MILWAUKEE – Hundreds of people in Milwaukee are mourning the sudden passing of a famous man who made Jazz in the Park a place to make lifelong friends.
It seems everyone has a connection to Mark Natzke.
âA friend from work bought a house across from Mark,â Andy Lingenfelter recalls.
âHe defended our marriage,â Marcos Mejia said.
Across Cathedral Square Park, Shawn Hittman said: “[Natzkeâs] like the Milwaukee version of Kevin Bacon. “
These men are among the countless Milwaukeeans who have called Natzke their best friend. For virtually everyone, their friendship began at Jazz in the Park.
âI met Mark right here,â Hittman said of the fateful moment 11 years ago. “Like a lot of these people.”
âMy first year here – 2009 – we probably had a party of 10 people. The following weekend, it was 12. The following weekend, it was 14, ârecalls Matthew Flynn. “After three years, there were only groups of people all around.”
Weddings and children emerged along the way, and COVID ultimately disrupted the weekly gathering. Friends say Cathedral Square was the only place to go after learning the 53-year-old suddenly died in his sleep on August 25, 2021.
“It doesn’t stick. He was in perfect health. He stayed in shape,” said Mejia, who had been friends with Natzke for 23 years.
Natzke worked for Clear Channel Outdoor for 22 years and the company paid tribute to their employee with a tribute on their Milwaukee electronic billboards.
âI saw his billboard – drive here,â said Flynn. âHis company, of course, posted his photo and said, ‘In loving memory of Mark Natzke.’ Oh my God. It took my breath away while driving. “
Natzke’s real passion was helping others. Natzke served on the board of directors of Ronald McDonald House and volunteered with groups like Brothers and Sisters in Christ, where he traveled to Nicaragua each year to build homes for the less fortunate.
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âI always thought I was very lucky to have Mark as a friend and just thinking of him over the past 24 hours and journaling and defining him more I realize how good I was. blessed to have known the guy, “noted Lingenfelter, who would capture Milwaukee Sunrise with Natzke on nights the two couldn’t sleep.
Lingenfelter says both suffered from insomnia.
âThis morning the walk around the lake was really tough,â Lingenfelter said.
For a man who loved to gather crowds, this sudden loss tears them apart.
âHalf of my friends, I met them thanks to Mark,â Mejia explained.
Hittman added: “I will carry Mark Natzke with me for as long as I live.”
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“We will always meet again,” Flynn hopes. “The difference is, there will be a huge hole without Mark.”
Natzke is survived by his parents and siblings. His visit will be on Friday September 3 near Green Bay – where he was born. No cause of death has been determined.
Eric Hamme, Vice President of Sales, on behalf of Clear Channel Outdoor-Milwaukee
âMark will be sadly missed by all of us at Clear Channel Outdoor, and by so many others in our community. He was extremely proud of his work, valued and appreciated every relationship and made an impact on everyone he met. Mark’s legacy will forever be remembered by those he called his “working family”. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Natzke family and everyone he touched. “