Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2019

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Former Clark County Commissioner Tom Wiesner dies

Tom Wiesner, a former University Regent and Clark County Commissioner and a prominent Republican Party member and businessman, died today at a hopsital in Seattle, Wash., where he was undergoing treatment for leukemia. He was 63.

Wiesner, a noted University of Nevada-Las Vegas booster who is credited with bringing together UNLV and his alma mater Wisconsin for a series of football games dating back to the 1980s, stepped down from his Regent post in February because of the ailment.

Local services for the Las Vegas resident of 39 years known affectionately as "The Big Dog" are pending. A private services was held in Seattle Tuesday afternoon.

Eleven years ago, Wiesner founded the Big Dog Hospitality Group, that operates seven Wisconsin-themed restaurant-bar-casinos, including the Draft House and Holy Cow. They feature such Dairyland favorites as bratwurst, Wisconsin walleye and hand-crafted beer.

"Tom was a wonderful man and a great leader," said U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev. "His passing not only is a loss to his family and friends, but to the entire state of Nevada. I always treasured his friendship. His generosity to Nevada and to his community will never be forgotten."

Wiesner was elected Republican National Committeeman for the state in 1986.

Former Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat, said his friendship with Wiesner, transcended party lines.

"Tom was reasonable, and even though we differed, are discussions were never heated," said Miller who worked on Wiesner's county commission reelection campaign after Wiesner voted against Miller for Justice of the Peace and respectfully told him he simply supported the other candidate.

"He was a great family man and a person who had great love for the state of Nevada and for UNLV. It's hard to believe he won't be there for the UNLV-Wisconsin game this September and I don't think I'll ever go to another UNLV basketball game without thinking of him."

Wiesner was elected to the Clark County Commission in 1970, upsetting two-term Democrat incumbent Darwin Lamb. Wiesner, then 31, was at the time the youngest person ever elected to the county commission. He served two terms.

But it was in the field of athletics where the Wisconsin University football captain and star of the early 1960s who later sponsored numerous local Pop Warner teams, is perhaps most revered.

"Everybody who came into contact with Tom liked him and admired him," UNLV Athletic Director and football coach John Robinson said.

"In my view, there's no one who has been more important to UNLV since I've been here. He's one of the great people I've known and one of the best in the city of Las Vegas."

Dominic Clark, former UNLV sports information director, worked closely with Tom Wiesner on many athletic department projects during the department's -- and the university's -- formative stages in the 1970s.

"He was always one of those go-to guys," Clark said. "When you needed something done, you called Tom Wiesner or (the late) Bill ("Wildcat") Morris. They were on the short list of founding fathers of UNLV athletics.

"As you look at the structure and foundation of UNLV athletics as a whole, he would be one the pillars."

In his roles as a successful businessman and community booster, Wiesner opened the doors for many for job opportunities and recreational programs.

"If I've helped people in Las Vegas have greater opportunities through athletics, I'm very happy to have done it," Wiesner told the Sun in a June 2, 2000, story on the eve of his induction into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. "I'm humbled and grateful to be recognized,"

Wiesner was elected to a six-year term on the Board of Regents in 1996. UNLV Regent Mark Alden called Wiesner an "imposing figure," referring both to his physical size and political prowess.

"When you look at him, he was really a big dog, but inside he was really a little dog in big dog's clothing," Alden said. "His biggest legacy is his big dog warm heart. Maybe that's where the nickname came from."

He selected as Regents vice chairman in 1997.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who talked of his longtime friend's courage in facing his illness in his state of the city speech this year, said he was at the Community College of Southern Nevada when he learned of Wiesner's death.

"Tom always did what was best for the city of Las Vegas and we were buddies off the bat when I came here in 1964," Goodman said. "If I ever needed his help, he was there. You just can't replace someone like him."

Born Feb. 28, 1939, in Wausau, Wis., Wiesner moved with his family, that included six brothers, to Neenah, Wis., in 1944. He graduated from Neenah High School in 1957.

At Wisconsin, Wiesner won athletic varsity letters for three years, was the all-university heavyweight boxing champion in 1958 and was named captain and most valuable player in the 1960-61 season.

As a fullback and linebacker he helped lead the Badgers to the 1959 Big 10 title and the 1960 Rose Bowl, where they lost to Washington.

Wiesner also represented Wisconsin in the 1961 East-West Shrine Game and Hula Bowl. He received a bachelor of science degree that year and was drafted by the National Football League's Baltimore Colts.

But his two-year pro football career would be uneventful. Wiesner was traded to the Los Angeles Rams and played pre-season games before being cut.

He tried out for the American Football League's San Diego Chargers and the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but never played in a regular season pro game.

"I got fired from three leagues," Wiesner often said with hearty laugh.

In 1963, Wiesner moved to Las Vegas were he started Holmes Tire West, the local Michelin tire franchise. He had previously worked for the Holmes Tire Co. In Madison, Wis. He sold the local company in 1971.

Wiesner's civic contributions were many. He was director of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Board. He also worked with the Boys Clubs and Girls Clubs of Clark County, United Way, local American Cancer Society and Easter Seals of Clark County Campaign.

Wiesner married the former Lynn Geary in 1965. In 1969, his daughter Kari Lynn was born and two years later his son Kurt Thomas Wiesner was born. They survive him. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

Sun reporters Jennifer Knight, Steve Guiremand, Ron Kantowski and Erin Neff contributed to this report.