Madison - Bill Kraus, highly regarded champion of bipartisanship and democracy, died Friday at his home in Madison. He was 92 and had been in good health until suffering from pneumonia the last week.
William McCulloch Kraus was born to Melvin and Lynette (McCulloch) Kraus on March 5, 1926 in Marshfield, Wisconsin, moving to Stevens Point at an early age. He attended Carleton College and served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific late in World War II. After returning, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School and went to work for Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point where he served in upper management until 1978.
During this time, he was active in a succession of political campaigns beginning with Melvin Laird’s 1952 election to Congress. He then went on to manage and assist in electing Warren Knowles to three terms as governor and ran the challenge by John Erickson against Bill Proxmire in 1970.
He is especially admired as masterminding (along with his long-time friend and fellow GOP strategist, Bob Williams), the successful election of political newcomer, Lee Dreyfus, to the Governorship. Their strategy not only beat the party primary nominee, but later beat the incumbent Martin Schreiber. Bill then moved to Madison, serving in the Dreyfus administration as the Governor’s Communications Director. The administration was well known for its bipartisan civility and cooperation, transparency and public input. Bill later memorialized the Dreyfus campaign, with its lack of budget and new-to-the-world strategies, in a book titled Let the People Decide.
After the Dreyfus years, he moved to New York City, serving as the Vice President of Marketing for The Equitable, where he served under long-time friend Bob Froehlke. After that, he served on the Board of Directors of what is now known as Frontier Communications, a Fortune 500 firm. Earlier he had served on the Board of Sentry Cable.
Upon returning to Wisconsin in 1990, Bill thrived as an insightful commentator on state politics. He served for many years as a political panelist on WPT’s Weekend program and appeared regularly on radio and TV. Behind the scenes, he served as a private sounding board for political aspirants of all types.
Thousands grew to appreciate that Bill was the conscience of Wisconsin politics: For two decades he Co-Chaired, with Former Democratic Governor Tony Earl, Common Cause of Wisconsin. Among the topics of frequent educational missives to his extensive network of fans and mentees, were lessons in good government and how to tackle the unfairness of gerrymandering.
For a lifetime of selfless and conscientious civic leadership, The Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service created the “Bill Kraus Lifetime Achievement Award” and as its first recipient, honored Bill in April 2018.
Bill dearly loved his mother, his girls and grandchildren, Toni’s family, and the legion of friends he made along the way. All will remember his passion for democracy, good food, cards with best friends, jazz, books and entertaining. A seat at his dinner table was highly sought after, and he was a great creative chef to the very end.
Bill is survived by his wife of 37 years, Toni Sikes; three daughters, Marcia (Russel Potter) Kraus, Sally (Harry Tracosas) Kraus, and Nancy (Marlin Fors) Kraus; grandchildren, Michael Fors, Dana Fors, Emma Potter, and Dashiell Potter. He was preceded in death by his parents, a brother, Chandler, prior spouse, Edie (Davidson) Kraus, and many dear friends and collaborators.
A celebration of Bill’s life will be held from 12 noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 13, 2019 at the Memorial Union (Great Hall), 800 Langdon Street, Madison WI 53706.
In lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Bill are invited to contribute to Play Fair Wisconsin, a 501(c)(3) formed to educate people on the importance to democracy of political maps prepared with a neutral process: (https://www.playfairwi.com/), Common Cause Wisconsin (https://www.commoncausewisconsin.org/), and the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) (https://wipps.org).
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