When Tommy Thompson went to a picnic in Eau Claire to campaign for governor of Wisconsin, he asked David Duax to support his campaign.
Duax said, “Absolutely not.”
Thompson said Duax planned to support a Democratic candidate.
Later, he called Duax and said, “Duax. It’s Tommy. Governor Tommy. You have a responsibility to come to Madison and be a part of my government.”
Duax said, “Absolutely.”
It was this kind of attitude that set Duax apart from other politicians, the former governor said. He often crossed political party lines in order to do what he thought was best for the public. Duax worked in Thompson’s administration for 7 years.
Laughter rung through the church, tears trickled down some of the faces of those who gathered Saturday to hear stories about Duax at his memorial service at Bethesda Lutheran Brethren Church. Family members and friends celebrated Duax’s passion for history, travel and Eau Claire, which Thompson called Duax’s “first love.”
“He loved Eau Claire so much that I thought when he told me he was going to get married there would be no room for you, Kathryn,” Thompson said to Duax’s wife during his speech at the service.
His nephew, Christopher Forcier, recalled Duax taking him on a walk down Putnam Drive, where he told Forcier about how the path they walked on used to be a wagon trail for pioneers. “Things that most people don’t know about he taught me right here in our city, in our state, in our United States,” Forcier said. Duax knew the location and history of the Eau Claire Opera House and the log flume that connected Half Moon Lake and Dells Pond, said James Erdman, his brother-in-law.
Duax was elected to Eau Claire City Council in 2005, winning a re-election last month. Members of the City Council sat together in the pews of the church to remember Duax.
Although Eau Claire was always in his heart, Duax was a world traveler.
“He always traveled with a knowledge of the sense of history and where this particular event or activity fit,” Erdman said.
Friends and family who traveled with Duax would be diverted to where Napoleon led the Battle of Waterloo or the North Bridge where 500 militiamen fought King George III’s troops at the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
Duax stood on battlegrounds in Normandy, France and visited beautiful, historic Italian towns. Erdman recalled Duax’s most dangerous travels were with a friend behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s, when countries like Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo were under Soviet Union rule.
Erdman said Duax’s most terrifying experience was driving on a steep mountain gravel road in Kosovo with no protection along the way.
One day, the Warsaw-Pact invaded Czechoslovakia with tanks and Duax’s family and his friend’s family contacted the state department to see if the two were OK. A few days later, Duax called from Italy to say they traveled through Yugoslavia ahead of the tanks and were safe.
Stories about history, politics and Duax’s travels often circled the dinner table with his family, who many say was the most important thing to him.
Erdman recalls Duax helping his little sister, Laurie Erdman, with her research paper in middle school. She had writer’s block, and Duax closed her encyclopedia, and he talked her through the origins and history of World War I.
After, Laurie was able to finish her paper, and it led to her becoming a great writer, Erdman said. He taught Laurie all the countries on the globe when she was 5 years old and she can still remember them to this day.
“He was her world for a long time,” Erdman said.
Duax was fluent in Latin, interned in Washington, D.C., during college, earned the title of Mr. Enthusiasm at the University of Wisconsin for the chants he’s lead at Camp Randall Stadium. He was also a fan of Ice Road Truckers and the lawn game Kubb.
These stories are just a few of many that the speakers shared at Duax’s memorial service. The most common story was about Duax’s commitment to make the community around him a better place.
“David strived to make a difference and succeeded in doing so,” said Matthew Erdman, Duax’s nephew.
“We lost Dave too soon because those of us around him have so much more to learn,” Thompson said.
Forcier said Duax treated him like a son.
“David was like a second father to me,” Forcier said. “He had a profound impact on my life.”
If it were up to Thompson, he would name Eau Claire “Dave Duax Davidville” for one day of the year in honor of David Duax.
Lyga can be reached at 715-833-9203, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.