Douglas County officials remember advocate, former administrator Andy Lisak
Andrew "Andy" Lisak served the community he loved.
Intelligent. Passionate. A leader.
Those are just some of the words friends and colleagues used to describe Andy Lisak, the former Douglas County administrator who served as the director of the Development Association for most of the decade prior to his appointment in county government.
Lisak served Douglas County for seven years before taking medical leave in 2017. He resigned a few months later after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He died Dec. 21, 2020, at the age of 58.
Doug Finn, former chairman of the Douglas County Board, remembers when he asked Lisak to lead the Development Association.
“He had started a business. I went to him and said, ‘Would you be interested in being the executive director of the Development Association?’" Finn said. "He had just come back from Madison. He hadn’t been here too long. I thought he wouldn’t be interested, but right away he was.”
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It was in that capacity Mayor Jim Paine first met Lisak after being appointed to the Douglas County Board in 2009.
“He was one of the first people in the community to reach out to me to meet with him when he was executive director of the Development Association,” Paine said. “He gave me a full rundown of everything he did there. In that capacity, we ended up working very close together because from the beginning I tried to be involved in development projects. So when I was on the hiring committee for the administrator, Andy was an early favorite of mine for that job from the very beginning.”
Paine said it was Lisak’s commitment to the community that made him the preferred candidate in 2010, after the county's first administrator, Steve Koszarek, retired.
“He was from here; his family was from here,” Paine said. “He had a deep history here and understood the place in a way I didn’t think any outside candidate was going to be able to. Beyond that, he had already displayed his work to improve the community.”
When Mark Liebaert took over as county board chairman in 2016, Lisak had fired a popular veterans service officer and made changes after Act 10 limited the bargaining power of county unions. While those changes put the two at odds, Liebaert said Lisak's advocacy for the community helped them move beyond a shaky start.
“We discovered we were better together than separate,” Liebaert said.
In fact, after Lisak stepped away from county government, the men would meet for lunch periodically. Lisak would share his opinions on various things, Liebaert said.
Finn, the former county board chair, said Lisak got the county through many tough spots created by Act 10, something Liebaert said he learned to appreciate after attending a Wisconsin Counties Association seminar on establishing mission statements and setting priorities. Lisak had already implemented the initiatives with the county board.
Whether working on economic development or working to improve housing in the city, Lisak frequently worked with Jason Serck, Superior’s economic development, port and planning director.
Together they devised plans to develop the Parkland Industrial Park and the fairgrounds parking lot in addition to working to build homes in Superior through the Housing Development Corporation. They participated in builds to fill the vacant block after East Middle School was razed and redeveloped the site of a long-troubled eight-plex torn down by the city on John Avenue, among others.
Serck said Lisak had a talent for looking for the positive. Serck recalled a time when state officials required the port to do specific things with ballast water, and Lisak helped the city work through it.
“Early on they were making some unrealistic demands on some of our operators for ballast water," he said. "We developed a plan, and we were able to get the state to think about what they were doing.”
Beyond that, the two were friends, often making time to go fishing. Serck said he learned a lot from Lisak and will miss him.
“He loved this place where he grew up. His passion for everything — I’ve never really seen it in anyone else … Every time I hear ‘fish on’ I will think of Andy," he said.