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  • May 06, 2015

    From Giant Spiders to Big Cheese to Teen Court: Hon. William D. Dyke is 2015 Lifetime Jurist

    He’s illustrated a children’s book, helped to produce a cult-classic science fiction movie, hosted a popular local children’s television program, and for 18 years served as the Circuit Court judge of Iowa County. Now Judge William Dyke is the recipient of its 2015 Lifetime Jurist Achievement Award.

    Shannon Green

    William Dyke

    Judge William Dyke is the recipient of its 2015 Lifetime Jurist Achievement Award.

    Photo: Leah Crubel Photography

    May 6, 2015 – He’s illustrated a children’s book and is a painter, founded the Madison Farmer’s Market, helped to produce a cult-classic science fiction movie, served two terms as mayor of Madison, ran unsuccessfully as governor of Wisconsin and vice president of the U.S., interviewed John F. Kennedy, and hosted a popular local children’s television program.

    And for 18 years, he’s served as the circuit court judge of Iowa County – helping to improve the lives of adults and teenagers in the county. He served as the Chief Judge of Wisconsin’s Seventh Judicial Administrative District for three consecutive two-year terms beginning in 2007, the last year of which, 2012-13, he served as the Chief of the Chief Judges of the state.

    The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Bench and Bar Committee proudly announces that Iowa County Circuit Court Judge William D. Dyke as the recipient of its 2015 Lifetime Jurist Achievement Award.

    The Lifetime Jurist Achievement Award recognizes a jurist who has demonstrated outstanding, long-term judicial service as a sitting judge.  The award will be given at the Member Recognition Celebration at 5:30 p.m. June 25 at the 2015 State Bar Annual Meeting & Conference in Lake Geneva.

    During his time on the bench, Judge Dyke implemented two key programs that have strongly impacted Iowa County.

    The County Lawyer and the Judge

    Judge Dyke practiced law as a self-proclaimed “country lawyer” doing a “very mixed general practice” in Mineral Point.

    In 1996, Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed him as circuit court judge as successor to Judge James P. Fiedler.

    “The vacancy opened up and I applied,” Judge Dyke said. “Tommy (Thompson) was gracious enough to give me a chance.”

    Judge Dyke took his oath of office Jan. 2, 1997.

    In his first years, he founded Iowa County’s Teen Court program – the second in the state, and now the oldest and longest-running.

    “Young people need our encouragement. They need to be able to dream and they need to be able to look with some hope to the future. And I think that the Teen Court is designed to do that,” Judge Dyke said.

    Since then, he will occasionally see “graduates” of the program who personally thank him.

    “It’s happened not often, but not rarely,” Judge Dyke said. “The job is not without its satisfaction or reward.”

    When the economic crisis that began 2008 resulted in many families facing foreclosure of their homes, Judge Dyke took a lesson he learned in his early career about how foreclosures were handled during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and added mediation as part of the process in Iowa County.

    The Foreclosure Mediation Program involves volunteer lawyers, and allows distressed homeowners the opportunity to informally resolve mortgage defaults without foreclosure. The program has benefited many homeowners and serves as a model for other programs in circuit courts around Wisconsin.

    Judge Dyke also implemented an Art-in-the-Courthouse program, allowing students and artists an opportunity to display their work in the Iowa County courthouse.

    Judge Dyke's life was steeped in community service and even a few adventures before he became that quiet "country lawyer."

    And how he came to serve as the Iowa County judge begins with the fact that, as a kid, he liked to argue.

    The Argumentative Boy

    It always was understood he would become a lawyer.

    “I think my attitude had something to do with it. I was argumentative. I questioned authority in all respects,” Judge Dyke said.

    Born in Princeton, Illinois, he came to Wisconsin for law school after serving in the Army from 1952 to 1955, spending some of that time in Germany.

    “It was fascinating,” Judge Dyke said. “We actually had good relationships with the German people.”

    Before he left the Army, he remembers his commanding officer saying, “Dyke, I understand you’re going to law school. I’d be as out of place in law school as you were in the army. Good luck.”

    In law school at the University of Wisconsin, he struggled a bit as a student. He remembers advice from his advisor:  “Dyke, you’re going to need staying power.” That meant, Judge Dyke believed at the time, that it would take him awhile to get through law school, so he needed a source of income.

    He started with a job at WISC radio as an announcer. When WISC began a television station in Madison (now WISC-TV and Channel, he hosted the children’s television program “Circus 3” while still in law school.

    “I say this modestly, but I think it was very popular,” Judge Dyke said.

    He interviewed 1960 presidential candidates John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, and other politicians as host of WISC-TV’s “Meet the State.”

    “It was fun doing the politician interviews. JFK was easy to talk to, very easy,” Judge Dyke said.

    Big Cheese, a Bombing, and the Farmer’s Market

    He left television, taking a pay cut to practice law as a young lawyer in Jefferson, and eventually moved back to Madison.

    In Madison, he helped found Park Bank, and assisted the Madison YWCA to remain independent from other governing agencies and found its new location – where it remains today, just off the Capitol Square.

    He also ensured that Wisconsin was successful in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair – negotiating the exhibition space, recruiting an Evansville company to build the pavilion, putting together a contract with a chain steakhouse, and ensuring that a specially built semitrailer-truck shipped a 17-ton piece of cheddar from Wisconsin to New York. A press release at the time said six million people visited the Wisconsin exhibition and that Tad’s Steakhouse served about 15,000 steaks each day in 1964 alone.

    “We had a lot of people come through the Wisconsin pavilion to see the world’s largest cheese  and have a steak at Tad’s,” Judge Dyke said.

    After two unsuccessful bids, he was elected mayor of Madison 1969-73, during a turbulent era that encompassed the Sterling Hall bombing and student unrest.

    Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    He remembers sitting up in bed around 3 a.m. on Aug. 24, 1970.

    “I can still hear the bomb,” Judge Dyke said.

    That night, they set up a command post on Bascom Hill, wondering if there would be more bombs.

    The unrest took its toll on the city.

    “We had on one occasion every piece of firefighting equipment that the city owned on the street fighting fires,” Judge Dyke said.

    Responding to the unrest affected the city deeply, and used up much of its budget.

    “It cost us years in proceeding with things that were needed,” Judge Dyke said.

    As mayor, he regained the lending industry’s highest bond rating for Madison, negotiated successfully with Fitchburg and confirmed an E-way corridor, purchased Owen Park and founded the Farmer’s Market. Judge Dyke ensured that the market was open only to vendors from the Dane County area who produced their own goods.

    “I thought it ought to be preserved for the locality,” Judge Dyke said. “I think it’s a good contribution.”

    He lost his second bid for re-election to Madison mayor Paul Soglin. In 1974, Judge Dyke ran as the Republican nominee for governor, losing to Democrat Patrick Lucey.

    Giant Spiders and the Unfunded Campaign

    Those who appear before him at the Iowa County Courthouse may not know that their judge is an executive producer for a low-budget 1975 science fiction movie, “The Giant Spider Invasion,” filmed in Wisconsin. Dyke’s job was to raise money and obtain a distributor.

    “I’m not on the title credits. I wished I’d realized at the time, because then I’d be an executive producer forever after, and I could have been voting for the Oscars,” Judge Dyke said.

    Dyke was invited by a friend he’d known from television days – Dick Huff, who wanted to make a film quickly, in Wisconsin, and within a low budget.

    “We laugh now about the film, and it’s no great shakes as a story, but we did what we promised,” Judge Dyke said.

    It was seen in 18 countries and on ABC Late Night television. And it has been spoofed on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

    “It was a great adventure,” Judge Dyke said.

    In 1976, he ran with Lester Maddox as the vice presidential nominee for the American Independent Party.

    “They sought me out and asked if I would serve,” Judge Dyke said.

    He never really got to know Maddox, but during the unfunded campaign, Dyke visited 18 states, talking about issues on a national level. “On the one hand, it was fulfilling; on the other hand, it was crazy.”

    These are Good People

    It is an honor, he said, to be one of the circuit court judges in Wisconsin.

    “These are good people. They are committed to doing a job the best they can. It’s a pleasure for me to be part of it,” Judge Dyke said.

    The award was unexpected, Judge Dyke said, and leaves him with a deep sense of honor.

    “The feeling of being subject to this kind of honor – on the one hand, it’s absolutely wonderful, but on the other hand, it’s a realization that, as with anything in life, there is always more that can be done.”

    And that “more” continues on as Judge Dyke, at age 85, approaches his term’s end in 2016. For the future – he hasn’t decided yet what 2017 will bring.

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