Wisconsin Secretary of Veterans Affairs John A. Scocos, who is currently serving with the U.S. Army Reserves in Iraq, said by phone, "Last night, I lost a good friend of more than 20 years and Wisconsin lost a state treasure with the passage of Rich Zeitlin, the longtime director of Wisconsin's Veterans Museum, whose vision led to the development of today's extraordinary museum on the premier State Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison."
"When I think of Rich Zeitlin, I remember him first as a young curator over in the original Civil War museum in the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) room over in the State Capitol, with a bold future vision for promoting the historical legacy of Wisconsin's veterans in a first-class, easily accessible, interactive museum to share the history of Wisconsin's veterans," said Scocos.
"For those of us who had the honor and privilege of knowing Rich Zeitlin, we will always remember his warmness, his kindness, his incredible knowledge of military history, and his ability to work with anyone, whether it was a veteran or a staff member, because his heart was always in the right place to reach out and take care of people," said Scocos.
"Rich Zeitlin's legacy on the Capitol Square - of acknowledging, commemorating, and affirming the role of Wisconsin veterans in the United States of America's military past by means of instructive exhibits and other educational programs - now provides an engaging educational experience for the tens of thousands of veterans, school groups, and people from every walk of life who visit it each year," said Scocos. "He was an incredible friend to Wisconsin's veterans and to all who knew him, and we are deeply touched by his loss," said Scocos.
A 1901 law mandated that state officials establish a memorial dedicated to commemorating Wisconsin's role in the Civil War and "any subsequent war" and that the state provide space, the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Hall in the state Capitol, to exhibit war relics and artifacts.
In the 1960s, exhibits were significantly improved, through legislative approval to upgrade the museum displays, as the exhibit function of the G.A.R. Hall became the main activity of the memorial.
Historical artifacts were systematically catalogued, however space remained an issue.
Acquisition of space adjacent to the Capitol was approved in late 1989 and construction of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum began in July 1990, after state legislative review and approval by the City of Madison.
Dr. Zeitlin began working at the Museum as curator on January 9, 1980.
The building shell was completed in late 1990 and work began on the museum interior and exhibit fixtures in 1991.
Dr. Zeitlin, who as a professional historian with advanced degrees and author of a number of publications became the Museum's Director in 1982, supervised the major redevelopment from 1990-1993, working closely with designers and a committee of historical experts.
Zeitlin had presided over the museum's continued success from that time on.
Since the Museum's Grand Opening on June 6, 1993, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum with its over 20,000 objects currently attracts an average of 11,000 visitors per month.
Richard Zeitlin earned a Masters and a Ph.D. in U.S. History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He worked for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, operated a historical consulting corporation, and became the director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
As the director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museums (in Madison, at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, and the Wisconsin National Guard Museum at Volk Field), Zeitlin presided over the redevelopment of a new facility and a major expansion in the museum's programs.
Before his death, he supervised a staff of 13 full time employees and administered the museum's $1.89 million annual operating budget.
Zeitlin published three books and a number of articles, mostly about state and local history as well as military affairs.
He taught U.S. Military History at the University of Wisconsin on an adjunct basis, was the past vice-chair of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, past-chair of the State Historic Preservation Review Board, past-president of the Madison Literary Club, and was a member of the National D-Day Master Planning Board.
Zeitlin was on leave from the department since March 2008 while undergoing treatment for cancer.
Funeral details are being arranged to take place in New York City.
A special fund has been established by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation to honor the legacy and career of Dr. Zeitlin. Donations can be sent to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation, Attn: Richard Zeitlin Memorial Fund, PO Box 2657, Madison, WI 53701-2657, or by visiting the Foundation's website at www.wvmfoundation.com