MADISON—John H. “Jack” Lussier, The Capital Times founder William T. Evjue’s nephew, who went on to become one of Madison’s most prolific philanthropists, died Friday, July 27, 2018, at the age of 90.
During the past several decades, he personally funded numerous area projects, including the Lussier Heritage Center at Lake Farm Park and the preservation of beleaguered Fish Lake, the city’s two YMCA branches, including a water splash park at the east side facility, the Lussier Community Education Center, several projects at Olbrich Gardens and the Vilas Park Zoo and Lussier Stadium at La Follette High School. Many of his contributions were of a million dollars each.
He also was a major contributor to Madison College, where he funded hundreds of scholarships for needy students, the Madison Teen Center, the Salvation Army and The Capital Times’ Kids Fund. There were numerous other contributions to many area non-profits and to one of his favorite organizations, the Circus World Museum at Baraboo.
“I want to make people happy,” he would often say as he implored people to call him “Jack.” A personally frugal man, a trait he said he acquired growing up in the Great Depression, he nevertheless was especially generous in helping what he considered worthy projects and programs. Many of his contributions went to help children.
Lussier was the only child of Mr. Evjue’s sister, Emma. The newspaper founder had no children of his own and another sister, Nellie, never married. When Mr. Evjue died in 1970, Lussier was named one of his principal heirs.
Born in 1927, he graduated from Wausau High School in 1945, and later that year enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving two years in the Navy’s medical corps. After his service he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he graduated in 1951 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in political science with minors in journalism and English.
After graduation he went to work at The Capital Times’ owned radio station, WIBA, where he prepared and broadcast news and sports, and also worked for a brief time as a reporter for the newspaper itself. In 1953, he took a sales position with Proctor and Gamble where for five years he sold and merchandised to major grocery chains. He went on to work with Booz Allen Hamilton, a major national marketing firm, and later became an account executive with Batz-Hodgson and Neuwoehner Advertising in St. Louis.
Lussier returned to Madison in 1963, and was named business manager of Madison Newspapers Inc. When Mr. Evjue died in 1970, he was elected to take his uncle’s place on the board of The Capital Times Co. Although he retired as MNI business manger in 1982, he remained active on The Capital Times’ board and in recent years became its chairman.
Mr. Evjue’s will also made Lussier one of five trustees of the William T. Evjue Charitable Trust, which is the custodian of the late publisher’s controlling voting stock in the newspaper. Lussier also was named to the board of The Evjue Foundation and became its president in 1982, where he participated in the granting of millions of dollars to Madison area non-profits and civic causes.
He was also a longtime supporter of Badger sports programs and a jazz music enthusiast, not only as a fan, but as a musician himself. He played drums for several years with different jazz bands and in his later years delighted in playing free programs at area nursing homes. He was also a regular attendee at community theater events, eschewing major productions by professionals for shows and music festivals involving aspiring young actors and actresses from the Madison area.
Lussier is survived by his former wife, Marion; and two children, James (Dawn) Lussier of Middleton and Laura (Eric) Lussier Lee of Madison; and five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Henry and Emma Lussier; and a son, Jay.
The family will be holding private services.