Although Dale Ihlenfeldt accomplished so much of which to be proud, he was a humble man of compassion who felt that to be alive and to be aware are God given gifts. He was recognized as a man of great intelligence and integrity, yet he would proudly proclaim that it was marrying the love of his life that was both his smartest and luckiest move by far. Dale will be remembered for his efforts within his community and his desire to provide opportunities for the less fortunate through which he touched the lives of those too numerous to count. Life will never be the same without Dale here.
With the end of WWI in 1919, a young couple from Two Creeks, Wisconsin, experienced great joy as they welcomed a healthy baby boy into their hearts and home on August 22nd of that same year. Dale Elwood made his arrival in the front bedroom of his family’s farmhouse as the younger of two boys born to his parents, Leroy “Roy” and Esther (Naser) Ihlenfeldt. In 1920 his family moved to Wilmot when his father who had been a teacher accepted a position as the principal of a local school. Dale’s father’s career later moved their family to Kenosha in 1926. Shortly after Dale graduated from high school in 1936, the family moved to Madison.
In many ways Dale experienced an upbringing that was fairly common for the youth of his generation. He spent many summers at his grandparents’ farm, which later became his uncle’s farm, in Two Rivers. Dale worked hard helping with the farm chores although he did get into a bit of mischief from time to time. On one such occasion his grandfather told him and his brother they were not allowed to go through the fence into the neighbor’s field. They disobeyed and were found out. Dale defended himself by saying that they didn’t go through the fence, but rather under it. From that, his grandfather predicted, “That boy is going to be a lawyer.”
After graduating from the Kenosha Central Senior High School in 1936, Dale began his freshman year at University of Wisconsin – Madison. With law school in mind, Dale heeded the advice of a trusted source and focused his attention on accounting. In June of 1940 he graduated with honors with a BA in accounting.
As WWII enveloped our nation in the early 1940s, Dale followed his convictions and registered as a conscientious objector, but later decided to enlist after he witnessed the transformation WWII brought to our nation. He served as a supply and disbursing officer aboard the USS Henry W. Tucker as a member of the United States Navy.
When he was released from the Navy in 1946, Dale enrolled in law school at UW-Madison under the GI Bill. He graduated with honors and was awarded the Order of the Coif in 1948. Dale earned a LLB and was then admitted to practice in the spring of 1949.
Life was forever changed for Dale when he met the love of his life, Elinor Slaymaker, in the fall of 1950 while volunteering at the Democratic party’s headquarters in Milwaukee. They were married by state Circuit Judge Myron Gordon in his judicial chambers on October 21, 1954. Together they were blessed with seven children: Julia, Susan, Thomas, Amy, Ellen, Andrew, and William. Sadly, William died when he was just one month old. Dale loved each of his children deeply and was so proud of them as well. When his children were younger there were regular camping trips spent traveling across the country, usually encompassing a history lesson along the way.
Not long after he graduated from law school, Dale worked briefly in the law firm of Bitker and Marshall. In 1951 he was hired as law clerk to U.S. District Judge Robert E. Tehan whom Dale considered to be a mentor with no equal. The most valuable lesson he learned from his mentor was to treat all individuals as human beings, regardless of their background or circumstances, and to have a sensitivity and compassion for people. In 1955 Dale was appointed Clerk of Court where he made numerous changes to make procedures more efficient. In 1967 he was appointed Referee in Bankruptcy for Wisconsin’s Eastern District, and he later was appointed Bankruptcy Judge. Dale retired in 1985, but he continued to work under senior status until 1995. With a passion for the law, he then continued to provide updates and participate in seminars sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Law School. Throughout his career Dale dedicated himself to his work and was recognized for his just and fair treatment. He was also known for his ability to frequently resolve cases through facilitating compromise rather than by trial.
With a desire to make a difference in the world around him, Dale was chairman of a “Committee for a Lakeshore College,” which was instrumental in establishing a four year public university in Milwaukee that would be accessible to people of limited financial means who could work and live at home while studying for a degree. The result of those efforts came to fruition as the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM). Additionally, Dale was a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church from 1960 until the time it was closed in 2010. He was very involved in the church, serving as its treasurer for many years.
Throughout his life Dale was a man of many interests. He was an avid reader who kept a book tucked into his shirt to pull out whenever he had a spare moment to read. Dale was a sports enthusiast who loved baseball and enjoyed going to see both the Braves and the Brewers when they were in town. In addition to baseball, he loved to watch the Packers play football. Dale was a lifelong supporter of UW Madison and for decades had season tickets to see Badger football. He was overjoyed when Barry “Moses” Alvarez brought the Badgers to the “Promised Land” – the Rose Bowl and came home victorious. After their children were grown, Dale and Elinor enjoyed traveling around the world, but they mainly spent their time at home together where he enjoyed feeding and observing the backyard wildlife.
Dale Ihlenfeldt was a man of great intelligence who has been referred to as a “walking encyclopedia.” Well respected within his community, people who have appeared before him in court have repeatedly praised him for his compassion. With the woman he often said he valued more than the finest of rubies, Dale lived a remarkable life while deeply loving his country, the legal profession, and his family.
Dale E. Ihlenfeldt died on December 28, 2011. Dale’s family includes his wife, Elinor Sue Ihlenfeldt; children, Julia – Milwaukee, Susan (Daniel Dworkin) – Fort Collins, CO, Thomas (Lynn) – St. Paul, MN, Amy – Madison, WI, Ellen (Scott Stone) – Milwaukee, Andrew (Sonja) – St. Paul, MN, and William (deceased); seven grandchildren, Daniel, David, Samuel, Benjamin, Paul, Michelle and Anna. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com where you can leave a favorite memory or photo. Memorial donations may be made in his name to either St. Ben’s Community Meal Program in Milwaukee or the United Negro College Fund.