Joe Brusca

Born in Madison in August 1948, I was raised in the Greenbush Neighborhood for the first 5 years of my life. In 1963 Madison pushed for an urban renewal project and the neighborhood was demolished which housed Italians, Irish, Blacks and Jews.

In 1953 my family moved a block away from the UW Camp Randal stadium. My father ran a grocery store near campus on Dayton and Charter Street. I was exposed to many UW functions including boxing, basketball and football. I spent eight years at Blessed Sacrament grade school and went on to Madison West High School graduating in 1966. During those years I experienced small town living in Madison with little league baseball, boy scouts and fishing in Madison lakes. My father took me hunting in the surrounding areas and family vacations were in Northern Wisconsin home to my motherís family and exposure to the great North Woods.

My first job was at the Ice Cream Shops, a local hangout for West High students. I met this girl, Susan Bowes who became my wife.

After high school, I enlisted in the Navy Reserve and served on the USS Frank E. Evans, a destroyer based in Long Beach, California. I served on a West Pac Cruise in Viet Nam and was given a nine months early out in a budget savings move by the Department of Defense. That was a fortunate turn of events for me because six months after departing the ship it was sunk in a collision with an Australian aircraft carrier in the South China Sea and 74 sailors were lost. The Frank E. Evans association is active in trying to get the 74 listed on the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C.

After returning from active duty, I married Sue in August,1969. Because I was 3 days shy of 21, men had to have permission from their parents to marry. Woman 18 years of age and older were not obligated.

I was looking for a carrier career direction and it dawned on me that my love of the outdoors would provide an opportunity to work in a field I was interested in. UW Stevens Point was a great fit in the course studies and students that mirrored my interest. Dean Dan Trainor was instrumental in developing a hands-on and an integrated approach in Natural Resources Studies. Dan Trainor later served as the Natural Resources Board as chairman. Stevens Point president was Lee Sherman Dreyfus whom I got to know as I chauffeured him in a work study program and Dreyfus later became Governor of Wisconsin.

Graduating 1973, with 2 kids in our growing family and with job prospects dismal in an economy that was in a recession, I applied for whatever job was available. A call from Gary LeRoy who was a former classmate and working in the DNR Solid Waste program in Spooner Wisconsin offered me a LTE job as a solid waste investigator. Sue asked me where Spooner was and what was the job? I really didnít know the answer to either of those questions.

The Northwest District was administered by Lowell Hansen, Bob Becker and Tom Dewitt. The DNR Secretary was Lester P. Voigt. I spent two years in the NWD before transferring to Southern District administered by Al Ely. Unfortunately Al Ely passed away from brain cancer shortly after I arrived. The administrative offices were in Quonset huts that had limited space and our solid waste team was housed in the forestry building on the same campus. A fire in the main buildings moved staff to Camp Wakanda on Lake Mendoda while a new building rose from the ashes.

Sue & Joe in Quetico Provincial Park.


The solid waste program was in its infancy and there were several thousand non-engineered sites located in sensitive areas across the state. We closed most of them within the next decade including sites in Lake Superior, wetlands, rivers and other sensitive areas. As technology and science advanced landfills were found to contaminate private and public water supplies and were closed. Engineered landfill sites took over and the Recycling program became prominent. The program expanded again with the Superfund program, Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, and the Brownfield initiative to reclaim contaminated properties. The Southern District developed a closure committee to close out sites that became a model for the rest of the state. I was involved with Central Office staff in developing clean-up standards for soil and groundwater. By this time I was a supervisor in the SD and worked with staff in an integrated approach to resource management. During a major reorganization of the Department I was promoted to the Air and Waste Regional Leader and took on the Air Program. The Air Program was a steep learning curve for me and was administered by Don Tyler. Don had a program initiative to look at the program as an elephant and break it down in understandable portions (eat an elephant one bite at a time). By this time I was supervised by Ruthe Badger the last Regional Director I served under. Unfortunately Ruthe fell to the same illness as Al Ely, my first SD administrator. In addition to my Air and Waste administrative duties I worked on special projects including the Chronic Waste Disease infecting the Stateís deer herd. In coordination with the Department of Health we came up with a plan to sample unwanted deer for CWD and provide food pantries with thousands of deer that tested negative.

I retired 2006 and was living on 70 acres purchased in Iowa County in 2000. I opened a canoe building shop with another future DNR retiree, Pat McCutcheon. It was a lot like fishing, we did not catch a lot of fish but had a lot of fun fishing.

I maintained my love of the outdoors and fished, hunted, canoed, skied and hiked across the country. I visited the Quetico Provincial Park over 45 times, spent 10 weeks in Alaska and visited every state in this great country.

Sue packing it in on Swanson Lake in the Kenia Peninsula


I look back on my DNR family and count many great friends and experiences.

Regular Carp-Thon gatherings at UW Memorial Union


Working for the Department left me with a goal I had in life to leave our state in better condition than what I found it.


Sue, Joe, Jason, Tony, Sean and Maggie the English Setter

My family includes sons, Jason in Escondido, California, Sean (retired army) in Sahuarita, Az. and Tony, a contractor in Madison. I have 2 grandsons, Joey and Tommy in Tucson, AZ where Sue, my wife of 53 years, and I spend the winters.

web stats