Cover photo for Senn Rufus Brown's Obituary
Senn Rufus Brown Profile Photo
1939 Senn 2015

Senn Rufus Brown

October 8, 1939 — November 17, 2015

Senn Rufus Brown, age 76, passed away on Nov. 17, 2015 in Madison, surrounded by his family. A proud resident of Wisconsin for most of his life, Senn was born on October 8, 1939, in Oshkosh, the son of William Doe and Virginia Senn Brown. He married Kathleen Carney on Nov. 28, 1970, in Peoria, IL; the couple raised their children Kristine and Nicholas in the Spring Harbor neighborhood of Madison and celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary in 2014.

Senn graduated from Menasha High School in 1957 and Grinnell College in 1962. During college he spent summers working on fishing boats in Alaska and at Camp Missanabie in Ontario. These experiences, particularly his travels up the Inside Passage to far-flung places like Cordova, Kodiak Island, Bristol Bay, and Naknek, provided fodder for stories that Senn told throughout his life. After his sophomore year at Grinnell, Senn moved to the Pacific Northwest and spent nine months working for the Seattle Times. He migrated back to Seattle after graduating from college in 1962, working for two years at Peoples National Bank.

Senn returned to Wisconsin for good in 1964 and joined the staff of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards the following year. In 1972, he earned a Masters in Education Administration at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Senn had a career of 35 years at WASB, serving as Director of Legislative Services before retiring in 2000. During this time Senn was also active in organizations such as Madison Friends of International Students, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, and the Spring Harbor Neighborhood Association. He later served on the board of Madison Area Rehabilitation Centers Inc. (MARC), an organization that provides community employment and day services for adults with developmental disabilities in Dane County.

After retiring from WASB, Senn worked on educational reform initiatives throughout the state and the nation, always advocating for children. In 1999 he co-founded the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association and served as its executive secretary until 2007. That same year Senn co-founded the Green Charter Schools Network, a national non-profit organization that reflected his twin passions for educational reform and environmental stewardship. He spoke often about innovative schools such as Nuestro Mundo, Madison's first dual-language immersion elementary school, and Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion School in Hayward, and took pride in the small role he played helping these and other schools get off the ground.

Senn will be remembered for his great love of the outdoors, especially the Kickapoo River Valley in southwestern Wisconsin. In 1979, he and his wife purchased 160 acres of woodland property in Vernon County. In addition to planting thousands of trees, installing bluebird boxes, and paddling the Kickapoo River, Senn was deeply invested in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, an 8569-acre tract of land jointly owned by the State of Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation. In 2004, the Governor of the State of Wisconsin appointed Senn to the Kickapoo Reserve Management Board. He served on the board as the education representative until 2012.

Senn's love of the Kickapoo Valley was secondary only to his love of people, particularly his family and friends, but also the strangers he met at the grocery store in Middleton or the auction in Cashton. Senn cherished his plot at Eagle Heights Community Gardens as much for the opportunity to socialize with green-thumbed neighbors as for the succulent tomatoes and peppers it produced. He was fond of saying that "a friend is a gift you give yourself." His love of people was contagious and will undoubtedly continue to spread for years to come.

Senn was preceded in death by his brother Russell. Survivors include his wife Kathleen, Madison; son Nicholas (Sarah Kanouse), Boston; daughter Kristine, Madison; granddaughter Genesee, Boston; sister Ellen, Erie, CO; and nieces, nephews and other relatives.

A celebration of Senn's life will be held at Olbrich Botanical Gardens from 1-4 pm on Saturday, January 2. An informal tribute will begin at 2 pm, at which time you're invited to share your own stories about Senn. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve (, MARC (, or Dreamweavers, a small non-profit that helps adults with developmental disabilities, including Senn's daughter, live in their own homes and access community opportunities (
To order memorial trees in memory of Senn Rufus Brown, please visit our tree store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Friday, January 2, 2015

Starts at 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

3330 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53704

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