Erik L. Madisen Jr., a longtime member of our church, passed away at 90 years old on January 19. His life was celebrated in a service led via Zoom by Pastor Steve on January 23. Rik, baptized in 1930, was the most senior member of our church in terms of continuous membership. His loving spirit will abide and continue to bless our church. Below is the eulogy Pastor Steve shared.
Erik L. Madisen, Jr. was born on April 29, 1930 at Appleton Hospital, which is today called St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, to Erik and Esther Madisen. Rik was an only child, born when his parents were 36, and when they were in the middle of an adoption process for a child named, ironically enough, Nancy.
Rik’s father, Erik Sr., was a kind and sweet man who served as an editor and publisher of the Badger Legionnaire. Rik’s mother was a housewife who was well-connected with many friends and active in the community.
His parents entertained a lot and were active in the Masons and Eastern Star. His Dad was very public minded, including service on the committee that helped raise funds for the establishment of High Cliff State Park. He was well-known around Appleton.
As a baby, Rik and his family lived on Lawe Street as they were building the house on 1623 Durkee St. That’s the house where he grew up, right between Roosevelt Junior High and Erb Park. I should tell you that Rik was the most senior member of our congregation, baptized as a baby at our church in 1930 and a member ever since.
As a kid, Rik liked to build model airplanes and liked to go to the movies, He went through the Appleton School System: Franklin Grade School, Roosevelt Junior High, and graduating from Appleton High School (now known at Appleton West) in 1948.
In High School, Rik played Tennis (Nancy told me he was on the B Team) and he did extemporaneous speaking. He also took an aptitude test in which he scored very high for Chemistry, which led him to Oberlin College in Ohio.
Rik spent an interesting year at Oberlin. He played soccer there but was not entirely comfortable with the eastern prep school atmosphere and had a few disagreements with the Dean. One of those disputes arose when Rik and some of his friends decided to secretly make some apple cider in the dorm. The family gave me no answer when I asked if it was meant to be “enhanced” apple cider. These young college geniuses decided they wanted the cider to stay cool, so they placed it on the roof where it ultimately exploded. Their secret project was no longer so secret.
Rik was much, much happier and very successful after he transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Madison his sophomore year. He majored in psychology with a minor in botany. He learned to sail, a sport he enjoyed throughout his life, owning two small sailboats.
He enjoyed the classes at UW, many with nationally known professors, was chairman of numerous social events such as prom, and a member of Sigma Nu fraternity. He was in line to be editor of the Badger Yearbook when his father became ill. Rik had worked with his Dad during the summers and needed to drop out of school for a semester to run the family publishing business. There was a little bit of George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life” in Rik: responsible, dutiful, sometimes called to do things he didn’t want to do, and invaluable to his family, friends, church and community. With enough credits from summer term, Rik graduated in 1952, a semester after his friends due to his family obligations.
A number of Rik’s High School friends as well as Rik himself had joined the Naval Reserve when they were 17 in 1947 or 48 with the idea of summer cruises and technical training in the peacetime Navy. Rik had a more accurate idea of what serving in the Navy was like. Rik’s father was in the Navy in World War I and suffered and nearly died from the Spanish Flu near the end of his service. But he recommended the Navy over the Army to Rik because “you always know where your bed is.”
Reservists began to be called up in 1950 when the Korean War began. With his graduation from college, Rik was called up and assigned to a pre-commissioning detail in Boston while the destroyer USS Wilkinson was being built in Quincy, nearby. He became a Personnel man (today, we’d called it “an HR Professional”), using his psychology training for placement and testing, and his two weeks of boot camp in teaching new recruits how to be a sailor. Stationed in Boston, Rik took full advantage of season tickets to the Boston Symphony, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and free admission as a serviceman to all the shows trying out for Broadway.
Eventually the Wilkinson was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and Rik steamed about 25,000 miles on her, visiting ports in New York, Norfolk, Key West and the Caribbean (twice!).
Honorably discharged, Rik was faced with a difficult choice: should he work as a trained industrial psychologist or pursue an editorial career with his father. He chose to join his Dad in the publishing business.
Moving back to Appleton, Rik joined the DEE Club (standing for Devotions, Education and Entertainment). It was a Christian fellowship group for young people from all denominations.
Meanwhile, Nancy Pickering, originally from Hatley, Wisconsin (a small village near Wausau) had graduated from Carroll College in education and gotten her first teaching job in Neenah. She lived in a house of four teachers. As Halloween approached in 1959, they decided to have a house party requiring everyone to invite somebody to the Party. Of course, Nancy, having just come from college and not from the Fox Cities area, didn’t know a soul. And so the most outgoing of her teacher roommates invited some folks from the DEE Club to come to the party, including Rik Madisen. That’s how Nancy and Rik met.
And they started dating right away. The first date was the next weekend. Nancy had committed to attending a reunion, so Rik met her at the train station and took her out to a play. Their courting would include many plays and concerts and DEE Club events. That’s when Nancy learned how to ski. Just a year after their first date, Rik and Nancy were married on October 22, 1960 at Nancy’s home church in Wausau.
This joyous event came on the heels of a sad event, the sudden death of Rik’s father. Because of the suddenness of the death and Erik Sr.’s beloved status in our community, First Congregational Church was filled to over-flowing for the funeral. In the years that followed, he looked after his mother faithfully, very much the loving family member and dutiful son.
As he took over his father’s publishing business and it grew in reputation, Rik became involved in various park and recreation associations, becoming president of the six state and two province Mid-Continent Regional Park and Recreation Association. The Golf Course Superintendent magazine was added as a contract publication. Through his publications, Rik became an early leader in the environmental movement. In fact, in 1962 Rik was asked to be a speaker at the World Congress of Parks which met every five years. He was delegated by Secretary of Interior Stuart Udall and Senator Gaylord Nelson to represent the United States. He was again asked to speak at the 1967 World Congress of Parks. His first conference was in London, the second in Brighton, England. Around 60 countries were represented.
The Maintenance Journal was added to his publishing duties, a periodical going to building engineers. Later Demolition Age was added for the contractors who demolished buildings with machinery or explosives. Each publication was a leader in its field. Imagine the broad swath of knowledge and appreciation it took for Rik to be a good editor of such a variety of publications.
In speaking with Jane Anderson, former Pastor of our Church, one of the things she commented on was how often she saw Rik at the bookstore downtown, striking up a conversation with someone else browsing through the stacks. And he was always interested in talking about what THEY were interested in. He had such a loving spirit and open curiosity about him that folks would instantly respond to his invitation to talk.
With all of Rik’s achievements in his work, he took the greatest amount of pride in his two children, Randi and Erik. I’m trying to think of a conversation with Rik when, at some point, he didn’t start bragging on his kids or his grandchildren.
Both Randi and Erik spoke to me so movingly about their father and their deep appreciation of him. Randi told me that Rik and Nancy were always there for all of her concerts and plays. And Rik would buy her a milk shake after every one of them. Erik told me that they were there for all his cross-country races, even if they could only catch a brief glimpse of him along the course. And Erik will always remember the trip he took alone with his father to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
There were many family trips to see our great country from the Colorado Rockies, Washington state twice, to the Ford River Rouge factory, to Williamsburg, to Disney World. The family loved downhill skiing and picnics. In ’78, they sponsored an AFS student from Japan who lived with them. They went together on a trip to D.C. and Florida.
And then there were the annual summer vacations to Door County. When Randi and Eric were babies, they found Knutson House in Door County, a place run by an aging couple, a place that was older and a bit run down and priced accordingly and, for Rik and Nancy, affordably. They went there for 4 or 5 summers until it closed. More recently, they bought a time share at The Rushes vacation resort, time that there were able to swap with other destinations and continue their explorations. All told, Rik took summer vacations in Door County for 60 years in a row (all but the first few with Nancy).
Nancy and Rik shared several visits to the Bahamas and visits to Europe. They went behind the Iron Curtain to Russian-occupied Hungary, visited relatives in Norway, and saw Nancy’s friend in England. The trip I heard the most about from Rik, however, was the Alaskan Cruise when he and Nancy took the whole family along to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. You can’t overstate Rik’s pride in and love of his family.
In writing about his beloved wife Nancy, Rik wrote this in his wry style: “Nancy is a great cook, a fine mother, a good bridge player and the keeper of the exchequer.” I had to look that last one up. In the way he was using the word, the most appropriate definition is an old English one: “the… government office responsible for collecting revenue and making payments on behalf of the sovereign…” As I said, Rik had a wry style about him, even when talking about the love of his life with whom he shared 60 years of marriage.
The last thing I must share about Rik Madisen was his love of the community. For our church, he served on most of our commissions and committees over his 90 years of membership, he liked to “put people in their place” as an usher, helped start the Pastoral Counseling Center which today has blossomed into the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Fox Valley. Nancy and Rik assembled our bulletins for many years and volunteered in the office. Rik volunteered just about right up to the time when the building was closed by the Pandemic.
More importantly, the spirt Rik and Nancy have brought to our church over all their years of membership has helped to define us – loving and thoughtful, open-minded and free thinking, reverent while never losing our sense of humor.
In our community, Rik served on the Appleton and Grand Chute Park Boards. He was a past president of the Appleton Noon Lions Club. He personally brought in 24 members to the club and was the publisher of the Wisconsin Lion Magazine for 20 years. He convinced the club to try a Senior Living Expo that has become the Lions major fundraiser, providing over $50,000 for the Boys and Girls Club, Harbor House, the Emergency Shelter and many others. Rik exemplified the Lions’ motto: “We Serve.” In recognition of his service, he received Lions International’s highest honor, the Melvin Jones Fellowship.
The words of Jesus, preserved in the Gospels, remind us of Christ’s approach to service:
“The greatest among you will be your servant” we hear in Matthew (23:11);
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” That’s what Jesus instructs us in Luke’s Gospel (6:38);
And in Mark, Jesus tells us “… even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45).
Family, Country, Faith, Community – these were the places where Rik served so dutifully, so admirably, and so effectively. Rik Madisen died on January 19, 2021 at the age of 90. We give thanks for his life of loving service, his kind spirit which has blessed us and will abide with each of us, and for the joyous welcome that God has surely extended to him in life eternal. After such a wonderful life, what else can God say but, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”