A pilot to his very soul who aimed high his entire life, Rush Wilkens took wing on his last earthly flight and stuck the landing on Heaven’s runway on the morning of February 25. One of the most personable men who ever lived, everywhere Rush went he made friends and then engaged them with sharp, witty banter, and his passing should make all those who knew him pause to acknowledge a life well lived.
Born in 1933 along the Mississippi River in Illinois where he was raised by his mother, Ethel Lersch. Passed away in New Berlin after the last of several courageous battles with cancer. Survived by his wife, Lois, daughter, Sandi and grand-daughter, Chu-Chu. Preceded in death by his daughter, Susan (Louis) Gutierrez. Rush spent two years in college in Iowa, playing football on scholarship, before heading off to the military. His college football career was the start of a lifelong interest in athletics, primarily golf and tennis, and an early outlet for his natural competitiveness.
Rush served as an airman in the United States Air Force from 1954 to 1958. During that time he served on the island of Okinawa and in Korea as an electronic communications expert. After his military service ended, Rush re-entered college at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He was an Electrical Engineer by trade, an early expert in the integration of computer technology in manufacturing operations, and finished his career mentoring young electrical engineers.
Rush moved to New Berlin in 1958 and set about raising his family with Lois. After a few years, he began serving his community on volunteer boards and commissions, culminating in service as Aldermen for the 5th District from 1996 to 2003, where he also served as President of the Common Council.
Rush was a visionary who was primarily responsible for the development of the Princeton Club, the Westridge Business Park, the retail growth and development of the I-43/Moorland corridor and the New Berlin Library at City Center.
Motivated by his desire to give veterans the honor and recognition they deserve, Rush’s vision and efforts were the primary force in the creation of the New Berlin Veteran’s Memorial which stands today at the corner of Casper Drive and National Avenue as a tribute to all service men and women. In 2016 Rush traveled on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. and afterward encouraged other veterans to make the same journey.
Rush started keeping a journal about his entire life when his granddaughter was born because he didn’t know if he’d be around to let her get to know him. One line from that journal captures his unique approach to living.
“Without regrets, I sometimes wonder about the choices I made and what might have been, but life does not come with an eraser.”
A community feels like a home because somebody took the time to tidy it up a bit. Rush Wilkens was the guy who tidied up New Berlin and we are all better for it, and for those who knew him, better off for that association.
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