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When Kevin Croninger assumed Dan Cary’s chair as the Monroe County district attorney, he realized something about his late mentor and the work they shared a passion for.

“Now that I’m sitting in his chair,” Croninger said of Cary, “I know how willing he was, and how difficult it was for him.”

That willingness, however, gets at something deeper, and for Croninger, it’s a desire to use his seat to help as many people as he can.

“There is no more enjoyment one can take from their work than knowing that what they’re working hard at every day is having a direct and positive effect on the lives of others,” he said.

Croninger’s resume is impressive. Having started as a part-time assistant district attorney in Juneau County in 2010, he was brought on full-time in Monroe County just a year later. In the wake of Cary’s unexpected death, Croninger was appointed to his current job in 2014. Gov. Scott Walker proclaimed him a “rising star” among Wisconsin prosecutors, and Croninger’s record boasts 27 jury trials, including 15 with lengthy prison sentences for felonies.

He’s particularly focused on helping those who are addicted to drugs.

“The pain I see every day of people who are drug-addicted,” he said of his intense motivation to succeed, “the families of people who are drug-addicted, and the victims of crime who have been victimized by those who are drug-addicted.”

Helping others is his passion, and he shares it with his mother, who was a teacher and now helps those with mental disabilities by acting as their primary care-giver in her own home.

“We have different areas of passion,” he said, “but in the end it’s the same goal.”

Croninger used the familiar parable of the man throwing starfish into the sea, on a beach with thousands of them yet to be saved. A passerby asks him what could possibly be the point? After all, the task is so awesome as to appear meaningless. They all can’t be saved, so what difference could it possibly make?

“It made a difference to that one,” he said.

Making a difference to “that one” is important to Croninger, as Kristen Gust, who nominated him for Rising Stars Under 40, also noted.

“He has led with strength and wisdom in a difficult moment,” Gust said, “and I’m confident he will carry forward Dan Cary’s legacy as a prosecutor who is committed to enforcing the law and serving the community.”

That service takes a number of different forms: Croninger has supported Brighter Tomorrows, an organization that benefits domestic-abuse victims, by taking part in the Diva Dash. He’s a regular speaker at the Remembering Teresa events in Tomah which help raise domestic-abuse awareness. He’s also a member of the Monroe County Justice Coordinating Council, the Monroe County Drug Endangered Children Task Force, and the Sparta Area Young Professionals, among many others.

In his spare time, he runs marathons. Having already completed 72 marathons in 16 states, it’s Croninger’s goal to complete one in every state.

There’s even a correlation between that running and the work he does.

“It’s literally putting one foot in front of the other,” he said.

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