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.