Leif Lester Marking, of Brice Prairie, Wisconsin, age 86, passed away on June 28, 2021 due to complications from Parkinson’s. He was born March 26, 1935, in Holmen, Wisconsin, to Robert and Signe (Romskog) Marking.
Leif grew up on a 160 acre family farm, high on Marking Ridge, and was educated in one-room Maple Shade Grade School, then graduated from Holmen High School in 1953. While roller skating in West Salem he met the love of his life, his wife of 67 years, Carol Lynn (Rowe) Marking.
Leif joined the Army, and the young couple moved to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Leif and Carol and their growing family returned to the family farm, and went to work for La Crosse Telephone as a cable splitter.
A tragic woodworking accident to his left hand led him to a new career. He returned to school and received a bachelor’s degree, (and eventually a master’s) in chemistry and aquatic biology from UW – La Crosse and began working at the National Fisheries Research Center in La Crosse as a chemical screener. After 3 years he was section leader of the Aquatic Toxicology Department. Over his 32 year career, Leif wrote or co authored 52 papers on fish toxicology. He also did contract work for many agencies nationwide, most notably the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, where his research was key in developing controls for invasive sea lampreys in the Great Lakes.
Highly respected, he was a bright star in his field, receiving numerous awards and recognition.
In 1960, shortly after their return to Holmen, Leif and Carol bought land on Brice Prairie. Leif built his family a house overlooking Lake Onalaska which would serve them well in the coming years. The Marking family, now with three children, loved life on the prairie, enjoying hunting, fishing, boating, skating and swimming in this particularly beautiful wide spot of the Mississippi river.
Much to the delight of his family, he built a pontoon boat made of oil drums. Every winter he constructed a huge ice rink on the frozen river, complete with lights, where kids would tussle daily in hockey games and he and Carol would skate gracefully. He was a Boy Scout troop leader who believed in adventure, with meetings and campouts on Islands rather than indoors.
Leif began giving programs in schools on the first Earth day in 1970, and continued his educational programs with wood ducks and bluebirds into his late retirement years.
Leif and Carol were a magnet for people, and enjoyed being with their many friends, from parties with neighbors to camping on the Mississippi sandbars. They loved each other and their life together and especially enjoyed traveling, from river trips to Stillwater, Minnesota to Muscatine, Iowa, to vacations in Jamaica and three trips to Norway.
A gold card member of the Sons Of Norway, Leif celebrated his Norwegian heritage. He built a beautiful retreat on the farm where he grew up, which he named Snertingdal, in honor of the family farm he had visited in Norway. Designed so he and Carol could live in it, Snertingdal’s true purpose was to hold gatherings for friends and family. Many holidays, reunions, and life events were celebrated at Snertingdal.
Leif and Carol would team up with sister Vivian and husband Ron Sacia to make a huge batch of lefse for the holidays.
After Leif’s retirement, he and Carol split their time between their Brice Prairie home and Snertingdal. Leif devoted more time to his volunteer work and conservation activities. A founding member of the Brice Prairie Conservation Association (BPCA), he was instrumental in wood duck nest box building and monitoring. He participated in cleanups and in many activities that made Brice Prairie a better place.
But perhaps he is best known for his passion for bluebirds. In his later years, Leif became known as “Leif Marking; the best friend a bluebird could ask for”, to quote a 2007 La Crosse Tribune article.
As a child, he loved to find bluebird nests in the wood fence posts on the farm. In his retirement, he became determined to do all he could to increase the declining numbers of his favorite bird. He joined with others, BPCA and the Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) to build and monitor houses, and set up a network and reporting system where others could do the same. Their efforts helped propel Wisconsin to the highest recorded bluebird production numbers in the nation. He was always available to patiently assist anyone who needed help with their bluebird house, often driving to a worried person’s bluebird house to do some troubleshooting. He monitored more than 100 houses a year himself and kept meticulous records. He and partner Fred Craig built hundreds of bluebird nest boxes in his wood shop at Snertingdal.
He approached his bluebird work with his scientific mind, doing studies and publishing invaluable research data of nest box temperature studies and design in the BRAW journal. “I don’t know of anyone who was more dedicated to this than he was”, remembered Steve Sample of BRAW.
A fine photographer, (he had been the unofficial chief photographer of the Fish Lab), he set up a photography blind and began taking astonishing photographs of bluebirds. With the help of his son Steve, he made short films about his beloved blue feathered friends, so others could learn from his experiences. Leif received local, state, and national awards for his conservation activities. He was the first Holmen graduate to be presented the Viking Alumnus Award.
With his striking head of silver hair and sparkling blue eyes, he had a gracious, welcoming manner and a positive outlook on life. He adored Carol and was a beloved husband, father, brother, uncle and friend. His contributions have left the world a better place.
Leif is survived by his wife Carol, his siblings: brother Syl (Marcie) Marking, Vivian (Ron) Sacia, Bernice (Randy) Koula, Carol Jean Marking,Doris (Glen) Newman, and his three children, Mary (Beaner) Boldon, Marlon Marking, Steven (JoAnn) Marking. He is predeceased by his sisters Marion and Gertrude. Leif ’s final resting place will be at Neshonoc Cemetery near West Salem, Wisconsin, where bluebirds of happiness will watch over him during his eternal rest.
Memorial services will be held on Thursday, July 15th at 10:30 a.m. at Holmen Lutheran Church, 228 Morris Street, with full military honors to follow. Pastor Allison Cobb will officiate. The family requests that all guests be fully vaccinated to attend. A private family burial will be in the Neshonoc Cemetery at a later time. Friends may visit with the family on Thursday at the church from 9:30 a.m. until time of services. Online condolences may be given to the family at http://www.dickinsonfuneralhomes.com
Mailed condolences may be sent to: Dickinson Funeral Home, 1425 Jackson Street, La Crosse WI, 54601. Memorials may be given to Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin, Dan Schroeder, Treasurer, N4028 Morgan Drive, Waupaca, WI 54981.