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Putting Down Roots. Establishing a Legacy: La Crosse County

After earning his UW law degree, Brent Smith thought he’d take a job in La Crosse for just a short time. His career there lasted 38 years.

July 22, 2016
Brent Smith

Fresh out of UW Law School, Brent Smith ’75, JD’78 took a job with a La Crosse law firm, never imagining he’d stay for long.

Thirty-eight years later, he still calls La Crosse home as managing partner at Johns, Flaherty and Collins and a longtime civic activist.

“I stayed here, raised a family, and it all worked out,” says Smith, who grew up in Madison and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at UW–Madison before attending law school.

Smith has served on the board of the La Crosse Center, the city’s downtown convention and events hub, since 1991 and has been its president since 1993. He helped shepherd a 1998 expansion to the riverside structure, and recently the city approved a $35 million renovation for the facility.

Giving back to my community is a necessity.

The renovation will allow for needed improvements and the addition of a ballroom and terrace on the side of the building facing the Mississippi River. Smith hopes the changes will help draw more conventions and events.

“The center has a tremendous impact economically for shops, restaurants, and hotels,” he says, noting that this adds up to a $40 million annual impact on the area’s economy. “It also helps add to the quality of life in the area and makes people want to come to La Crosse and stay in La Crosse.”

Smith also serves as vice president of the board for the UW–La Crosse Foundation, which raises funds to support the university. As a former UW System Regent from 2004 to 2013, Smith says his UW–Madison background helps fuel his passion for community involvement.

“Giving back to my community is a necessity,” he says. “You start out in college, and get involved beyond coursework because you see professors and others you admire involved in leadership roles. UW–Madison taught me about the importance of broader participation in society.”

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