CALEDONIA — For more than 20 years, Marcel Dandeneau had a tradition.
The last Saturday of every month, Dandeneau held court during breakfast at DeRango's, 3840 Douglas Ave., talking politics with whomever could join him.
He would bring his thoughts and share magazines for people to read and get updated on the goings-on at the state and federal level, said Ray DeHahn, a lifelong friend of Dandeneau and Racine alderman.
"He was a people person," DeHahn said. "He cared about everybody. He may have been on different sides of the political arena sometimes, but I've seen him help people that were not necessarily (with the same) political beliefs."
Dandeneau, a longtime Democratic activist and former state representative from Caledonia, died Thursday after batting cancer. He was 85.
Korean War veteran
Born and raised in Racine, Dandeneau graduated from St. Catherine's High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951, less than a year after graduation. He fought in the Korean War in a rifle unit, leaving the Army with the rank of sergeant.
It was after his time in Korea when he endured arguably his most dangerous incident — participating in an atomic bomb test in Nevada. Two of the other test subjects wound up on 100 percent disability, according to a 2010 Journal Times story. But Dandeneau came out unscathed despite witnessing an explosion and walking through the blast site an hour later.
Back in Racine County, Dandeneau was a teacher for nearly 30 years, served as a state representative from 1975-81 and was heavily involved with the local Democratic Party.
Dandeneau also was active in Caledonia politics, serving on the Town Board in the 1970s and early 1990s. The latter stint was followed by two years as town chairman.
"He was a guy that, if something wasn't right, he wasn't going to sit on his hands and say, 'I'm not going to do nothing about it,' " DeHahn said. "Especially when he felt there's things that should be done to make it right."
State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said Dandeneau was a steadfast proponent of the Democratic Party and its values, as is his wife, Shirley, who survives him.
"In my more than 20 years in Wisconsin politics, I have rarely had the privilege to know anyone as dedicated and gracious as Marcel Dandeneau," said Mason, D-Racine.
"I will miss Marcel's mentorship, fellowship and wisdom."
Last year, Dandeneau took an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., and was moved to tears several times, he told The Journal Times.
He and other veterans toured the Washington area by bus, beginning at the Korean War Memorial and ending at Arlington National Cemetery, before returning home to a cheering crowd at General Mitchel International Airport.
“It was really and truly an incredible experience,” Dandeneau said in an interview. “It rebuilds your pride in being an American.”
Funeral arrangements had not been announced as of Friday afternoon. Mason requested Gov. Scott Walker fly flags at the state Capitol at half-staff in Dandeneau's memory.