Joel Brunsvold, the former Illinois legislator who also ran the state Department of Natural Resources for two years, died early Tuesday at University Hospitals in Iowa City after a stroke over the weekend.

Brunsvold, 68, served 20 years in the Illinois General Assembly before going on to be the director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a position he retired from in 2005. He most recently has been a lobbyist in Springfield.

Brunsvold suffered a stroke on Saturday, said former state Sen. Denny Jacobs, who served in the legislature at the same time as the Milan Democrat.

Like others, Jacobs recalled Brunsvold’s life as a coach and athlete, particularly his fondness for the outdoors. He loved hunting and fishing.

“He’s a man’s man,” Jacobs said.

He said Brunsvold had been planning to go to Alaska to see a brother before the stroke.

Brunsvold was known as a fine athlete and was a politician devoted to conservation issues and outdoor recreation. He founded the Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, a legislative group that promoted issues of the DNR. He promoted gunowners’ rights.

Brunsvold represented the 72nd Legislative District, which includes Rock Island, Milan and much of lower Rock Island County.

He was a coach in the Sherrard School District and then was elected in 1977 as mayor of Milan. He won election to the Illinois General Assembly in 1982. In March 2003, he was appointed DNR director, where he served until retiring on Dec. 31, 2005.

Illinois Rep. Pat Verschoore, a Democrat from Milan, succeeded Brunsvold after he left the legislature for the DNR job. The two hunted together and played baseball together. Verschoore also managed Brunsvold’s re-election campaigns.

“He’s a good friend and a great guy,” Verschoore said.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn also praised Brunsvold.

“Joel was good man and a devoted public servant whom I have known for many years,” he said.

Brunsvold was given credit for his support of several improvements in Rock Island County, including the new bridge across the Rock River, redecking of the Interstate 74 bridge across the Rock River, establishment of the Western Illinois University campus in the Quad-Cities and dockside gambling.

While at the DNR, he faced tight budget cuts and a staff that was downsized. However, the agency employed more than 2,000 people and had a budget of more than $700 million. 

Despite the challenges at the DNR, Brunsvold oversaw construction of the $29 million World Shooting Complex in Sparta, Ill., as well as development of online programs to purchase hunting and fishing licenses in the state.

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