Jake Leinenkugel has gone to Washington.
The Chippewa Falls native has signed on with the Trump administration, and has been appointed as a senior White House advisor to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He was sworn into the position Friday.
Leinenkugel, who ran Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. for a quarter of a century before retiring two years ago, is looking forward to working on behalf of America’s veterans, said his brother, brewery President Dick Leinenkugel.
“Jake is a veteran; two of his children are veterans. He certainly knows first hand the challenges and opportunities men and women who leave the military face,” Dick Leinenkugel said Monday. “This will allow him to impact the policies that will impact veterans.”
Northwestern Bank President Jerry Jacobson has known Jake Leinenkugel since high school. He said it is obvious how much this position means to Jake, as are his reasons.
“Jake is very dedicated, and I know he really took a lot into consideration. He doesn’t have to work. He could be traveling, he could be in Phoenix right now golfing instead of stuck in Washington, D.C.,” Jacobson said.
“It’s unbelievable a guy in retirement who’s doing fine will sacrifice himself for our nation. It’s great that he’s doing this, and I actually think it’s a great honor for the Chippewa Valley.”
Jacobson said Leinenkugel had a long discussion with his wife Peg about going into government just a month shy of his 65th birthday. Only one thing would have swayed him into taking the position.
“He’s only doing it for one reason — to help the vets,” Jacobson said. “If he can find a way to make it easier on their lives, he will have accomplished his goal.”
No official announcement has been made by the department or the White House. One factor in the delay could be that President Donald Trump’s choice to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, has yet to be confirmed.
Shulkin was one of the last Cabinet choices made by Trump. His appointment was announced Jan. 11, and referred to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee Friday.
On the same day Trump was being inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president of the United States, Dick Leinenkugel held two meetings with brewery employees Friday to inform them of Jake’s new position. He met with Leinie Lodge employees in the lodge, and then with brewery employees in the warehouse between afternoon shifts.
Their reaction to Jake Leinenkugel working for the White House wasn’t so much surprise but appreciation.
“This is historic, and I saw a lot of smiles and pride,” Dick Leinenkugel said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity and we’re extremely proud of the fact that one of our own is in a position he has passion for.”
Both he and Jacobson believe that Jake’s business acumen will serve him well.
“Whenever you bring in people who are passionate and willing to serve, who don’t particularly need the job but are doing it with the best intentions, they can bring a refreshing look at things,” Dick Leinenkugel said.
“Growing up in Chippewa as Leinenkugels, our father instilled in us that you give back to Chippewa Falls and you give back to the nation. He was enjoying life, and for him to give that up is quite a commitment and shows his level of service to our veterans.”
The skill with which Jake Leinenkugel steered the brewery through challenging times in the industry, and steadily grew the business, will serve him well in the nation’s capital, Jacobson said.
“Having someone with business aptitude is very important to our government. Jake has had a wide range of experiences in his life, and I’m sure he will bring a lot to the Department of Veterans Affairs. I think you sometimes need a different mindset than government,” Jacobson said.
“He came through the private sector in a very, very competitive environment. He can give those insights from all of his years of change through the beer industry. It’s really the concept of dealing with change, and the (VA) has not done very well with that.”
Jacobson paused, then thought about the way Jake Leinenkugel’s life has come full circle, having served a six-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps before returning home to work for the family brewery.
“In the ‘70s he was in the Philippines doing his duty for our country, and now at the end of his career, he’s doing it again for our country. To me, that says it all,” Jacobson said. “This is not an easy job, but he will do a good job, and he will make a difference.”