Sherman Stock

Legal Counsel for Senator Gaylord Nelson (1963-81)

Sherman Stock met Gaylord Nelson for the first time while Stock was a law student at Marquette University in the 1950s. At the time, Nelson was a State Senator running for Governor and Stock was a volunteer, who was campaigning for Nelson and driving Milwaukee-area notables around town.

Left-right: Sherman Stock, Legal Counsel; Mary Lou Burg, Democratic Party Vice Chair; Gaylord Nelson, Senator; William Korbel, Staff Assistant.
Left-right: Sherman Stock, Legal Counsel; Mary Lou Burg, Democratic Party Vice Chair; Gaylord Nelson, Senator; William Korbel, Staff Assistant.

Given his role in the campaign, Stock had several opportunities to connect with Nelson and the two quickly found that they shared similar interests, marking the beginning of a friendship that would last for over 50 years.

After their initial meeting in the 1950s, Stock remained connected with Nelson who served as Governor of Wisconsin for two two-year terms, from January 1959 to January 1963. In the early 1960s, Nelson became interested in serving on the United States Senate, so Stock, then a lawyer, volunteered to work for his election again. When Nelson won, he asked Stock to serve on his staff as Legal Counsel, a position Stock happily accepted.

Stock spent the next 18 years working together with Nelson, becoming the only member of the original staff to serve during Nelson’s entire tenure as a United States Senator. For nearly two decades the duo worked on projects that ranged from the humanitarian crisis in Biafra, Africa to the establishment of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, but above all else, they remained friends who were dedicated to environmental protection.

“Gaylord was my boss, my mentor, my friend, and my hero,” Stock said. “My time working for and with him was a marvelous experience. He was richly endowed with intelligence, humor, and the desire to do something great for humanity.  His life story is a lasting legacy of selfless public service, that will inspire future generations to look beyond their own wants and needs, for the benefit of everyone.  He left an environmental legacy that may never be equaled.”

Despite his strong legacy, Stock says it should be noted that the legacy didn’t just happen. He says there were a number of stumbling blocks along the way.  For example, Stock recalls that 1969, the year of Earth Day’s birth, was a difficult year.

“The country was in a state of unrest due to the Vietnam War. College student groups vigorously protested against it. Gaylord was also opposed to the war, but decided it was time for protesters to direct, at least part of their energy, toward saving the planet. So, Nelson decided to spend most of his free time traveling the country to deliver that message and he instructed me to do the same in Wisconsin,” Stock said. “We both appeared before protestors; frequently with unpleasant results.”

But, despite continuing opposition to his message, Stock says that Senator Nelson never wavered from his belief that the health of planet was something that could bring everyone together. So, in the late 1960s after returning for a tour to the western states, Nelson met Stock at General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and started to share an idea for a “teach-in,” that would bring folks together to address environmental issues. The idea soon took hold across the country and the teach-in became Earth Day.

“Today, the celebration of Earth Day is a yearly reminder of what has been accomplished, and also a reminder of what remains to be done,” Stock said. “It is a lasting tribute to Gaylord and people throughout the world, who on April 25, 1969 answered the call to take part in a serious effort to save our fragile planet.”

In addition to Earth Day, Stock also has fond memories of the other environmental projects that helped to define Nelson’s legacy, such as their involvement with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Endangered Species Act, and their efforts to designate a portion of the Apostle Islands as National Lakeshore. For Stock, the Apostle Island’s is another reminder of Nelson’s tenacity and his unwavering belief that the health of planet was something that could bring everyone together.

“We thought it would be easy,” Stock said of their efforts to designate Apostle Island’s as a portion of the National Lakeshore. “It took 12 years to get it passed, and in addition, a visit to the area by President John Kennedy.”

Although the path to securing the Apostle Islands as National Lakeshore was long and tumultuous, Nelson and his team were able to complete the process in 1970. Today, nearly 80 percent of the Apostle Island land has been designated as federally protected wilderness and is named the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness.

“Gaylord Nelson lived a lifetime of dedication to the cause of environmental protection,” Stock said. “As a Wisconsin State Senator, and later Governor, he championed a steady flow of State environmental protection legislation; and then played a powerful role, as a three-term United States Senator, in awakening a sleeping nation regarding problems it faced and, he also offered realistic solutions. This is the legacy he left to the Earth and its inhabitants.”