J. Earl Leverich Papers, 1897-1973


State Senator James Earl Leverich, best known for his staunch defense of the oleomargarine tax, was born on December 6, 1891 on the family farm in the Town of Angelo in Monroe County, Wisconsin. His parents were James Woodhull Leverich and Eliza S. Blackman Leverich. James Woodhull ("Woody") Leverich was born in New York on August 15, 1857. In 1871 he migrated to the Town of Angelo with his parents, and this property remained in family hands for over a century.

James W. Leverich was a pioneer berry farmer in Wisconsin and an organizer and president of the Sparta Fruit Growers Association, later the Sparta Produce Exchange. In 1888 he was elected chair of the town board and a member of the Monroe County Board of Supervisors. He chaired the board in 1896-1897 and in 1923. In this capacity Leverich supervised the construction of the main building of the Monroe County Asylum and later held the position of superintendent for two years. A leader in the Good Roads Movement, Leverich also supervised the grading and surfacing of the main roads in the town. He was also a leader in the Angel Union Church. He died on July 15, 1931.

James Earl Leverich was educated at the Sparta High School, a business course at the Capital City Commercial College (later Madison Business College) in 1911, and the Short Course in Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin in 1913. In subsequent years he gradually took over management of the J.W. Leverich Fruit and Dairy Farm, and in 1923 he was promoted to partner and manager. During this period the Leverichs were the largest growers of strawberries in Wisconsin (15 acres). In addition they had 250 acres under cultivation and 50 head of cattle. As a practical dairy farmer and a strawberry grower, Leverich became a public champion of the farmer, and he was chosen as the farmer member of the State Board of Vocational Education, the State Butter Marketing Committee and other statewide committees. He was an active member or organizer of many farm cooperatives, serving as president of the Western Wisconsin Creamery Association, the Sparta Cooperative Creamery Association, and the Sparta Equity Livestock Shipping Association. As president of the Sparta Cooperative Creamery Association, one of the largest in the state, he was able to improve its financial position during the 1920s. Leverich was also vice president of the Wisconsin State Equity Society and president of the State Horticultural Society.

During the 1930s Leverich became active in the agitation that plagued Wisconsin agriculture. In 1931 he was leader in the anti-oleo demonstration in Madison that resulted in the elimination of oleomargarine in Wisconsin. Later he served as a member of Governor Schmedeman's special Dairy Committee. During the same time Leverich became active in the Monroe County Progressive Republican Committee, and in 1934 he successfully ran for a seat in the Senate as a Progressive. During the 1935 session he was a member of the Committee on Education and Public Welfare. During the 1937 session he was a member of the Special Joint Legislative Committee and chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Labor. Leverich was defeated for reelection in 1938 but he successfully ran again in 1942 on the Progressive ticket. He was reelected in 1946 as a Progressive but joined the Republican Party after the Progressive Party dissolved. For many years Leverich served as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee from which position he was able to prevent the passage of legislation that would have removed the prohibition on oleomargarine in Wisconsin. Leverich was defeated in the primary election in 1966.

James Earl Leverich followed his father's model of local civic involvement. From 1914 to 1931 he was town clerk. After his father's death in 1931 J. Earl Leverich was elected to succeed him on the town board. He continued in this post for 57 years and was succeeded in 1971 by his son Robert C. (Tom) Leverich. Like his father, J. Earl Leverich was a member of the Monroe County Board of Supervisors, continuing in this position from 1931 to 1966. He also served on the Angelo school board and as president of the Angelo Union Church.

Leverich married Ada Birr on September 3, 1919. They were the parents of three children: Robert Leverich, Mary Hicken, and James E. Leverich. James Earl Leverich died on December 27, 1979.