Tom Rost

As an artist, Tom Rost sometimes went to unusual lengths to get the right look for his wildlife illustrations. His work, known for its accuracy of detail, appeared everywhere from The Milwaukee Journal to magazines to a stamp. Take the time that a magazine needed a musky-fishing illustration. "It was the middle of January," he later said. "I managed to find an aluminum boat and persuaded two friends to pose for me in a snowy cornfield. "It was a Sunday morning and people were coming home from church. You should have seen the double takes as they passed us - two guys in a boat in the middle of a field, making casting motions. And me taking pictures of them." Thomas L. Rost Jr. - known professionally as Tom Rost - died of pancreatic cancer Monday. He was 95. A few weeks ago, as his health suddenly began to fail, doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. In typical Rost fashion, he found a bit of humor about the diagnosis process, family members said. "Well, I don't want to have what everyone else has," he wryly commented. Rost was born in Richmond, Ind., but spent most of his life in the Milwaukee area. He graduated from Shorewood High School and Milwaukee State Teachers College, then became an illustrator with the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Two of his CCC watercolors were purchased by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a Christmas gift to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. He married the former Janet Morgenroth in 1931. They were married nearly 65 years when she died in 1996. In 1936, Rost began as a staff illustrator at The Milwaukee Journal, working at the paper until 1945. During World War II, he created many of the maps used to describe the progress of the war. His eyesight kept him from active duty, but he drew the silhouettes of U.S.aircraft for the government, used to help train civil defense workers on how to distinguish friendly aircraft from enemy aircraft, said son Jon Rost. Rost also began the Journal's long tradition of detailed "opening day" cartoons for the hunting and fishing seasons. A writer once observed that Rost was religiously accurate in his drawings. "He makes a rainbow trout look like a rainbow and not like a brown," the unnamed writer declared. "When he draws a spinning reel, you can be sure it will look like the original right down to the screw head that holds the handle in place." International Wildlife magazine once needed illustrations of some exotic South American fish. The specimens were frozen, packed in ice and shipped by air to Rost's home studio in Cedarburg. "He would draw a little while and the fish would start to thaw," Jon said. "He would have to stick it back in the freezer before he could draw again." A dedicated hunter and angler, Rost came by his observations naturally. His own favorite quarry was the German brown trout, what he called "the wiliest of all fish." "When I catch a brown, I figure I've done everything right," Rost said in 1978. That story appeared after Rost's drawing of a brook trout was picked for Wisconsin's first inland trout stamp in 1978. Another illustration was picked for the stamp in 1981. After the Journal, Rost worked in commercial art for five years in New YorkCity. He also began his long association with Field & Stream and other wildlife magazines. Rost returned to Milwaukee, co-founding the Slater-Rost Studios and later freelancing. He continued to work in commercial art, including for Harley-Davidson,Simplicity and other local firms. A long-time resident of Cedarburg, Rost earlier served on its Plan Commissionand the Design Review Board. More than 30 years ago - as plans were proposed to demolish Cedarburg's prominent mill property for a filling station and convenience store - Rost was one of those who successfully fought the proposal, said his son. "He was one of a handful of people who really had a vision of what Cedarburgcould be," Jon Rost said, "and did whatever they could to preserve and protect the existing architecture and keep the historical nature of the community." In recent years, arthritis kept him from drawing, but his illustrations still exist. Two of his Field & Stream covers appeared in the magazine's 2004 calendar. Besides his son Jonathan, survivors include daughters Gay Stanislawski and Carol Jean Rost; son Tom; sister Jane Will; brother R. Wayne; friend Corinthia VanOrsdol; grandson Eric.

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