Congressman Dave Obey to receive UW-Stevens Point honorary doctorate

Wisconsin’s longest serving congressman, David R. Obey, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree bestowed by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chancellor Bernie Patterson announced today.

Obey, who represented Wisconsin’s 7th District for 42 years, made significant contributions to higher education, the state and nation, and helped launch several innovative programs at UW-Stevens Point.

Obey demonstrated unwavering commitment to UW‐Stevens Point, Patterson said. “A frequent visitor to the university, he was a strong advocate for educational access, environmental protection and college affordability.”

With a passion for public service, Obey has a long list of accomplishments, said Rene Daniels, his former deputy district director. “Dave spent his career, which was historic by any measure, fighting for average Americans and his beloved state of Wisconsin.  He was tireless in his commitment to expanding access to higher education.”

Obey supported increasing the size of the Pell grants and reducing the interest rates for student loans. He also supported federal programs, such as the Upward Bound, which provide services to thousands of low-income, first-generation college-bound students. He championed expansion of the Federal Work Study program and capital investments in school facilities.

“For those of us who were lucky enough to work for him, he inspired us with his intellect, work ethic, and the unshakeable belief that government could play a critical role in solving the nation’s problems,” said Daniels, who is executive director at North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.

As chair of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Obey helped secure funding to establish programs that benefited UW-Stevens Point, its students, communities and businesses. They include:

  • Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST) founded in 2009, which connects UW-Stevens Point to business and industry through research, laboratory services and education focused on sustainability solutions.
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Training Center, which combines modern technology and geographic data with cartography to create tools for governance, society, commerce and environmental management.
  • Global Environmental Management (GEM), a land use management program founded in 2000 in the College of Natural Resources, which provided outreach education to safeguard surface and groundwater resources.

“The significance of Congressman Obey’s support for WIST cannot be overstated. Quite simply, WIST and all its outcomes and achievements of the last five years would not exist without Dave Obey’s efforts,” said Paul Fowler, WIST executive director.

Obey, who grew up in Wausau, believed in a balanced conservation approach, said Mike Dombeck, a UW System Fellow and retired professor of global conservation at UW-Stevens Point. “He always had the best interest of Wisconsin and its people in mind.”

“Dave understood small, rural communities, tourism and the value of public lands. He supported the sound management of those lands, based on solid science,” Dombeck said. Education was an important part of that.

They first met when Dombeck was attending UW-Stevens Point and Obey was running for Congress in 1969.

Dombeck went on to serve as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management in the 1990s and chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Obey became one of the youngest chairs of the House Appropriations Committee in 1994. Their roles gave them many opportunities to interact.

“He asked very difficult questions,” Dombeck said. “I’ve been both praised and chastised by Dave, as has everyone who’s worked with him.”

In his quiet way, Obey directed millions of dollars to his district, Dombeck said. This included a $4.8 million addition to the College of Natural Resources building and $14 million in the 1990s and 2000s for projects that advanced environmental education curriculum and tools for K-12 teachers. “That support helped put UW-Stevens Point and CNR in a leadership role nationally in the field of environmental education,” he said.

Obey was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1962 and quickly rose to leadership positions. In 1969, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to fill a seat vacated when Melvin Laird became secretary of defense. Obey served on numerous committees. Among them were the Labor, Health and Social Services and Education Subcommittee and Appropriation Committee for 35 years, including four as chairman. He also served as chair of the Foreign Operations Appropriation Subcommittee for 10 years. He was an advocate for education, public health, political transparency and humanitarian assistance in the United States and abroad. He did not seek re-election in 2010.

Obey will receive the honorary doctorate during spring commencement on Saturday, May 16, at UW-Stevens Point. This is the second honorary doctorate ever conferred during UW‐Stevens Point’s 120‐year history. Obey’s predecessor in Congress, Melvin Laird, received the first in 2011.