Wednesday, June 5, 2019

La Farge's Commercial Club

A meeting of professional men was held at the Masonic Temple on Friday evening, September 3, for the purpose of organizing a Commercial Club.
            Thus began an article in the September 9, 1937 issue of the La Farge Enterprise newspaper about the establishment of an organization of village businessmen.  The article went on to tell what the new club was going to be all about: The purpose of the organization is to bring together the business and professional men of La Farge for the purpose of bringing about uniform business practices, better harmony and to aid in the development of this Community.  It is hoped that through the efforts of the Community Club that La Farge will be selected as the Headquarters for the Kickapoo River Flood Control Survey, and later headquarters for this project.
            At a later meeting held on September 7th of that year, the new Commercial Club elected Ralph Freeze, an attorney in the village as its first President.  Other officers elected in that 1937 organizational meeting were Secretary – Gene Calhoun, who ran a funeral home in the village and Treasurer – Mac Marshall, who owned a Main Street hotel.  The four Directors elected to fill out the Executive Committee of the club were Bernard Brokaw, William Adams, who ran a hardware store in La Farge, Harry Lounsbury, who ran the village’s drug store and Emory Thayer, the manager of Nuzum’s Lumber. 
            At the time that the new Commercial Club was formed, La Farge and the entire Kickapoo Valley were undergoing some dynamic times. As was mentioned earlier regarding the flood control survey, Congress had approved a federal study of the Kickapoo Valley in August of 1937.  The study would be held over the next few years and La Farge’s business community wanted the village to be the center of that project.  Besides the federal flood control study, an impending event of another nature loomed in the immediate future – the abandonment of the Kickapoo Valley’s railroad.
            In August of 1937 a protest meeting was held in La Farge regarding the proposed abandonment of the Valley’s railroad.  At that meeting, the Kickapoo Valley Defense Association (KVDA) was formed with La Farge Village President Arch Davidson serving as president of the new organization.  Davidson had been a leader in the Valley to get the flood control study (In January of 1937, Davidson and Ralph Nuzum, who owned the lumberyard in town, had spearheaded a petition drive to be sent to Congress in favor of the flood control study. The petitions sent to Congress had been gathered by the Kickapoo Flood Control Association, another organization that Davidson served as president.), and now he would lead the fight to save the railroad.
            One of the first things that the new Commercial Club did was to sponsor a Harvest Festival & Fair to be held in La Farge in mid-October of 1937.  The new festival, which featured a parade and a variety of activities was a success and was held under the sponsorship of the new businessmen’s club for several more years. In 1939, all of the businesses in La Farge closed from noon to 6 pm on the day of the festival.
            Later in 1939, members of the La Farge Commercial Club went to Hillsboro to celebrate the opening of the new state highway between the two communities.  The last section of the new Highway 82 had been completed that fall.  With the Kickapoo Valley’s railroad gone by this time, the development of state highways to La Farge was a main concern for village leaders.  With the completion of Hwy 82, La Farge had the first state road to the village. While at the meeting in Hillsboro, the community leaders from both towns also celebrated the re-opening of the Hillsboro Brewery and sampled some of the “Hillsboro Pale” that was again being made.
            The opening of the new state highway between La Farge and Hillsboro was the result of strong lobbying by village leaders, led by Davidson.  When the railroad abandonment became a certainty earlier in the year, the KVDA switched its emphasis to getting new and improved state roads to the Kickapoo Valley.  Because the railroad had been used extensively by many Kickapoo Valley businesses, especially for the receiving of goods to sell, a new and reliable highway system was needed as a replacement.  Davidson and other La Farge businessmen continued to have the state improve and gravel Highway 82 to Viroqua and to have the state designate the old “River Road” (then County Hwy M) as a state highway.
            Having good roads to La Farge had always been a priority for its business community.  In 1915, La Farge businesses had donated money to have the Otter Creek Road dragged and graded.  At the same time, June of 1915, three La Farge businesses – Chase’s, DeJean’s and Householder’s – had placed a notice in the local newspaper announcing that their stores would be closing at 8 pm except for Wednesday and Saturday. Operating hours for local businesses could be a point of contention in a small town like La Farge.  Probably because the stores actually competed for people’s business when they came to town to shop, establishing a mutual time for hours of operation was difficult to achieve at times.  But later that month the community came together to promote La Farge’s 4th of July Celebration.
            A call was made to all the automobile owners in the La Farge area, estimated to be about 75 at the time, for a Booster Club Trip to promote the 4th of July.  Eventually 36 automobiles and around 150 people went on the booster trip that included stops in West Lima, Bloom City, Woodstock, Rock Bridge, Hub City and Yuba in the morning of that last Saturday of June in 1915.  When the booster caravan reached Hillsboro, everyone stopped for lunch before continuing on to Dilly, Valley and Rockton in the afternoon to conclude the trip.  La Farge’s 4th of July Celebration was well attended and successful that year thanks to the efforts of the business community.
            In 1920, the La Farge businessmen united once again to sponsor the La Farge baseball team.  The “town team” was the pride of the village and always seemed to play for a championship each year.  Over the years, the sponsorship by La Farge’s businesses for the ball team was a given.
            During World War II, the La Farge Commercial Club ceased to function as the village turned its attention to various drives to support the war effort.  After the war was over, there were calls for the Commercial Club to again unite La Farge’s business community.  In 1947, the La Farge Development Association was formed and Casey Sanford was chosen as its first president.  Sanford, who owned a men’s clothing store on La Farge’s Main Street, led the new organization in helping with the village’s annual 4thof July Celebration. The new business organization sponsored a raffle for that year’s Independence Day.  The following year, the development association co-sponsored the 4thof July with the newly formed VFW Post.
            In 1949, a Lions Club was formed in La Farge and it seemed to take the place of the previous business organizations.  The president of that first Lions Club in La Farge was Ed Deibig, who owned the Chevy-Buick garage in town.  The new Lions Club sponsored a “Wild West Rodeo” that was held on Labor Day.  The rodeo was held at Calhoon Park, but crowds that first year were small because of rainy weather. 
             That Christmas season, the Lions Club sponsored a “Clock Stops Contest” fundraiser. People would pay to make a guess on how long a hand-wound clock would run. The clock was on display in the front window of one of the Main Street stores.  The clock ran for 92 hours before stopping and a winner was announced with much Yuletide fanfare.
            One of the main projects that the La Farge Lions Club undertook was to build new tennis courts in town.  Using proceeds from several more successful rodeos, the courts were constructed beyond the left field fence at Calhoon Park.  John Ferris, who ran a funeral parlor and furniture store in the village, was key in making the rodeos successful.  Finn Johannesen, who ran a grocery store in town and also served as the village’s president for several years, led the Lions club in getting the tennis courts completed.
            Over the years several different business organizations were formed in La Farge to provide some type of order in the commercial sector of the village.  Some times the individual businesses had to act upon their own.  
            In May of 1947, a notice appeared in the Enterprise that the four grocery stores in town – the Cash Store, Clover Farm Store, Andrews Market and Kennedy’s Grocery – would all be closed during the summer on Thursday afternoons.  The reason given for the new closing hours were due to the late Wednesday nights when the free movies were held on Main Street during the summer.  At a time when those La Farge grocery stores were sometimes open for 15 hours a day, a break was needed for the workers in the store to catch some rest.
            Different times; different needs for this little Kickapoo River town.