The man who died in Sunday’s house explosion in Superior was a dedicated University of Wisconsin-Superior custodian who through his work spent nearly 25 years giving students and staff the best possible campus experience, friends and acquaintances said.
The UWS community is remembering Scott Seaquist, 61, as a quiet, intelligent man who took immense pride in his work and in the campus that was so central to his life.
“If people have missions in life, it was part of his mission to be here and to bring about good things for our students and staff,” said Tammy Fanning, associate dean of students and Title IX coordinator at UWS. “He had a quirky sense of humor, but at the same time he had a very serious side. He really fought for doing the right thing, and for the students and staff here.”
Seaquist, who worked in various maintenance roles at UWS since about 1994, was home Sunday morning when the explosion occurred. Seaquist lived alone in the small house surrounded on three sides by train tracks and separated from the rest of the city, giving the setting an almost rural feel.
Authorities have not said what caused the explosion, though they believe it was accidental.
Seaquist was born Dec. 17, 1957, to Edward and Shirley Seaquist and lived in Superior his entire life. Many details of his personal life are hazy. He grew up in Superior’s North End, one friend said. He once was married, another said. He was interested in fireworks, putting on displays for family and friends. He absolutely loved pizza.
And yet, he was well known at UWS, having worked over the years in nearly every building on campus.
Most recently, he worked in Barstow Hall, home to UWS’s science labs. Seaquist had a particular love for science and physics, his colleagues said. Barstow was last on his check-off list of buildings.
“And Barstow was the last building he worked in,” fellow UWS custodian Steve Leone said.
That love of science translated to Seaquist’s maintenance work, too.
“He did lots of research on his own,” said Wade Joseph, a supervisor with Tennessee-based Southwest Service Corp. (SSC), which holds the contract for custodial staff and grounds crew at UWS. “He would check on products that we use to make sure they were safe for the environment, for instance.”
Krisi Patterson, UWS director of campus recreation, spent several years working with Seaquist at the school’s Marcovich Wellness Center. She described Seaquist as “meticulous.”
“He was proud to do the work that he did,” she said. “He could see it wasn’t just washing the windows; it was getting in the cracks and seeing things that no one else would see.”
Pride and community at UWS are common themes among recollections from Seaquist’s colleagues.
“If anyone can learn anything from Scott, it’s to pick something you love to do, do it well, and be proud of that,” Patterson said.
“He took pride in all the little things, whether that was sweeping the floor or opening up a door for a student,” Fanning said.
Students and staff were at the heart of why Seaquist spent nearly a quarter-century on campus, and, to that end, he was passionate about standing up for what he believed.
In 2014, when UWS custodial staff switched from being university employees to contract workers with significantly lower wages and fewer benefits, Seaquist was frustrated.
“He told me: ‘This is a step backwards. It’s not going to save money; it’s not going to give students the best experience,’” Patterson said.
At first, he took some time away from campus. He collected unemployment and tried to find cash jobs on the side.
“He had a very simple life, a small home, no children,” Patterson said. “He didn’t need a lot. It was a drastic pay cut, with less vacation, less sick time. But Scott knew his worth, and he was worth more than the starting salary that SSC was willing to negotiate.”
By 2016, however, Patterson and others convinced him to take the contract job. Seaquist returned, but he remained ever vocal about his passion for fair worker wages and benefits.
When Gov. Tony Evers announced he would visit the campus on a listening tour last month, the quiet, reserved custodian wanted to talk to him.
“He stopped by my office to talk about the conversation he wanted to have with Governor Evers to encourage the state to invest in a custodial staff that will be a part of the state payroll,” Fanning said. She doesn’t know for certain if Seaquist and Evers did indeed speak, but she believes they did.
In the end, Seaquist, who mostly seemed to keep to himself in life, found his community.
When a young Fanning arrived at UWS in 1994 to take a job as a residence hall manager, Seaquist’s kindness provided warmth in a new environment.
“I was in my 20s when I got here, and that was the first time that I was ever far away from home,” she said. “People like Scott made you feel like you were in the right place. He was a kind soul who made me feel like I was home. … I hope maybe I gave that sort of feeling to him.”
No services are planned for Seaquist, who didn’t see family often, colleagues said. Fanning and Patterson said they hope to plant a tree for Seaquist on campus. Perhaps they’ll have a moment of silence that day.
“He’s gonna want us to remember the good stuff; he’d be mad if people were crying,” Patterson said, noting that Seaquist had a witty charm that could bring light to any situation.
Fanning said she hopes to get colleagues together soon to share stories and conversations they had with the custodian who spent so many years making the campus a better place for all.
“I think deeply about how short our lives are,” Fanning said. “It’s very sad to know that not that many people knew him. At least he had a family here.”
Donations toward a memorial for Scott Seaquist can be sent to the UW-Superior Foundation by going to uwsuper.edu/give2uws/forms/donation.cfm. Choose “other” in the drop-down menu marked “Designation,” and leave a note in the comments field that the money should go to Seaquist’s memorial. Seaquist's family also has created a GoFundMe page to support a memorial fund.