George Reinke, who as the first Dane County executive helped transform the role of county government from mostly rural affairs to providing an array of services, died Tuesday. He was 94.
Over the course of a 41-year career in county government, Reinke served as chief accountant, clerk, administrator and finally -- after the County Board agreed voters should elect the administrator, something Reinke argued against -- as county executive from 1973 to 1981.
Reinke tried to keep politics out of his decision-making, even ahead of an election, said Gene Nelson, who followed Reinke as county accountant.
"He was always concerned about what was best for the county," Nelson said.
Under Reinke, Dane County took control of Madison's airport, opened its first landfill and developed the network of nonprofit social service providers that administer to children, the elderly, battered women and the developmentally disabled.
Reinke's successor as executive, Jonathan Barry, recalled Reinke as compassionate, honest and detail-oriented. For his retirement, Barry gilded Reinke's calculator as a gift, but when he gave it to him, Reinke humorously became concerned that it hadn't been removed from county inventory appropriately.
The transfer of the airport to the county came to symbolize the county's changing role, and Reinke will be remembered as the steward of that transition, said former Madison mayor Paul Soglin. "It was not an easy time to lead county government, and he did it very ably," Soglin said.
Reinke was born on Dec. 27, 1914, on a farm in the town of Middleton. He had a passion for traveling and photography and spent several years after retirement on the Middleton and Dane County historical society boards. Just weeks before his death, he celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary with his wife, Mary.
A funeral service is planned for 11 a.m. Monday at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, 7337 Hubbard Ave., Middleton.