By Shereen Siewert
Friends and family members are mourning the death of a 49-year-old Wausau native whose life was cut short by a random knife attack last week in a Milwaukee suburb.
Ben Christianson, a 1988 Wausau East High School graduate who grew up on Wausau’s southeast side, would have celebrated his 50th birthday on Labor Day. Christianson was fatally stabbed around noon Tuesday, Aug. 27 while collecting soil samples in Greenfield as an employee of Ramaker & Associates. Armando Lang, a 19-year-old Greenfield man, faces intentional homicide charges in Christianson’s death, which followed months of violent behavior and potential mental health issues observed by neighbors and family members,” the Journal/Sentinel reports.
The two were not acquainted with one another and have no apparent connection, police said.
Both of Christianson’s parents are well-known retired educators in the Wausau School District. Don Christianson 82, an elementary school principal, retired in 1996. Don’s wife, 79-year-old Jane Christianson, taught art and English at Wausau middle schools until her retirement in 1999.
Ben’s death left friends and family members reeling.
“We should have been celebrating Ben’s 50th birthday,” Jane Christianson said. “Instead, we are planning a funeral because of an act of supreme cruelty…taking a life.”
Jay Christianson, Ben Christianson’s older brother, said Ben can perhaps be best remembered by his love of the outdoors, from fishing trips to hunting with family members.
Fishing trips with friends were always an event, family members recalled. Spending the days on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage checking favorite fishing holes; hammering through the storm-driven waves in their too-small aluminum boats; sitting at fishing camp’s fire playing Sabbath with friends on their acoustic guitars. Exploring the islands and just enjoying roughing it, they say.
A music lover, Ben was a serious concert-goer with a wide range of musical interests. He attended Stevie Ray Vaughn’s last performance at Alpine Valley, his brother said. This summer, he and longtime friend Kelly Kuss saw the Rolling Stones one evening and went to a performance of Hamilton the next.
“Ben got out and did things,” Jay Christianson said. “He hoofed it through Europe to attend a friend’s wedding in Spain. He landed in Paris and found his way to the wedding ten days later in Spain. No plans. No net. Just land and go.”
Even for work, Ben was always moving. When he started with Ramaker & Associates he spent his early days doing “tank yanking,” as a hydrogeolgist doing soil sampling around old heating fuel oil tanks, and progressed throughout his last 26 years at the company to all kinds of jobs that needed to be done. He loved to drive and enjoyed the ride as he went, family member say..
Like so many Wausau children who grew up in the the 70s and 80s Ben learned to ski at Sylvan Hill, before the park became a tubing destination. He graduated to skiing at Rib Mountain before racing in various leagues, eventually winning his division in the national NASTAR races, the largest public grassroots ski racing program in the world, and completed the Birkebeiner several times.
Some of the family’s fondest memories of Ben are times spent hunting on the family’s land with uncles his grandfather.
“Ben would often show up the last minute of the night before opener and ask where he should sit,” Jay recalled. “Often enough… whatever spot we sent him to, Ben would get the big buck. But, he was less there to hunt, as to be with our grandpa, and uncles Bill, Bob and Gene. He enjoyed the time away, spending time with family in the little log cabin, listening to their stories and offering his own.”
Ben Christianson attended John Marshall Elementary and John Muir Middle Schools in Wausau before moving on to high school. After graduating from Wausau East Ben continued his education the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a degree in hydrogeology.
The man who took Ben’s life is facing life in prison and is being held in the Milwaukee County Jail on a $200,000 cash bond. But Ben’s family members say that is little comfort as they struggle to come to terms with such an unspeakable loss.
For now, they’re taking comfort in the memories they share.
“In his almost 50 years, Ben lived a full life,” Jay Christianson said. “If he wanted to go somewhere, he went. If he wanted to do something, he did it. Ben went for it.”
A memorial service will be held Tuesday, Sept.10.
All photos courtesy of Jay Christianson. All rights reserved.