W. Maier in what became known as the "sleeping bag" campaign.

Supporters of George Bowman Jr., a candidate eliminated in the primary, had contended that Reuss was not a Milwaukee resident because he was staying at his North Lake home in Waukesha County when he was home from Washington.

Reuss said that the family home in Milwaukee was being remodeled, but that he slept there in a sleeping bag. Some believed that the sleeping bag issue contributed to Maier's victory.

"People couldn't figure out why somebody in a national position wanted to be mayor of a city," Reuss later said. "But that was where the action was. Had I been elected, I would have been very happy as a mayor. But since it was willed otherwise, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I could concentrate my mind on my congressional duties."

Headed banking committee

And concentrate he did.

By 1975, House Democrats elected Reuss chairman of the Banking, Currency and Housing Committee, bypassing three more-senior members. It followed his aggressive and successful campaign to oust the 81- year-old former chairman, Rep. Wright Patman (D-Texas).

That move instantly transformed Reuss into one of the leaders on matters related to finance and economics. With his usual droll wit, Reuss himself marveled at the transition.

"Suddenly what I've been saying all along makes news," he said. "It's sort of like Lindbergh. You make one flight . . . ."

He also matter-of-factly downplayed his own credentials, saying he merely stepped in where others had disdained to tread.

"I'm a slightly fraudulent international monetary expert," he said, describing the subject as "frankly, pretty boring."

The political change for Reuss and other challengers happened with the help of 75 freshman Democrats -- the so-called Young Turks -- who swept into office in the post-Watergate election of 1974 and rocked the House's venerable seniority system.

"He was a tremendous crusader for adequate government regulation of finance. He would have been hell-bent to skin someone alive for the Enron situation," said Obey, referring to the financial scandal involving Enron Corp.

Republicans, who did not necessarily agree with Reuss' politics, nevertheless appreciated his humor and integrity.

"Henry Reuss had such a keen sense of humor, he was able to make dry legislation on banking interesting and enlightening -- and even amusing," said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.).

Praise for Reuss' book

Sensenbrenner also noted that Reuss made valid points in his book, "When Government was Good," published in 1999 by University of Wisconsin Press.

"He made the assertion that you could take strong stands on politics and be a loyal American and someone who was both intellectually and personally honest," Sensenbrenner said.

During his last term, Reuss gave up the House banking chairmanship to take over the Joint Economic Committee. The job, geared toward research and study, was a much better fit for Reuss.

Hearings and studies ranged across the wide swath of his interests: agricultural policy, the nation's economic outlook, deregulation of natural gas, the economic status of women, defense spending, President Reagan's new federalism proposals, the economic consequences of the political situation in the Persian Gulf, the economic situation in Cuba and semi-conductor trade policies.

"I have not wanted to slacken off," Reuss said at the time. "I'm still on the payroll."

Mixed feelings on building

Interestingly, one of the most public tributes to the congressman's long service -- the Reuss Federal Plaza -- was a project he both loved and hated. He regarded the big, blue modern building as an important part of economic development in Milwaukee but hardly an example of fine architecture.

Reuss also authored the legislation that created Martin Luther King Day, said Frank Miller, formerly a field representative for Reuss' office in Milwaukee.

Miller, now communication director with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, said he never knew everything his old boss had been doing until he joined the foundation.

Reuss anonymously created the Martin Luther King Memorial Fund in 1972, endowing it with $50,000 through the foundation. The fund continues to make grants for projects in Milwaukee.

"As an elected official, he realized there were things he needed to do in the public eye," Miller said. "There were other things he wanted done privately, in a very quiet way."

Reuss lent his moral and financial support to other projects, too, including the creation of Old World Wisconsin in 1976. Reuss was one of the first contributors to what is now one of the largest living history museums in the country, said John Reilly, its assistant director.

Reuss retired in 1983, but he did not slack off. He briefly practiced law, soon filling his days with lectures and travel, non- governmental boards and causes.

Above all, Reuss remained a passionate advocate for the possibility of change and democracy.

"I believe that there is no defect of democracy which more democracy can't cure," he said. "I think the country prospers best when the distribution of wealth and income is not too unequal, when power is decentralized, when institutions -- government, business, unions -- are of a size and not so big that they lose human scale."

In addition to his wife, Margaret, survivors include two daughters, Anne of Chicago and Jacqueline of Paris, France; and a son, Michael of Portland, Ore. Another son, Christopher, died in a kayaking accident in 1986. Other survivors include seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Family members planned a private memorial gathering today in California. Another memorial gathering has been suggested by friends in Milwaukee, but no plans have been set.

His remains will return to the hometown he loved, with some buried at the family plot at Forest Home Cemetery and the rest scattered at the family's North Lake home.


1936: Graduates from Harvard Law School, returning to Milwaukee to practice law.

1939-'40: Assistant corporation counsel for Milwaukee County.

1941-'42: Assistant general counsel with the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C.

1943: Volunteers as Army private, earning the rank of major by end of service.

1948: As a lawyer in Milwaukee, runs for mayor of Milwaukee, losing to Frank P. Zeidler.

1949: Deputy general counsel for the Marshall Plan in Paris, France.

1950: Unsuccessful campaign to become Wisconsin attorney general.

1952: Unsuccessful campaign to challenge Sen. Joe McCarthy.

1953: Elected to Milwaukee School Board.

1954: First successful campaign for U.S. House of Representatives.

1960: Second unsuccessful campaign to become Milwaukee mayor, defeated by Henry Maier.

1975: Elected chairman of powerful Banking, Currency and Housing Committee by House Democrats, part of a shake-up that upset the seniority system.

1981: Steps down from banking committee to head the Joint Economic Committee.

1983: Retires from Congress but not from public life.

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