Monday, May 7, 2018

1968 - PART II

As mentioned previously, nothing had a greater impact on America in 1968 than the escalating war in Vietnam.  When the North Vietnamese launched what became known as the Tet Offensive in late January of that year, everything changed for the American military forces already in the Southeast Asian country.  
            In an issue of the La Farge Enterprise from December of 1967, Rudy Hamilton, LHS Class of 1965, had written home from Vietnam thanking everyone for writing him letters and to keep them coming.  After the Tet Offensive began a month later, it was learned that Rudy was in Khe Sanh, where some of the heaviest fighting was occurring.   In early February, Larry Booher, with many connections to La Farge, was listed as wounded in the fighting in Vietnam.  Todd Muller, Gary Climer and Danny Thayer all sent messages home about also being in the thick of the fighting.
            In the March 14th issue of the Enterprise, publisher/editor Arnie Widstrand, a World War II veteran, wrote an anti-war editorial, specifically aimed at the way that the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson was handling the war effort.  A week later, word was received that Dean Dalberg, aged 19, had been killed in Vietnam.  Dalberg grew up on a farm on South Bear Creek and was a 1966 graduate from Kickapoo High School.  He was the first soldier from Richland County to die in the Vietnam War.
            La Farge received more shocking news that year when Dr. Connie Lee, La Farge’s only doctor, announced that she was leaving La Farge and the last day of her practice would be August 3rd. Village leaders scrambled to replace Dr. Lee and Bernice Schroeder was named to head up a doctor procurement committee.  Later, it was learned that the La Farge Medical Clinic Corporation was broke and people were asked to pay off their pledges for the clinic as soon as possible. 
            Good things were happening at the school in La Farge in 1968.  The high school’s enrollment was 145 students for the 1967-68 school year.  The school also was undergoing several changes in programs during the year.  Albert Oaklief continued to be a dynamic superintendent for La Farge Schools.  Mr. Oaklief volunteered to coach grade-school basketball on Saturday mornings as he had done for years.  He also was moving the school towards new programs and in March hosted a meeting for those interested in becoming Para-educators at the school.  After months of negotiations with federal and state officials, Mr. Oaklief announced in late November that the school at La Farge would soon have the first Talking Typewriter in the state of Wisconsin.  The new state-of-the-art machine would offer a variety of programs to improve student’s reading skills.     
            At La Farge High School, several awards were handed out in February when Peggy Gabrielson was named the winner of the DAR Award and Peggy Steinmetz received the LHS Homemaker Award.  On the basketball court, the LHS boys were knocked out of the Kickapoo Valley Conference title chase with a loss to eventual champion Barneveld.  (Yes, I know that Barneveld is a long way from the Kickapoo Valley, but that’s the way it was back then.  The conference, on its last legs, consisted of Seneca, Wauzeka, Ithaca, Barneveld, Hollandale and La Farge.)  The Wildcats finished with a 7-3 mark in KVC play, good for second place and John Smith and Dick Campbell led the team in scoring.  In wrestling, Frank Meseberg’s 12-4 mark led the Wildcat team.  The LHS Wrestling team’s highlight was a 29-28 victory over archrival Kickapoo during the season.
            After the winter sports season concluded, LHS students Lahna Kellogg and Jane Wenzel wrote a history of La Farge’s participation in the Kickapoo Valley Conference, listing the top LHS championship teams over the years.  La Farge Wildcat teams would be moving to the Scenic Central Conference after the 1967-68 school year.  In March, the LHS Forensics Team won the KVC Championship, defeating teams from Seneca and Wauzeka.  Later, six from the LHS forensics team would qualify for state competition.
            The French Fair was held at LHS on April 5thwith proceeds from the event used to pay for students taking a trip to Washington D.C.  Later in the month, twenty-seven LHS students in the French Club and FHS made the trip to the nation’s capital.
            The LHS Junior Prom with a theme of “Summer Rain” was held in late April.  Sarah Widstrand and Phil Gudgeon were named royalty for the prom.  After the dance, the parents of Junior Class students hosted a post-prom party in the school lunchroom.
            LHS Senior Simon Widstrand was named a National Merit Scholar in April, one of only 400 students so honored in the country. Accompanying the prestigious honor for Simon was a 4-year scholarship to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. 
            The LHS band, under the direction of Marlin Pendleton took a first in Class B concert competition at the music festival held in LaCrosse in April.  Later, LHS musicians Dean Steinmetz with a cornet solo and the trombone trio of Phil Gudgeon, Jim Looker and Monte Muller won gold medal firsts at the State Music Festival held in Eau Claire. 
            The La Farge track team repeated as KVC champs at the meet held at Kickapoo High School in May of 1968.  The LHS baseball team did not play in the spring season, also for the second year in a row, instead playing their games during the WIAA’s new summer season.
            The end of the school year was highlighted by the graduation of the 32 members of the LHS Class of 1968.  Simon Widstrand was valedictorian of the class and Sherri Nemec was salutatorian.
            As was usual then, the last day of school was held on Memorial Day so students could participate in the parade.  The parade went from the schoolhouse down to Main Street and then west to the IGA grocery store.  School buses waited there to transfer everyone out to the Bear Creek Cemetery for the VFW & Auxiliary Memorial Day services.  The services included a roll call of veterans buried in the cemetery and the placing of flags on wooden crosses bearing their names. The LHS band played for the service, which concluded with the playing of “Taps”. 
            Some developments with the La Farge Dam & Lake Project would soon have a lasting impact on the school district as well as the rest of the community.  In July, the Army Corps of Engineers sought bids for a title firm to handle the purchases of property for the La Farge project.  A month later, a title company from Wichita, Kansas was chosen for the job. Later the Corps sent out letters to landowners in the project area with a notification of a meeting about the land acquisition process.  That meeting was held in November with over 300 people in attendance in the LHS gymnasium. At the meeting, the Corps officials explained the process for the land acquisitions and said that negotiations for the first land purchases (those properties at the dam site located just north of La Farge) would begin before the end of the year.  Many people left the meeting that night with worried expressions on their faces. 
            A few weeks later, one of the first properties affected by the Corps’ dam project purchases, the Gale Huston mink ranch, suffered a devastating financial blow when a utility building burned down on the farm and 7,000 mink pelts were lost in the fire.
            As 1968 came to a close in La Farge, Santa Claus visited the village on Saturday, December 21st to hand out bags of candy and nuts to youngsters eagerly waiting in the village parking lot.  The La Farge Post Office was open the next day, a Sunday, to handle late Christmas mailings.  As usual, the old year was rung out with style in the little village on the Kickapoo River and happy shouts heralded in the New Year of 1969.   


1968 was a tumultuous year in America’s history.  It is now the 50thanniversary of that chaotic year and many of the events from that year are being retold in newspaper articles and television broadcasts. The Reverend Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy were both assassinated that year.  Reverend King’s death led to race riots in many American cities and Senator Kennedy’s loss profoundly affected the presidential election of that year.  
            The war in Vietnam continued to escalate in 1968 (the Tet Offensive was launched by North Vietnam at the end of January that year) and the resistance to the American involvement in that conflict also grew. Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy won the New Hampshire presidential primary election in March as an anti-war candidate and soon after and just days before the Wisconsin primary (also won by McCarthy) President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek another term for the office.
            I thought it would be interesting to look at what was happening locally in La Farge during 1968.  In this installment and the next, we will look at some of the happenings of that year in this little Kickapoo Valley town.  Much of the information for this local history was gleaned from the 1968 copies of the La Farge Enterprise newspaper.  The La Farge Enterprise began its 70thyear of continual publication in January of 1968 and Arnie Widstrand was the editor of the paper.
            As the year began, some major changes were occurring in the businesses along La Farge’s Main Street.  After 27 years in business, Jennie Adams sold her variety store to Muriel Burnard in December of 1967.  The first Enterprise issue of 1968 featured a farewell advertisement from Jennie Adams, thanking all of her customers for their patronage over the years.  Muriel’s Variety Store continued to sell the same popular lines of merchandise as the previous owner.  
            In the next week’s newspaper, there was an announcement that Carson Lawrence was leaving his Sinclair gas station on the corner across Mill Street from the cheese factory and relocating to the Texaco station on the other end of La Farge’s Main Street.  Carson had been operating a gas station at the “Nuzum’s Corner” since 1937 and for many years had also sold sporting goods and guns from the station. Virgil Nixon owned and had previously operated the Texaco gas station where Carson moved his business and also ran a bulk oil and gas truck for farm deliveries out of the same location.
            Two weeks after Carson Lawrence’s move, an ad ran in the Enterprise announcing the Grand Opening of “Glenn’s Pure Oil & Used Cars” at the former Sinclair gas station kitty-corner from Nuzum’s.  Glenn Alderman was the new owner of the business there.  In early March, Virgil Nixon completed his retirement moves when he sold his bulk oil/gas truck business to Teddy Olson.  By the end of the year, the Texaco brand had switched places in town and another grand opening ad appeared in the mid-December issue of the Enterprise for “Glenn’s Texaco & Used Cars”.  
            In July, Harvey’s Market & Locker Plant (one of four grocery stores in La Farge at the time) changed hands when Bill and Irma Gilman bought the south State Street business from Harvey and Evelyn Ernst, who had operated the locker plant business for nearly eighteen years.  “Harvey’s Bologna”, produced at the store, was a regional favorite and sold all over western Wisconsin.  Bill Gilman had worked at the Ernst locker plant/store for over seven years before buying the business and continued to make the famous “Harvey’s Bologna”.
            A longtime business in La Farge ceased operations in the fall of 1968 under tragic circumstances.  In October Orville Casey Sanford had a stroke while working in his men’s clothing store on a Saturday night and died a few days later at age 77. Casey Sanford had been selling men’s and boy’s clothing and shoes in LF for fifty years.  He had worked for Charles DeJean in his men’s clothing store at the location for years before buying the business in 1929.  With Casey’s passing, Sanford’s Clothing Store, which was the last men’s clothing store in La Farge, closed.  A dispersal sale of all merchandise and fixtures was held.  Delos Glick bought all of the shoes and boots from Casey’s store to sell in his shoe shop located on south State Street.  The store that had housed Casey’s Clothing Store was torn down in the fall of 1972 and the lot has sat empty to this day.
            Several other deaths affected the business community in La Farge in 1968.  In August, Ben Rastall, the manager of La Farge’s Nuzum’s Lumber Yard, died suddenly of a heart attack at his home of a heart attack.  The popular lumberyard manager was 56 years old.  Three weeks after the death, Orville Jensen was named the new manager of the La Farge Nuzum’s.
            In March, Ed Muller, former leader of the Muller Construction Company based in La Farge had died at the age of 81.  Ed Muller, a former La Farge village president, had been a formidable leader in making the family ‘s La Farge construction company one of the largest in western Wisconsin.  After he retired and turned over the company to other family members, Ed Muller tinkered around in the company shop on west Main Street and built a steam engine.  He would fire up the steam engine on occasions to give his grandchildren and other kids in the village a ride up and down Main Street.
            In September, Dick Ekern, another former businessman in La Farge and owner of a large mink ranch in the Town of Webster, passed away.  Ekern was a former tavern owner in La Farge, where three drinking establishments operated successfully in 1968.  The newest of the taverns, the Raven Bar was located in the old theater building and featured area bands on stage every Saturday night.  Otis Williams & Country Caravan was one of the area’s favorite musical groups to play the Raven.  Another local group was Mel Williams & The Stranger that played at Ray Merwin’s Bar in February.  La Farge’s other bar was Boot’s & Ina’s, also known as Kellogg’s Bar, owned and operated by John and Ina Kellogg.
            At the end of each year during the time of the 1960s, most La Farge businesses would place an ad in the Enterprise during the Christmas – New Year issues that wished everyone happy holidays and thanked people for their patronage during the year. Looking at a list of those ads gives one a sense of what the business community was like in 1968.
            There were late December ads for Mick’s IGA, the Cash Store, Dick’s Grocery and Gilman’s Harvey’s Market – La Farge’s four grocery stores at that time.  The La Farge Barber Shop featured the names of barbers Eston Major and Everett Parr. On the women’s side of hair care, there were holiday ads for Jan’s Beauty Salon and Lois’ Beauty Shop.
            Mac’s Pool Hall, which had been closed for part of 1968, had an ad placed by manager Theron Phillips.  Bob & Maxine Kennedy had an ad for the Band Box CafĂ©, while La Farge’s newest restaurant venture, Kathy’s Rec & Luncheon that had opened in November, also had a Yule time ad.
            Other end of year ads in the 1968 issues of the Enterprise included Johnson’s Funeral Home, Jeffers Truck Sales, Rockton Tavern, Glick’s Shoe Shop, Wheeler Feed Store, Muriel’s Variety, Glenn’s Texaco & Used Cars, Raven Bar, La Farge Creamery, C&S Motors, Carson Lawrence Station, Vosen Insurance, Sandmire’s Mobil Station, H&D Lumber Co., Caucutt Plumbing & Electric, Rose Hardware Store, Muller’s Radio & TV, La Farge State Bank, Nuzum’s, La Farge Co-op Oil, Lounsbury Drug Store, Miller’s Store, Ray’s Bar, Kellogg’s Bar, Major’s TV & Appliance, Qwik Sales & Service and Markee Soft Water.
            Next time, we will continue this “golden anniversary” look back at La Farge.  We will view the local impact of the war in Vietnam and on a happier note; look at the successes of the students attending La Farge’s school. If you would like to share some memories of this time in La Farge’s history, contact me at bcstein@mwt.netor send me a note at P.O. Box 202, La Farge, WI 54639.
            Working together, we can tell the stories of this little Kickapoo River town.