Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lost & Found

Once again, I would like everyone to attend the Wisconsin Book Festival to be held in Madison from November 7-11.  I will be making a presentation on my book, "That Dam History - The Story of The La Farge Dam Project", on Saturday, November 10 at 4 PM in the Rotunda Studio at the Overture Center located on State Street.  The topic of the session is "Loss & Discovery on Wisconsin's Waterways" and I will share the event with Milton Bates, author of "The Bark River Chronicles - Stories From A Wisconsin Watershed".  Please join me on that Saturday afternoon if you are in the area.  I will also have my books for sale that weekend in Madison.  Check the book festival website at wisconsinbookfestival.org for more details.

For the past couple of days I have been working on what I will say for my presentation in Madison.  I will start with a brief history of the dam project and then give one point of discovery and one aspect of loss from the story.

 For the discovery portion I will be talking about the research that was conducted on the lands purchased for the dam project that were going to eventually be under the waters of Lake La Farge.  Starting in 1960 and continuing for almost forty years, various studies were conducted on the archeological significance, the cultural and historic importance, and the unique geology and land formations of this portion of the northern Kickapoo Valley.  Of particular interest to me was the fact that the extensive studies were able to continue because of the delays and controversy associated with the dam project.  Because of this prolonged battle over what would happen with those dam project lands, the  importance of the archeology, cultural history and geology of this part of the Driftless Area has been saved for us to savor and enjoy.

For the loss portion of my talk I will focus on the amount of money that was spent on this project and how much NOT finishing the project cost everyone in the Kickapoo Valley.  One of the biggest losses, almost mind-boggling to me when you look at how much money was spent, was that not one bit of flood-control was ever derived from the project.  As I have said before, an unfinished dam holds back no floodwaters.

In October, my Local History Notebook columns, published in the La Farge Episcope newspaper, have tried to tell the story of the 2000 girls volleyball season at La Farge High School.  That was the fall that the girls put it all together, won the conference championship, and proceeded to win their way to the WIAA state tournament!  I was athletic director at the school that fall, so was very involved in some of the details of that magical season.  It was really fun to remember that time.

I am getting ready to begin writing volume 2 of my history of La Farge.  I have been very busy with several other non-writing projects this year and have not had much time to think about starting that local history project.  In May, Carolyn and I were in Cable to hear Mary Mamminga talk about writing her book, "Return To Wake Robin".  She mentioned that she had "to find her voice" to tell the story and that struck me as a problem with writing volume 2 of the La Farge history.  Six months later, we were in Viroqua to listen to Michael Perry talk about his new book, "Visiting Tom".  (Perry will also be at the book festival talking about his book.)  At the end of his talk, he discussed the process that he uses to get his writing done.  That got me to thinking about the process I need to get back to so I can write this book.  On Thursday, November 1, I will start to put fingers to keyboard and begin that process in my found voice to finish the story of the little Kickapoo River town.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

LHS Homecoming Memories

This year, Homecoming Week at La Farge High School was celebrated during the third week of September.  During the week students at LHS decorated the walls of the hallways to show school spirit and had dress-up days.  There was a volleyball game on Tuesday night followed by a Homecoming Pep Rally & Bonfire.  On Friday afternoon students competed as classes in a variety of games and activities to be crowned the Homecoming Week champ.  That night the Kickapoo-La Farge football team trounced Wauzeka at Calhoon Park.  A dance followed the game, where the Homecoming court was introduced and a king and queen were crowned.  As I watched the football game on that cool Friday night, memories of past Homecomings at La Farge came back to me.
            My recollections of Homecomings at La Farge returned to me both from my time at LHS as a student and years later from when I was a teacher and coach there.  Those were different times and the activities of Homecoming Week were different than today.  Perhaps the biggest event of those Homecomings from the past was the Homecoming Parade, which was held on Friday afternoon. 
Each class and several school organizations and clubs had floats in the parade.  Various sites around the village were secured to build and store the floats.  Homecoming floats were built in the sheds at Nuzum’s and the Town of Stark as well as Muller’s, Clarks’ and the C&S Motors garages.  At the beginning of the big week, flatbed hay wagons were brought in from the country and pulled into the float preparation sheds and garages by tractors, often driven by students in the respective class or club.  After the wagons were deposited for float preparation, the tractors would be driven back to the farm for use during the week, only to return on Friday, all washed and shiny, to pull the completed float in the parade.  Work was done by students and faculty advisors on the parade floats each evening during the week.  The better-organized classes usually had their float near completion by the end of Wednesday evening because Thursday night was for the bonfire, pep rally and snake dance.
For students, working on floats each night of Homecoming Week was a grand time of socializing with friends and classmates.  Building the float often became secondary to the social aspects of the experience.  There was merriment to be had and sometimes mischief to be made.  For teachers, supervising and securing the float building sites and controlling the swirling mass of students intent on a certain amount of mayhem was less fun.
From my memories as a student, the class that had Mary Steinmetz as their teacher advisor usually won the Homecoming float-building competition.  Mary was a master at organizing, building and decorating floats.  Her classes, usually the 8th Graders when I was a student at LHS, always had the best floats by far and were awarded the first prize.  When I was in Mary’s 8th grade class, our float won the top spot.  The next year, reality set in for the Class of ’65 aspirations of float building success.
In our first year in high school, our Homecoming Game football opponent was Arena High School – yes, the Wildcats played football in that season of 1961 in the “Little 5 Conference”, which was comprised of La Farge, Viola, Gays Mills, Arena and Black Earth.  Our class came up with a great float theme – “Tonight Arena Collapses”, but the execution of that theme into the final product fell a little short.  We built our float in the C & S Motor’s garage (I may have helped secure the location since I was a part-time floor sweeper at the business and my Dad was involved in ownership). 
We built an arena or stadium out of shoeboxes wrapped in construction paper and colored to look like bricks.  I seem to remember that we may have used tobacco lathe to support the structure.  In the end we had constructed the oval shoebox stadium to a height of about four feet, covered the floor of the wagon with green crepe paper to look like a football field and put up banners along the side to announce our theme.  One member of the class was to dress up in a Wildcat football uniform and bash down the arena with a big stick as it progressed through the parade.  One problem we had with our grand theme was we had to construct the arena in a manner so that it could rather easily be destroyed during the parade.  We could not build it too soundly or it would be too hard to destroy.  Unfortunately, we erred on the side of flimsiness in our arena construction.
On Thursday evening when we finished the float, the Freshman Class entry didn’t look too bad.  It wasn’t up to the standards of our float from the year before, but then we didn’t have Mrs. Steinmetz as a class advisor either.  The real trouble began with getting the float out of the garage on Friday afternoon.  I was in the group of classmates given the responsibility of getting the float to the parade.  One of my classmates drove his family’s tractor in from the farm.  Another classmate, who would be on the float, dressed up in a football suit and found a big stick for arena bashing.  We were ready to release our wondrous float creation to the public when tragedy struck.  As we were pulling the wagon out of the garage, the driver hit the dip in the street in front of C & S and part of the arena came tumbling down.  We tried to stick it back together with no luck, but since we only had to drive it across the street to the feed mill where the parade started, we might still pull our grand theme off.  As the float went around the block, the wind blew down the rest of our shoebox arena.  Some of the lettering on the sides was also blown off.  By the time the assembled crowd along Main Street, including the float judges, saw our float a few blocks later, the destruction of our grand theme was complete. 
What the crowd saw was a rather pathetic sight.  There stood a small Wildcat football player with a stick pounding on a pile of shoeboxes that looked nothing like a stadium.  Looking at our float, the crowd wondered what this entry was all about.  No clue to our grand theme could be read from our side signs either, as the wind blown missing letters left our theme proclaiming:
“Ar  a Col  ses Toni  t”.
It was a disaster.  Ironically, the sign on the rear of the wagon announcing that this strange looking parade float was a creation of the Freshman Class stayed intact.
The football game that night was another disaster.  An Arena player returned the opening kickoff back for a touchdown and it was all down hill from there.  The final score was Arena 46, La Farge 7.  It also rained and the field became muddy.  I was a student manager for the team, so it was my job to carry all the wet and muddy equipment back into school after the game.  It seemed to take me an hour and my “goin’-to-the-dance” clothes were soiled and dirty from the job and I was soaked through from the rain.  Discouraged and down from the parade debacle and the football loss, I decided to skip the dance and walked glumly the four blocks home.
In skipping out on the dance I left a beautiful classmate alone on the dance floor.  She had hoped to dance with me (after all, I was voted the “Best Boy Dancer” in my class) and earlier I left her thinking she had a date for the Homecoming Dance.  I apparently wasn’t firm on the “date” part of our going to the dance, so instead trotted home to soak in a hot bathtub at my grandmother’s house.  Forty years later, the beautiful girl would finally but reluctantly forgive me for my Homecoming Dance indiscretion.  
And so it is that those LHS Homecoming Memories still linger for this aged alum.