Remembering Marshfield’s Robert Froehlke: 1922-2016
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — The city of Marshfield lost one of its most accomplished native sons on Feb. 12 as Robert Froehlke died at the age of 93.
At different points of his life, Froehlke was a businessman and a high-ranking government official. A president of Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point, according to materials supplied by the Marshfield Clinic, Froehlke was also a major supporter of Marshfield Clinic throughout his life. The Laird Center’s Froehlke Auditorium is named for him. Froehlke was born in Neenah but grew up in Marshfield.
The departed had a lifelong friendship with former United States Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who asked Froehlke to transition from Sentry and assume an assistant defense secretary role at the Pentagon. Froehlke was named secretary of the army in 1971 and also managed all of Laird’s congressional campaigns, according to information supplied by Marshfield Clinic.
Froehlke was also a prolific fundraiser during his life. According to Froehlke’s Clinic-supplied biography, he “raised $472 million for the University of Wisconsin Foundation. He teamed with Barbara Bush to raise $15 million to help the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Froehlke helped raise $13 million for the Melvin R. Laird Center for Medical Research.”
“Bob was a lion-hearted soul, whose unwavering commitment and support to Marshfield Clinic was instrumental in the birth and build of the Melvin Laird Center,” said Dr. Narayana Murali, executive director of the Marshfield Clinic, in an internal newsletter sent out to Marshfield Clinic employees. “He may not be with us today, but warm memories of him will always remain evergreen in the Marshfield Clinic Health System.”
Frederick J. “Fritz” Wenzel, who is the interim director of the research division for Marshfield Clinic and the clinic’s former executive director, also had a long-time friendship with Froehlke. Wenzel is also a Marshfield native.
Wenzel first came to know Froehlke through Laird’s congressional campaigns.
“He had an incredible political sense about him,” Wenzel said of Froehlke.
Wenzel and Froehlke became more closely acquainted when they both served on Marshfield Clinic’s National Advisory Council. The National Advisory Council is no longer in existence but was previously a group that advised Marshfield Clinic leadership.
Wenzel said that Froehlke possessed a certain indefinable leadership quality.
“When you ask an individual to define leadership or a leader, you know, you get all kinds of different things, and it’s very hard to pinpoint,” Wenzel said. “You know it when you see it, and when Bob was, especially, chairman of the National Advisory Council there’s just no question … about his leadership and his vision of leadership.”
Wenzel said that Froehlke had an ability to deal confidently with the most influential people, but amidst that level of confidence, “Bob had a certain humility about him.”
Froehlke was a man who never let his ego compromise his objective, Wenzel said.
“Bob worked very hard at being a man for all seasons. He was as comfortable with what I would call ordinary folks as he was with the folks in the board room,” Wenzel said. “He just had that quiet certainty about him.”
Wenzel said that though Froehlke had not lived in Marshfield for quite some time, “His heart was still in Marshfield.”
“Both he and Mr. Laird just have never wavered in their loyalty to this community, and it’s remarkable of two people like Bob and Mel of their stature and what they’ve done for the country and what they’ve done for large corporations where they were on boards, to really maintain that just incredible loyalty to the community where they were raised. I think it’s awesome. I don’t know of any two people who have come from this community that really have that same sort of stature,” Wenzel said.
Froehlke is survived by his wife, Nancy; his four children; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.