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Dudley leaves a legacy to be proud of: Our View

5:45 PM, Aug. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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Each of us hopes to have an impact on our community. Each of us hopes to leave a legacy behind, something tangible that we can say we had a hand in creating.

There are not many people who can claim to have an impact as outsized as the one Dick Dudley had on Wausau, nor who can claim a visual landmark quite as iconic.

But then, everything about Dudley - excepting his stature - was outsized. The decorated World War II veteran was stranded at sea in the South Pacific for 57 hours after his aircraft carrier was sunk during the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. He flew over Hiroshima only days after American forces dropped the nuclear bomb there. He worked his way up from an ad salesman at WSAU radio to the owner of a number of radio and TV stations, then an investor in multiple successful business ventures including Riiser Energy, Granite Peak Corp and the Jefferson Street Inn.

And, oh yes, there's that building in downtown Wausau that bears his name. Maybe you have noticed it.

Dudley died at his home Tuesday at 89.

All of those accomplishments are noteworthy. But they are probably not the real reason that Dudley was so well-loved by the people who knew him, nor why so many in Wausau feel such a sense of connection and gratitude to him.

Through the Dudley Foundation and other charitable work, Dudley helped to fund countless local social services agencies, arts initiatives and the groups and efforts that have made Wausau the community it is today. There can be no doubt about this: Dudley used his considerable wealth to make his community, our community, a better place.

Pretty often, he did so behind the scenes, sometimes with anonymous gifts or low-profile grants. But the local impact of his philanthropy was broad and deep.

In every sense of the word, he was invested in the community. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Dudley, his four children, in whom we've seen some of the same commitment to community in Wausau. He had eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They, too, are a pretty good legacy.

And those who knew him can attest that he was, simply, a genuinely good person: a man of enormous wealth who treated others as social equals; a businessman who cared about providing for those less fortunate; a former broadcasting giant who never lost his sense of connection to the public.

This year, Dudley made headlines again when he purchased the American Legion Golf Course in Wausau, remodeling and reopening it as Bunkers, a move that saved it from closing and allowed the Legionnaires to continue meeting there.

But it would not be right to say that was Dudley's "last act" of helping Wausau. Through the Dudley Foundation, through his family, through the buildings and institutions he built and the charities and nonprofits he supported, his impact will be felt here for years, for decades to come.

Wausau was lucky to have him. He will be missed.

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