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Wenger, a passionate voice for Town of Lisbon, dies at 71

April 17, 2014

Town of Lisbon — One of the strongest and most-passionate voices for the incorporation of the Town of Lisbon into a village has been silenced.

Citizen activist Denise A. Wenger (nee Gordon), 71, died Friday, April 11. A memorial service and visitation was conducted Thursday, April 17, at the Krause Funeral Home in Brookfield.

"Denise was an individual who cared deeply for her family and community. She worked toward what she thought was right for Lisbon's future when others would not. Her contributions to Lisbon have helped make our community a better place. She will be missed," said Town Chairman Matt Gehrke.

Wenger is survived by Dennis, her husband of 49 years; as well as her sons, David (Christi), Dan (Angie) and Darin (Lisa); eight grandchildren; three brothers and a sister.

"Lord knows, no one could question Denise's passion for the Town of Lisbon, her caring about its future and how much she wanted the town to became a village," said Wendy Landry, a former town supervisor

Wenger, Landry and Robert Williams, former town supervisor and Pauline Haass Library Board president, created Lisbon-inc.com, the citizens group that spearheaded the four-year — ultimately unsuccessful — drive to get state approval for the town to be upgraded to village government status.

"I would describe Denise as a brilliant writer, passionate enthusiast for our community and an elegant and loving friend," said Williams.

Wenger lived with her family on 75 acres of farmland and woods near Swan and Lisbon roads.

She fervently believed that Lisbon's citizens and their elected representatives should determine their community's land-use plans and zoning codes rather than having to rely on approvals from Waukesha County.

The only way to achieve that goal, she thought, was for the town to became a village, which would have its own zoning and land-use authority.

"She loved Lisbon and believed it was a community with distinct characteristics. She believed that residents of any community should have a seat at the table when decisions are being made about their future," said her son Dan.

In addition to helping raise the $25,000 fee required by the state to file the incorporation petition, Wenger researched and wrote much of the voluminous document that outlined the reasons arguing why the town was qualified to became a village

"There may not have been a petition without Denise. She used her journalistic skills as a writer and researcher to write most of it herself rather than we having to hire someone else to do it. It saved us thousands of dollars," Landry explained.

Although town officials endorsed incorporation, the Town Board initially would not endorse or help fund Lisbon-inc's effort. They were concerned about the cost of the project and the unlikelihood that the state would grant the petition.

Some town and state officials were somewhat caught by surprise when Lisbon-inc.com made such a credible presentation at the hearings that the State Review Board became sharply divided over whether to the grant the petition, which was ultimately rejected.

Wenger, born in Chicago but raised in Jackson, Mich., earned a bachelor's degree from the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. She had also earned a master's degree from Northwestern and a doctorate in urban education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She met her husband while she was attending Northwestern University. family moved to Lisbon in 1976.

Wenger also served on the Lisbon Plan Commission and Park Board.

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