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Eleanor Whiffen

Published On: May 15 2013 03:51:44 PM CDT

Eleanor “Sally” Bardeen Vilas Whiffen
MADISON – Sally was born in Madison on September 23, 1931. On May 13, 2013, at the age of 81, Sally passed away with her immediate family by her side at Agrace HospiceCare in Madison following a protracted struggle with pulmonary illness. Between the opening and closing chapters of her life in Madison, Sally resided in a wide variety of places, including San Francisco, Birmingham, Switzerland, Croatia, and, her favorite place, her remote cabin on the Brule River near Lake Superior. During her journey, she became the matriarch of a far-flung adoring family and made countless friends.

Sally was a dedicated conservationist. Among many accomplishments in that regard, she was a board member of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, the American Birkebeiner Foundation, the Friends of the Brule River and Forest, and the Brule River Sportsmen’s Club. She also was the driving force behind the passage of landmark legislation which provided greater protection from logging for the forests in the Wisconsin State Forests and State Parks systems. One of her proudest accomplishments was to write a book titled Dear Diary while she lived alone on the Brule River. Her book wove together folksy antidotes about life in the north woods with serious conservation sections about the overpopulation of whitetail deer. Sally was never idle. She pursued a wide variety of activities with a passion, including sports, bridge, painting, knitting, gardening and watching her grandchildren’s activities. She won her age group multiple times in the American Birkebeiner ski race, the Badger State games, and various skiing and running races across the Midwest.

Sally is survived by a large and loving family spanning four generations: her son Michael Van Sicklen (Susan), with three sons, Barret (Kelly), parents of Owen (the great-grandchild Sally called “gumdrop”), Nick and David; her daughter Katherine Van Sicklen, with son Joseph Holmes; and her brother David Vilas (Anne), Rochester, New York, with two daughters Elizabeth Wert and Meg Walters and their families. She also is survived by four stepchildren: Ford Runge (Susan), with two children, Carl and Elizabeth; Elizabeth Runge King (Jay), with daughter Jayne Marie; Fredericka Runge Freyberg (Gary), with three children, Ford, Madeline and Henry; and Gregory Whiffen (Diane) with children Benjamin and Ella.

Sally was predeceased by her parents Frances Johnson Vilas and Joseph Curtis Vilas. She also was predeceased by her three husbands: Peter Van Sicklen, a chemical engineer in San Francisco; Carlisle Runge, a UW-Madison law professor; and James Whiffen, a UW-Madison Medical School professor. Most recently, she lived in Maple Bluff, on the same street where her parents and grandparents once lived. She laughingly remarked that she had been “recycled.” Sally’s dearest friends were a group of women who referred to themselves as the “Lakewood Girls,” from having attended elementary school together at Lakewood School. They were like family.

Sally’s life will be celebrated on Sunday, May 19, 2013, from 2:00-5:00 p.m. at the Blackhawk Country Club, 3606 Blackhawk Drive, Madison. Remembrances will begin at 3:00 p.m.

Donations in Sally’s name may be made to either the Friends of the Brule River and Forest, P.O. Box 146, Brule, WI 54820, or to Agrace HospiceCare, 5395 East Cheryl Parkway, Madison, WI 53711. To view and sign this guestbook, please visit:

Ryan Funeral Home & Cremation Services 2418 N. Sherman Ave. 608-249-8257

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