Longtime Wisconsin lawmaker and hall of fame broadcaster Walter John Chilsen, of Wausau, has died at age 95.
“Our hearts are torn by a terrible sorrow,” family members wrote in a public Facebook post.
“Our father, Senator Walter John Chilsen, 95, of Wausau, Wisconsin died Christmas morning after a brief illness,” the post reads. “He is survived by the love of his life, Rose, his eight children, many grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren, as well as lifelong friends and neighbors.
“Of course there will be more info to share over the coming days but we wanted to quickly get the word out to the many who knew and loved our dear dad. Please keep our family in your prayers and positive thoughts as we process this great great loss. We are heartbroken.”
Chilsen, born Nov. 11, 1923, began his career in radio and television broadcasting in 1949 with WLIN radio in Merrill. After three years he moved on to pursue a career in acting but returned to radio broadcasting with WLIN in early 1954 and then moved to WSAU radio, Wausau, later that year. He became the first news director and anchor for WSAU-TV when it signed on the air as Wausau’s first television station in October, 1954.
Chilsen attended Northwestern University, and later graduated with a BS from Lawrence University in 1949. He was a veteran of World War II, serving in the United States Air Force from 1943 to 1945. He was a bombadier and his plane was shot down in the Pacific during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
He remained in those positions as Central Wisconsin’s most authoritative news voice until 1966.
Chilsen was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate in November 1966, representing the 29th District.
In 1990, he retired from politics after serving six terms in the Wisconsin Senate. He went on to spend 17 years on the town of Weston Board of Supervisors, retiring from the board in December 2017.
He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1969 against Democrat Dave Obey, who called him “the Walter Cronkite of central Wisconsin.”
Memorial plans have not yet been finalized.