Anyone who has been involved in the Waunakee area local government for the past 40-plus years has known Robert Pulvermacher.
Pulvermacher served as the Vienna Town Clerk and Administrator for 27 years after first starting as Vienna’s town chairperson.
Over the years he has been a member of the DeForest Area Senior and Community Center Board of Directors, the DeForest Chamber of Commerce Board, the Dane County Board of Adjustments, the Dane, Waunakee and DeForest fire boards, the Waunakee EMS board and on the WWDDVS Committee which oversees emergency services for Waunakee, Westport, the town and city of Dane, Vienna and Springfield.
In 2011, he decided not to run for reelection as Vienna clerk, but continued to serve on several boards.
But for the past four years, Pulvermacher has battled cancer, and recently, he announced he would step down from the DeForest Area Senior and Community Center Board.
“Health wise, I’m limited to what I can do,” Pulvermacher said.
But he remembers his time at the Community Center with fondness, saying the board of directors were among the best he's ever worked with. He said the Community Center is in good hands and it plays an integral role in the lives of many area seniors, from offering a place to play cards and shoot pool to delivering much-needed Meals on Wheels.
"It’s a good board, better than many of the ones I've been on," Pulvermacher said. "They did a good job trying to work with communities, going to meetings. I would give them an 'A'."
He still serves on the Dane County Board of Adjustments but is unsure if he will be able to complete his five-year term and has indicated he will not run for reelection.
Pulvermacher worked at Oscar Mayer for 30 years, and even then, served the Local 6250 Executive Board and was a Union Shop Steward and Chief Steward for 20 years.
Town of Vienna government
He became involved in the Town of Vienna after a former chairman there “didn’t like the way things had gone,” Pulvermacher said. “He asked me if I would run.”
That was in 1976, and Pulvermacher recalled one of his scariest moments.
Not only did he win the election, but two new supervisors were elected to the board.
Gone was all the knowledge.
“I started from scratch and learned everything the hard way,” he said.
At the time, Vienna residents were upset after a town land use plan was adopted with some restrictions on property sales for new homes.
When the town clerk resigned four years later, Pulvermacher decided to fill that role.
“I spent a lot time with the clerks, and I knew what needed to be done,” he said.
The town hall office equipment then consisted of an electric calculator, a non-working electric typewriter, a clerk’s desk and a single phone. Pulvermacher brought his own typewriter from home.
Pulvermacher said he had always worked two jobs, first at C&P Shopping Center and Oscar Mayer after he was married.
He continued on at Oscar Mayer for 19 years while serving the town.
“I learned how to deal with people and what was going on in the community. Anything you do, you learn something,” he said.
Though Vienna is a small town, it’s complex. Residents’ children attend four different school districts. The town is served by three different EMS and fire districts and has five different zip codes.
One of the challenges was fostering a community residents could identify with.
“I started to do the town picnic and a lot of different things that brought people together,” Pulvermacher said.
Through the years, a former town chairman who worked in advertising, Dan Muxfeld, designed a logo, and Pulvermacher put together a bimonthly newsletter mailed to all residents.
One year, the town government’s efforts won all three awards from the Wisconsin Towns Association, he said.
Bumps along the way
Pulvermacher remembers many challenges as the clerk.
In the 1990s, when the state’s Land Use Value law was adopted that allowed farmland to be assessed at a lower rate, the town lost much of its taxable value.
“You still have to maintain the roads and plow the roads,” Pulvermacher said.
At one time, DeForest sought to annex the section by the interstate to provide water services to Evco.
The tax base by the interstate “was absolutely critical to the town if it was going to exist,” Pulvermacher said.
That led to intergovernmental agreements between the two communities.
In 2009, flooding closed Hwy. V for six months, and several disputes over where to flow excess water erupted.
Opening Hwy. V, a route for emergency services vehicles, became a priority, at least for northern Dane County. Only until Pulvermacher presented photographs to the county’s highway commission did funding become available from Dane County to fix Hwy. V.
“The commission didn’t want any part of it,” he said. “I showed them pictures of the road and they agreed. One mile of it was under water.”
Pulvermacher was also able to work out an agreement with Windsor to build a dam to handle the water. He set up posts with markers in six different areas of the town to monitor and document depths, and uploaded pictures on the town’s website – which he created.
Another one of his duties was checking the town’s sewer systems, and he remembered having to crawl down manholes where he sometimes encountered snakes.
After Pulvermacher was first elected, he sought advice from his elders. One of the best pieces came from a former chairman, Elmer Linde, who told him, “When you talk to people, first of all, look them in the eye and second, take notes. After you are done talking to them, then ask questions, so that they know you’re paying attention,” Pulvermacher said.
Pulvermacher also treated everyone equally, he said, adding he knows he offended some along the way, but as long as he was honest, they accepted him.
After his retirement from the Town of Vienna in 2011, he became active in the Waunakee Rotary Club, serving as president and as recording secretary. He built a website for the club, as well, that was used for several years.
Through his cancer, Pulvermacher has beat many odds. Initially, he was given six months to a year to live. He underwent trial programs with the UW’s Carbone Cancer Center that included various chemotherapies, radiation and immune therapy. Their studies involved taking tissue samples, biopsies, bone and PET scans.
“They got the research out of it,” he said. “Everything was good until the last treatment. Then it went really bad.”
Despite it all, Pulvermacher said it bought him four additional years, more time for him and his wife, Jodie, to travel to Europe.
“My wife always wanted to travel, but in the town, I couldn’t. I was like a farmer. I did the sewer, water and taxes,” he said.