Madison - Joel Skornicka died unexpectedly on Saturday, November 16, 2019 at the age of 82. Joel was born on January 29, 1937 in Green Bay, WI, the son of Lester and Emma Jean (Hansen) Skornicka. He is survived by his children, Christopher of Ft. Myers Beach, FL, and Jennifer Rewey (Steve) of Edina, MN; his grandchildren, Grace and Nicholas Rewey; his former wife, Carol Nechrony Skornicka; and his longtime friend, Bonnie Cleary.
Joel attended Green Bay public schools, graduating from West High School in 1955. He earned his bachelor’s degree (1959) and master’s degree (1965) in political science from UW-Madison. Joel served as chair of the Wisconsin Union Directorate music committee his junior year and as president of the Directorate his senior year.
After graduation, he began active duty as a second lieutenant in the Army Military Police Corps at Fort Gordon, GA and at Fort Sheridan, IL, followed by reserve duty in Madison. He was honorably discharged in 1966, as a reserve officer with the rank of captain.
Joel returned to Madison in 1960, and over the following 19 years assumed various administrative positions at UW-Madison: program advisor at the Wisconsin Union; student organization advisor at the Dean of Students Office; assistant director at the Academic Computing Center; and assistant chancellor at the Chancellor’s Office. One of his first projects at Bascom Hall involved the establishment of the National Wildlife Health Center on Schroeder Road in Madison, followed by a number of campus and community joint planning and implementation projects.
In 1979, Joel was elected mayor of Madison and served two terms from April 1979 to April 1983. After city hall, he returned to UW-Madison as vice president of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. He then left that position to become director of development at the University of California, Davis, and later joined Austin Associates, Napa, CA with local government consulting responsibilities. In 2002, he returned to Madison and joined the Midwest Strategy Group where he concentrated on local government and university research related issues.
During his two terms as mayor of Madison, he was able to accomplish a number of initiatives, programs and projects. Joel’s tenure as mayor could best be described by his philosophy of “Working together Works.” Under Joel’s leadership, the mayor’s elected term was changed to four years from two years. Federal funding for the first Madison Metro transit service center was secured. A new Fire Station #4 on Monroe Street was opened. The UW-Madison Research Park was launched with city involvement. A lawsuit was resolved allowing MATC to grow and relocate to a new Truax Campus site while retaining its downtown location. A downtown surface parking area was redeveloped into the Capitol Center Senior and Market Rate Housing/a new Senior Center/grocery store and parking garage, and the Madison Civic Center was opened with additional funding. The Henry Vilas Zoo transfer to Dane County was implemented, and the south beltline highway was completed. In 1983, he initiated the planning that resulted in the establishment of the first Badger State Games. Joel was also instrumental in bringing the Muskies (now the Mallards) baseball to Warner Park and Madison.
During Joel’s Madison years, he was involved in a variety of campus and community organizations. He was a board member and president of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; a board member of the Madison Club and president of the University Club, a board member and treasurer of the Center for Railroad Photography and Art; a member and chair of the Wisconsin Arts Board; and a member of the Madison Sesquicentennial Commission, the Political Science Department Board of Visitors Historic Madison, Inc., the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Camp Randall Rowing Club project for preserving and restoring the Brittingham Park Boat House, the Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo Study Committee, and the City of Madison Blue Committee on Clean Elections.
Once retired, he enjoyed the Friday noon gatherings at the Avenue Bar with the Has-Been Group composed of retired public office holders and journalists and the monthly breakfast meetings with former UW-Madison colleagues and retired City of Madison department heads.
Joel’s long-time affection and interest was for the UW-Madison and the City of Madison. Both, he believed, made it possible for him to appreciate what citizen participation can do to contribute to the community common good by being elected to public office. His favorite saying was by Prairie Home Companion writer and radio host, Garrison Keillor, “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” Joel dedicated his life to public service and he loved the City of Madison.
A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday, December 5, 2019 at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, 3330 Atwood Ave., Madison. A visitation will be held from 2:30 until the time of the service. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to the UW-Madison Political Science Department Skornicka Public Service Fund in care of the UW Foundation at 1848 University Avenue, Madison WI, 53726-4090, the Second Harvest Food Bank at 2802 Dairy Drive, Madison, WI 53718 or the Foundation for Madison Public Schools at 101 Nob Hill Road, Suite 300, Madison, WI 53713.
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