Former public officials remember Carl Carmichael

Former Shawano schools administrator passes
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CARL CARMICHAEL

Two public figures, both now retired from public service, shared their thoughts and memories Monday about a man they said was not only vital to their success but instrumental to progress in the Shawano area community and the state.

The man they were remembering, Michael Carmichael, recently passed away and will be further remembered during funeral services this week for the roles he played in everything from education to the environment.

“People will never really understand all the good he did,” said former U.S. Congressman Dr. Steve Kagen.

Carmichael was campaign director for Kagen in two successful bids for the 8th Congressional District in 2006 and 2008.

“He was instrumental in my congressional campaigns, in educating me and guiding me as a government servant,” Kagen said.

Kagen chose Carmichael because of Carmichael’s experience working as executive assistant to Herbert Grover, state superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction.

“I thought he must know something,” Kagen said.

“Basically, Carl designed my winning campaigns and helped to get me in contact with people so I could understand the district a heck of a lot better,” he said.

“He knew Wisconsin like the back of his hand and we’re all better off because of it,” Kagen said. “He will always be remembered as someone who cared about the community. He had an uncompromising concern about the community and Shawano county and the state.”

Kagen said Carmichael had a hand in many things the public might not be aware of, including helping to make Highway 41 an interstate and federal support he won for the dairy industry when there was no market.

“Carl has had a hand in everything that we’ve done for people in northeast Wisconsin and in the whole state,” Kagen said. “He understood people and he understood how good government should work for everybody and we’ll miss him.”

Grover tapped Carmichael as his executive assistant in 1981.

“I brought him to Madison with me because, if I had a tough problem and I needed someone to handle a difficult situation, I gave it to Carl,” Grover said. “And Carl always got the job done.”

Carmichael had, at that point, been with the Shawano School District for 23 years.

In 1968, he implemented the first modular scheduling program in Wisconsin to deal with overcrowding at the high school.

“Carl was on the cutting edge,” Grover said. “It was an absolutely different approach to how you scheduled and serviced the students. Some people liked it, some didn’t, but Carl was innovative and made a significant difference in how the school could function and operate around the educational needs of children.”

Carmichael’s contributions went beyond education, Grover said.

“I think Carl, of all the people I know in Shawano, did the most significant public service heading up the Shawano Lake Sanitary District,” Grover said. “He got $4 million in grants and loans from state and federal agencies. You think the lake has problems now, with water levels and weeds? It was in danger of having septic systems just drain into the lake and absolutely destroy it. He he got the job done.”

Grover said Carmichael always put the public interest over his own.

“He was strong and he was tough and he had the broader public purpose as part of his activity,” Grover said. “There isn’t much of that anymore.”

Grover said the community benefited from Carmichael and his wife, Janelle.

“They were one heck of a team,” he said. “They were strong and they were good and they blessed our community. I’m indebted to them and the community is indebted.”

Kagen recalled returning to his home district for the first time after setting up his office in Washington.

Carmichael picked him up at the airport and told him he was going to address a gathering at the Wisconsin Towns Association.

Kagen began to address the crowd by saying Carmichael had written a few words for him to say.

“Before I could say ‘he prepared a few remarks,’ they all applauded,” Kagen said.

He then read what Carmichael wrote.

“My name is Congressman Dr. Steve Kagen and I’m in charge of absolutely nothing.”

After the laughter subsided, Kagen told the crowd they had just heard their shortest political speech.

“If you have a problem in this district, call Carl Carmichael,” he told them.

“He really knew how to care for people and how good government could work to help solve people’s problems,” Kagen said. “He really was a state treasure. We’re very fortunate to have had him in our lives.”