UPDATE: Freese leaving Circus World Museum - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Freese leaving Circus World Museum to head Wisconsin Farm Bureau


BARABOO (WKOW) -- The head of Circus World Museum is jumping ship for a more secure job.

The exit of Executive Director Steve Freese comes less than two months after he helped fight off a complete state takeover of the organization.

When Governor Scott Walker proposed the State Historical Society take over Circus World's day-to-day operations as part of his state budget proposal earlier this year, Freese says he and most of his staff started applying for jobs elsewhere.

"Clearly it would have ended the relationship that our foundation has and our employees, including myself, would no longer be employed here," said Freese, talking with 27 News Monday afternoon.

The State Historical Society already owns the museum, but does not run or fund it.

The threat of a complete takeover forced Freese to seriously consider other offers, even as he successfully lobbied the Legislative Joint Finance Committee to reject the idea.

"Some will say, 'oh yeah what now, Steve? Why are you leaving? You just won.'  But, the reality is I wouldn't have been looking if this hadn't happened and you just can't simply pass up the opportunity of a lifetime to go back to your roots," said Freese.

Freese says running the day-to-day operations of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau will allow him to do just that.

"I got elected to the legislature to represent a rural farm district and now I get to come full circle and go back and represent rural communities and farm families," said Freese, who served in the State Assembly from 1991 to 2007 as a Republican from Dodgeville.

"I don't know how we're going to replace him easily," said Susan Lipp, the Circus World Museum Foundation Board Member who will be in charge of hiring Freese's replacement.

Lipp doesn't blame Freese for leaving and believes it never would have happened if the Historical Society hadn't tried to take over.

"We have to find somebody who has passion.  Doesn't have to be passion for circus.  It has to be passion for whatever somebody is doing," said Lipp.

Despite his departure, Freese believes the future of Circus World Museum is bright.

He cites a $208,000 fundraiser on Sunday night as proof.


MADISON (WKOW) -- The man who helped Circus World Museum fight off a takeover bid by the Wisconsin Historical Society is now leaving the Baraboo-based entity to become the Chief Administrative Officer of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

A press release put out the Farm Bureau Monday morning announced Stephen Freese, the current Executive Director of Circus World, would oversee all day-to-day operations and staff for the agency beginning in August.

Based in Madison, the Farm Bureau is the state's largest general farm organization. 

"I am very excited to be given the opportunity to make a positive difference for farm families and rural Wisconsin with our state's premier farm organization," Freese is quoted as saying in the release.

Freese was in the spotlight earlier this year, after Governor Scott Walker proposed the Wisconsin Historical Society take over the day-to-day operations of Circus World Museum as part of the 2013-15 budget.

Freese and the Circus World Board of Directors fought the effort and the Legislative Joint Finance Committee ultimately removed the provision from the budget.

But Freese tells 27 News that he and a number of his employees had already begun looking for other jobs once the Governor made his proposal, because they weren't sure if they would be retained.

Freese says he simply couldn't turn down the chance to oversee the Farm Bureau.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story on 27 News at 5 and 6.


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