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Meet Van


Southeastern WI Roots

Van was born in 1952, the fourth eldest of Dr. Herluf & Hattie Wanggaard’s eight children. Dr. Herluf Wanggaard served in World War II and the Korean War. In 1955 he moved his family to West Racine. Van attended several Racine area schools, and graduated from Racine Lutheran High School in 1970. Van displayed his willingness to take on the status quo at an early age, when he led the charge to convince Racine Lutheran officials to allow blue jeans in school.



Career in Law Enforcement

During high school, Van joined the Racine Police Law Enforcement Explorer Post, and in 1972 became the first Explorer to become a member of the Racine Police Department. Van’s career as a police officer spanned nearly thirty years, during which he held many different positions within the department. He continually increased his knowledge in police science by taking courses at area colleges, universities, and tech schools. He has taught police science courses to hundreds of citizens, police officers, and prospective officers, and holds a teaching certificate as a Police Science Instructor at Gateway Technical College. Van’s law enforcement career also allowed him to interact with thousands of young people, as he was employed by Racine Unified School District for over 30 years as a security guard and police liaison. 


In March of 2000, Van’s law enforcement career was cut short when he became a victim of a federal fugitive who was fleeing custody. Van was struck head-on in his squad car at 60 mph, and suffered serious injuries.  Van was forced into retirement the following year, and he immediately began looking for new opportunities to serve the public.


Leadership in Local Office

In 2002, Van ran for the County Board of Supervisors, and won with nearly 70% of the vote over a 10-year incumbent.  Van was a leader during his four terms on the Board, serving as the Vice Chairman of Finance and Human Resources Committee as well as a member of the Legislative Committee. Van chaired the Public Protection and Criminal Justice Committee, and the Racine Police and Fire Commission, the first retired police officer to earn that distinction. In the summer of 2009, Van displayed his leadership by speaking out against the annexation of over 3,100 properties into a drainage district in the western part of the county, eventually succeeding in obtaining an injunction from the courts to stop the proposed annexation.


Community Activism

In addition to serving the citizens of Racine as a police officer, volunteer, and local government official, Van has had the opportunity to work with many community and charitable organizations throughout the years. Van was responsible for structuring security for Harbor Fest in 1986, and became a member of the Harbor Fest Board of Directors for the next 19 years. Through his Harbor Fest involvement, Van was able to work with many community organizations and Veterans Associations who depend on a safe, successful, and well-attended event to raise the necessary funds to sustain the many services that they provide. Van, always a lover of animals, also served on the Racine Zoological Society Board of Directors. He is also active within his church, Hope City Racine.


A Loving Family

Van and his wife Mary Jo, who is also a lifelong Racine resident, have been married for 48 years. They own a home that was built in 1921 by Mary Jo’s grandfather, a design engineer for Walker Manufacturing. Mary Jo is retired from the health care profession. Together, Van and Mary Jo have two children: Kathleen, a fifth grade teacher at Schulte Elementary School, and Joshua, a small business owner and North Central University graduate. They also have three grand-daughters.


Serving in the Legislature

Van was elected to the Senate in 2010 to serve the 21st Senate District, and was reelected in 2014, 2018, and 2022. He currently serves as Chairman of the Majority Caucus and the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.