Leo W. Roethe

Oct. 27, 1914 - Sept. 25, 2008

Leo W. Roethe, a conservationist and industrialist, died Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008, at age 93, in the Masonic Healthcare and Rehab Center in Dousman. He and his wife, Geraldine Barr Roethe, moved to Three Pillars Masonic Campus eight years ago.

An active civic leader, he lived in Fort Atkinson for more than 60 years. He was born in Fennimore on Oct. 27, 1914, to Edward and Bessie Roethe. He graduated from Union Free High School in Fennimore in June 1932. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1937 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. He became editor of the Jefferson County Union in 1938. In 1940, he was promoted to the advertising department of Hoards Dairyman Magazine, who also owned the newspaper. In 1946, he and Hugh Highsmith purchased the National Agricultural Supply Co., a company serving vocational agriculture teachers with teaching aids. Hugh Highsmith sold his interest in NASCO to Leo in 1956. Leo took the company public in 1960. He served for 20 years as president before retiring. He was president of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation for six years. In 1969, he was selected outstanding conservationist in Wisconsin by the Shikar-Safari Club International. In 1973, he received the same honor from the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

Leo served as second district chairman of the Republican Party for Wisconsin from 1960 to 1964. In 1960, he was a Wisconsin delegate to the national Republican convention in Chicago.

Roethe was active in Boy Scouts and served for 25 years on the board of the Sinnisippi Council, formerly the Indian Trails Council, and was awarded the Silver Beaver award in 1961.

Leo was a charter member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson. He was chairman of the fund drive to build the church in 1949. He served many years on the church council.

He served as president of the Fort Atkinson Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Cancer Society and the Fort Atkinson Conservation Club.

In 1944, he headed the fund drive to build a new hospital for Fort Atkinson. He was on the board of directors for Fort Memorial Hospital for 25 years.

Leo was a member of Billings Masonic Lodge 139 and the Madison Consistory and Zor Shrine.

In 1955, he formed Knob Hill Builders Co. and built many homes in Fort Atkinson, Cambridge, Janesville, Monroe and Lake Mills.

Roethes big game hunting expeditions started in 1959. Following the 1959 trip, Roethe became addicted to African safaris and from 1959 to 1973 was in Africa many times until he was badly wounded by a lion in 1973. He returned to Africa one last time in 2002.

During the early 1950s, Roethe developed acres of tree farms in western Wisconsin. He also developed 40 acres behind his home in Fort with a man-made lake and 75,000 trees in 1949. During the years that he was president of the Fort Atkinson Wisconservation Club, he promoted the planting of thousands of trees in the Jefferson County area.

Leo is survived by his wife, Geraldine, whom he married Nov. 14, 1941, and his daughters, Patricia (John Friedel) Weiss of Cambridge and Ann (Ron) Kutz of Cambridge. He is also survived by eight grandchildren and three step-grandchildren, Kelly (John) Lavin of Mayhill, N.M., Frank Weiss of Jefferson, Malia (Ben) Horine of Stoughton, Chris (Joel) Oestreich of Johnson Creek, John (Kristin) Kutz of Jefferson, Hannah (Tim) Miller of Landsdale, Pa., Emily and Kyle Kutz of Cambridge, Stephen Weiss of Johnson Creek and Jason and Jaymee Friedel of Madison. He has 12 great-grandchildren, Joel Lavin of Mayhill, Erica (Ken) LaClaire of Alamagordo, N.M., Ben Weiss of Whitewater, Nicolas Weiss of Waukesha, Lindsey Weiss of Fort Atkinson, Benjamin, Brooklyn and Rylee Mae Horine of Stoughton, Morgan and Reagan Oestreich and Kara and Korynne Kutz of Jefferson, and many nieces and nephews. He also is survived by a sister-in-law, Bess Roethe of Madison.

He was preceded in death by his parents; a daughter, Susan, in 1997; a son, Leo Jr., in 1971; brothers, Don (wife Adeline), Charles (wife Marion) of Fennimore and Art of Monroe; and his sisters, Catherine Warner (husband Alan) of California and Charlotte Brainerd (husband Dick) of Fennimore.

He was interested in gardening in his retirement years and swimming in the lake behind his house in Fort Atkinson. His family will always remember his propensity for being on time, loving schedules, loving adventure, loving a new business idea, directing his grandchildren in picking or weeding in the garden, buying souvenirs on trips on sale!, wearing colorful clothes, his love for dairy products, telling stories with great embellishment, taking a million pictures, his way with words, his bright blue eyes, gregarious smile and positive attitude.

He published three books: "Leo the Lion," "Days of Kilimanjaro" and "The 55 year History of the Fort Atkinson Wisconservation Club."

Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. funeral services Friday, Oct. 3, at at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson. A catered luncheon will be served immediately following the service at the church. A private graveside service will be held following the luncheon.

Condolences may be sent to Geraldine Roethe at: Village on the Square, 375 Highway 67, Apartment 357B, Dousman, WI 53118.

Memorials may be made to Trinity Lutheran Church, the Alzheimers Association, Fort Atkinson Wisconservation Club or Seasons Hospice at 4650 N. Port Washington Road, Milwaukee, WI 53212.

Nitardy Funeral Home of Fort Atkinson is assisting the family. For more information, call (920) 563-5898 or visit online at