BY MARGO DRUMMOND
In 1939, at the age of 76, Walter S. Goodland was elected Lieutenant Governor of the state of Wisconsin. When asked by a reporter what he saw as his political future, Goodland responded,
“I haven’t any. Hell! I’m too old.” That wasn’t exactly true. Just two short years later, at the beginning of Goodland’s second term as Lt. Governor, Governor-elect Orland Stein Loomis died before being sworn into office. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Lt. Governor Goodland would serve out Loomis’ term. For his services, Goodland was paid $1,500 per year, the salary of lieutenant governor with a daily bonus of $6 for acting as governor. That bonus dropped to $5 per day when the state legislature was not in session. Walter S. Goodland was elected governor in 1944 and again in 1946. By then age 80, he became the oldest executive to take office in any state or territory according to Guinness World Records.
A “Wisconsin Then and Now” article from November of 1978 characterized Goodland as follows: “In a state finely tuned to picturesque politicians, his massive bent frame, deeply lined face, shuffling walk, and gravelly voice appealed to voters.” The press affectionately referred to him as “Mr. Woof Woof.” At over six feet tall and weighing 220 pounds with a size 22 collar,
Goodland was described as having “the neck of a seal and the shagginess of a St. Bernard.” His ever-present curved-stem pipe filled with Prince Albert tobacco and lighted with long wooden kitchen matches became a trademark. In later years he relied upon a silver-headed cane to support his legs which were broken when he jumped from a train during his youth. Responding to critics who referred to him as the “wheelchair candidate,” Goodland replied: “It is a fact that I can’t run a 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat. But I do not believe that is a requirement for an honest and successful administrator. I don’t govern or make decisions with my legs.”
Known as Wisconsin’s most independent governor, he fearlessly backed an anti-gambling bill that would give state authorities the right to enforce laws regarding slot machines. At the time Wisconsin was paying federal tax on more slot machines than any other state in the nation. So that no one could accuse him of favoritism, Goodland began the clean-up in Racine. When told by political supporters that slots could not be eliminated his response was: “We clamped down. We clamped down hard. The machines are out, and they are going to stay out as long as I am governor.” And they stayed out.
Like his father, who had both practiced law and served as a judge in Appleton, Wis., Walter S. Goodland was educated as a lawyer. He traded that career for one in journalism. He became co-owner of the Beloit Daily News and later published the Racine Times, which he sold in order to purchase the Racine Call. Eventually the two papers merged. In 1933 Woodland sold his newspaper interest to the Racine Journal News. It was then that he retired to his 100-plus acre farm located at Broadview and Highway 41 near Franksville. The Dutch-colonial house that he and his second wife had built on a hilltop became the home of his third wife, Madge A. Risney Goodland. Goodland’s first wife had died in 1896 and his second wife in 1930. On weekend trips to the farm, Governor Woodland would retrieve pears from his orchard to take back to Madison. And if his farm dog, Tiffy, seemed lonely she might return to the Governor’s Mansion for a visit as well. When she had puppies he sold them for government bonds, donating the proceeds to the Red Cross.
From 1911-1915, Walter S. Goodland served as mayor of Racine. He was elected on a platform that proposed municipal ownership of the local water department. At the time it was owned by the American Water Works and Guarantee Company of Pittsburgh, Penn. Goodland earned the title of “Father of the Racine Water Department” for having successfully brought the Water Department under municipal ownership. That did not happen until 1919, after lengthy court battles. As president of the Racine Water Commission, Goodland felt that bringing the water department under local control was his greatest achievement as mayor. As for his service as governor, one writer summed it up with these words: “His independence, courage, good judgment, hard work, and down-right cussedness may rank him among the half dozen greatest governors in Wisconsin history.”
When some in the state legislature proposed a reduction in income tax he said no. Surpluses, he insisted, should be accumulated until after the war when they could be used to put the unemployed to work on state building projects. And when the legislature sought to return part of the money collected as a special tax back to the voters, Governor Goodland vetoed the legislation. The money, he said, should be used to start a fund to aid veterans after the war. When the soldiers came home there was $8 million available to help them thanks to Governor Goodland. It was while serving his third term in that position that Governor Goodland suffered a heart attack while at work at the state capitol. He was taken to the executive mansion where he died. The date of his death was March 12, 1947. It is fitting that Walter S. Goodland is buried at Graceland Cemetery, not far from members of the armed services that he fought to protect as governor.
Margo Drummond’s interest in history began when she became involved with Preservation Racine. For 31 years, she taught high school courses on Racine History and Death and Dying, Issues of Living and Life. She wrote two books, “Blessings of Being Mortal: How a Mature Understanding of Death Can Free Us to Live Wisely and Well” and “Here’s to Your Health.”