Bruce F. Beilfuss (1915-1986)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice
Chief Justice (1976-1983)
"The two to one victory margin of Justice Bruce Beilfuss of the state Supreme Court in his re-election last week was a fitting reward for a man who is as well qualified by temperament, training and rich experience as any man who has served as a member of the state appeal tribunal in modern times." - John Wyngaard, The Green Bay Press-Gazette (1973)
Bruce Frederich Beilfuss was born on January 8, 1915, in Withee, Wisconsin. He graduated from Neilsville High School in 1932 and attended the University of Wisconsin, where he earned an economics degree in 1936 and a law degree in 1938.
In 1938, Beilfuss returned to Clark County to practice law and was elected to the Board of Supervisors, the first of 14 consecutive, successful campaigns for public office. He was elected district attorney in 1941.
When World War II broke out, Beilfuss entered the U.S. Navy. While serving as a PT Boat Commander in the South Pacific, he was re-elected, Clark County district attorney, in absentia.
Beilfuss was appointed a circuit judge in 1948, at age 33, becoming the youngest circuit judge in Wisconsin at the time. He served in this capacity for 15 years. He presided over jury trials in 55 of the state's 72 counties, traveling as much as 30,000 miles a year.
While running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1963, he defeated four opponents in the primary election and was elected to the Supreme Court by a 2-to-1 margin. The Milwaukee Bar Association endorsed Beilfuss with a 99.3% approval rating, the highest such score ever recorded.
Beilfuss was re-elected by a wide margin in 1973. Upon the death of Chief Justice Horace W. Wilkie in 1976, Beilfuss became the chief justice. An attorney once said of him: "Beilfuss is the man I most respect. He is smarter than the rest. He may not write well, but he has the most clarity. He is a fair man." Beilfuss retired from the Supreme Court in 1983.
Beilfuss was active outside the judiciary. He served as chair on the Board of Visitors of the University of Wisconsin Law School, was a member of the VFW, the American Legion and a founder of the Dane County Big Brothers program.
Beilfuss and his first wife Helene Hendrickson had a son, Mark. Beilfuss married De Ette Knowlton after Helene died. He and De Ette raised golden retrievers and greatly loved the outdoors. They adopted a daughter, Karen Johnson.
Beilfuss died August 18, 1986.