Thursday, May 17, 2012


Recently I came across an interesting story about La Farge while conducting research focused on the year of 1972. When reading through some copies of the La Farge Enterprise newspaper from that year, I came across an article titled, “Know Your Town”.  The article was a compilation of the attributes of La Farge for growth potential and the list was put together in the spring of that year for a specific purpose.  As with most things happening to La Farge during that era, the list had to do with the dam project.  Back in those days forty years ago, everything that happened in the community seemed to be connected in some way to the dam being built north of town by the Corps of Engineers.
            When Governor Patrick Lucey had given his reluctant blessing to the dam project after his “Intensive Review” conducted a year earlier in 1971, some conditions were laid down by the governor in order for the project to move forward.  One of those conditions was that land planning, which would include zoning, should be implemented for all of the land around Lake La Farge.  This decree for zoning to control development around the lake included the townships of Stark and Whitestown, where nearly all of the lake’s shore land would be located, but also encompassed the village of La Farge, located to the south of the proposed lake’s waters.  To help with the zoning plans, the governor directed the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission (MRRPC) to assist the village and townships in the process.  Working with the planning commission of Vernon County, the MRRPC staff and a consultant hired by the governor’s planning office, La Farge formed a local planning board to develop a plan to initiate the required zoning.  As part of that plan, the local planning board did an assessment of the village’s businesses, organizations, housing, school, demographics and other aspects of the town.  From that work by the local planning board had come the material for the “Know Your Town” article.
            Darlene McNatt, wife of Paul McNatt, the president of the village board at the time, had written the article.  The information from the report was going to be used for another purpose in La Farge besides drawing up a zoning plan.  In 1972, La Farge had been without a doctor for over a year and the village owned a nice new medical clinic building but had no doctor to practice there.  After trying unsuccessfully to recruit a doctor to town on their own, the community leaders were looking at other ways to possibly meet La Farge’s medical needs.
            The medical building had been without a doctor since Dr. Connie Lee had left La Farge a year earlier.  Eventually the building was used to house the village’s library and a new Head Start program.  After having no success at recruiting a replacement for Dr. Lee, La Farge turned to a federal government program for help.
            The National Health Service (NSA) Corporation was created to assist rural communities like La Farge recruit medical personnel such as doctors and dentists.  The federal NSA program would place the doctors in a community, pay their salaries, and provide equipment and staff for the practice for a period of two years.  Hopefully after that two-year time of NSA service, the doctor would have established a practice and would stay in the community.
            As part of a Kickapoo Valley application for the NSA program in April 1972, La Farge requested the services of two doctors and a dentist.  At a public meeting held in the village that month, over three hundred people attended to hear more about the NSA programs and show support for the village’s application.  Actually, La Farge was much better off than many communities applying for the medical personnel because of the community’s new clinic building.  That clinic could adequately house the practices of the two doctors sought in the application.  The village owned the clinic building and a rent-free option was available for the proposed NSA team of doctors.  This kind of community support was crucial in successful bids for NSA doctors.     Another public meeting was held at Soldiers Grove, which was also seeking a NSA doctor for their community.  In May, Congressman Vernon Thomson announced that the Kickapoo Valley NSA application had been approved for funding and that a doctor would soon be coming to La Farge.
            Within a month after Thomson’s announcement, two NSA physicians, Dr. Doug Collins and Dr. John Weiler, were in La Farge looking for housing for their families and at equipment needs to start their practices at the La Farge clinic.  Dr. Collins settled on property on Otter Creek, while Dr. Weiler and his wife, Kay, moved into a new house built by Art Nelson on the hill in the eastern part of the village.  The Weiler’s received a rather rude welcome to the Kickapoo Valley when the house where they lived was hit by lightning during a violent August thunderstorm.  The doctor and his wife survived the resulting fire unharmed, but most of the interior of the house was ruined and they had to camp out in the clinic for temporary housing.  Eventually things settled down and Dr. Weiler opened his practice in the La Farge Clinic on September 5.  Kay Weiler worked as a nurse in the practice and four other people were hired to staff the practice.  All of the salaries of the personnel were paid by the NSA grant until the practice could generate enough business to operate financially.
            Lots of things were happening in La Farge in that summer of ’72.  The village hosted the Vernon County June Dairy Days on the first weekend of the month.  The sponsor and host for the dairy days celebration was the Citizens For Kickapoo group.  The “pro-dam project” organization had been formed in 1971 to fight for completion of the dam project.  The group needed funds to continue to lobby for the project and the Dairy Days provided over $5,000 for the cause.
Serious construction on the dam structure would begin in that summer of 1972 and over 6,000 acres of land located north of La Farge had already been purchased for the project.  Soon the waters of the Kickapoo River would be backed up and form Lake La Farge.
 The dam project remained controversial as the construction season began that spring.  In May, the Corps of Engineers announced that nearly $1.2 million in contracts for the construction of the dam’s intake tower, water conduits and stilling basin had been let.  Construction on the dam structures began soon after the announcement of the federal funding and soon after that, the Madison-based John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club announced another legal challenge to stop the dam’s construction.  It was the second attempt by the environmental preservation group to stop the Corps of Engineers dam project on the Kickapoo River at La Farge.
A year earlier, the Sierra Club had tried to stop the La Farge Dam Project by asking for an injunction in federal district court in Madison, but was unsuccessful in their bid.  Undaunted, the Madison-based environmental group filed another injunction in May of 1972 to stop the La Farge project.  The second injunction asked the U.S. District Court to stop the La Farge project because the Corps of Engineers had not properly prepared an Environmental Impact Statement according to federal law.  As he had done the previous year, Judge James Doyle denied the injunction to stop the project and allowed the construction on the dam at La Farge to continue.  
And La Farge continued to prepare for the completion of the project and the coming of the waters of Lake La Farge.