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1922 Donald J. Helfrecht 2023

Donald J Helfrecht

February 22, 1922 — August 9, 2023


Donald J. Helfrecht, age 101, passed away on Wednesday, August 9, 2023.  He was born on February 22, 1922 at Madison General Hospital, the son of Aaron J and Lillian K (Miller) Helfrecht.  He grew up in the Wingra Park area of Madison, attending the first semester of kindergarten at Randall School.  When the new Dudgeon School was opened, all school students living west of Edgewood Avenue commenced attending the new school.  Don attended Dudgeon from the second semester of kindergarten through 6th grade.  He graduated from Madison West High School in 1939. 


He attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1944.  During the four years of 1939 – 1943, he was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corp.  When he completed the normal 4 years of ROTC in the spring of 1943 he was enlisted into the US Army and continued his Engineering School courses to complete the BS degree program.  He continued these classes under the ASTP program and completed his BS degree program in April 1944.  He entered the US Army Signal Officer Candidate School program in April 1944 and became commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the Signal Corp in July 1944.  He served in the Signal Corp at Fort Monmouth, NJ, Camp Crowder, MO and on Leyte, Philippines until September 1946.


He married Carol E. Hoveland on June 25, 1949 at St. John’s Lutheran Church where they were lifelong members.  Don was active in the church, serving at times as an usher and as a member of the church council.


He was employed by Madison Gas and Electric Company from Sept 16, 1946 to Sept 30, 1991 when he retired as Chairman of the Board and CEO.  Donald advanced through the following positions:  Draftsman and Fixed Capital Records Clerk, Engineering Assistant, Superintendent of Transmission & Distribution, Manager and then Vice President of Electric System Operation.  He became Executive Vice President of the company in 1974 and was elected President and General Manager in 1976, President and Chief Executive Officer in 1980, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer in 1984 and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1988.  He retired as Chairman and CEO in 1991 after 45 years of dedicated service.


Donald was active in industry organizations for many years.  He served on various committees of the Wisconsin Utilities Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan System.  He is a past chairman of the Madison Section, Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers.  He was elected president of the Wisconsin Utilities Association for the administrative year 1979 – 1980, chairman for the year 1987 – 1988, and was president of the Wisconsin Electric Utilities Research Foundation from 1980 to 1991.  He was a director of the First Wisconsin National Bank of Madison from 1979 – 1992 and of Forward Wisconsin, Inc. from 1988 – 1991.  He was on the board of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, Downtown Madison, Inc., and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.  He was a director of Methodist Hospital from 1980 – 1986 and of Meriter Hospital from 1987 – 1988.  He was a director of Madison United Hospital Laundry from 1980 – 1987 (president, 1985 -1986) and of the Oakwood Foundation from 1983 – 1989 (vice chairman, 1988-1989).


He was a member of the Wisconsin and National Society of Professional Engineers, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Madison Technical Club, University of Wisconsin Foundation, Kilowatt Club, Madison Rotary (serving on several committees and as a director, as well as director of the Madison Rotary Foundation, and was a past member of Madison-West Rotary.


He was designated Engineer of the Year in Industry for the Southwest Chapter, Wisconsin Society of Professional Engineers in 1977 and 1981.  He received a Distinguished Service Citation from the University of Wisconsin in 1981 for contributions in the field of engineering.


He was a member of the Advisory Board of the Southern Wisconsin Food Bank, the Dane County Public Affairs Council, serving three years on the Steering Committee, the Dane County Economic Summit, and the UW-Madison College of Engineering ECE Visiting Committee.  He was a member of the Civic Progress Group (chairman of its Capital Funds Committee) and the City of Madison’s Frank Lloyd Wright Monona Terrace Commission.  He was a member of the Steering Committee and co-treasurer of It’s Wright for Wisconsin, a public advocacy committee.  He was active in United Way activities for many years, serving on the Cabinet in 1979, 1985 and 1991.


After retiring, he continued to be very active with several volunteering roles.  He volunteered for SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) for 20 years and at Madison Children’s Museum in the American Girl doll warehouse fixing doll furniture for many years.


He is survived by his daughter, Karen Helfrecht, and several nieces and nephews.  He was preceded in death by his parents, wife, sister Rose Adelaide and brother Kenneth.


A visitation will be held from 4-7pm on Monday, August 14, CRESS FUNERAL HOME, 3610 Speedway Road, Madison. On Tuesday August 15 visitation will continue from 10–11 am at ST. JOHN’S LUTHERAN CHURCH, 322 E. Washington Avenue, Madison.  A funeral service will follow at 11 at the church.  Burial will be held at Forest Hill Cemetery. 


In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to St. John’s Lutheran Church, Madison Rotary Foundation or United Way. 

Cress Funeral & Cremation Service

3610 Speedway Road  Madison

(608) 238-3434



Service Schedule

Past Services


Monday, August 14, 2023

4:00 - 7:00 pm (Central time)

Cress Funeral & Cremation Service - Madison - West

3610 Speedway Rd, Madison, WI 53705

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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

10:00 - 11:00 am (Central time)

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Funeral Service

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

11:00 - 11:45 am (Central time)


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