Getting The Sparta Class of 1970 together was no easy feat. The first invitations were sent, then the second, and then the third. COVID affected all of us in so many ways, and for the Sparta Class of 1970, two consecutive years of class reunion cancellations, and even some losses of friends, were brought about by the pandemic. Finally, in September 2022, the class got together after 52 years to celebrate “The Class of 1970 Turns 70” for a range of fun events to catch up and share memories. Over half of the class was present for the celebrations.
Friday night there were festive lights, music and sandwiches in Downtown Sparta’s Mueller Square. Says Sherri LaCourse, class of 1970 alum, “Our reunion opened Friday night with welcoming remarks from Reinhard Mueller, the namesake and creator of our venue. While he is well known locally, we wanted to introduce him to our out-of-town classmates who were seeing the new bridges, parks, and other enhancements that he and the Shovelmen have made to Sparta in the last several years. Also, one of Reinhard’s Shovelmen, Al Jenkins, is a member of our class.”
Sherri continues, “Music Friday night was provided by Carlos Danger, an extremely popular local band that includes another of our classmates, Pat Clark. The group invited an excellent musician and performer, Mike Sullivan, who also happens to be a member of the Class of 1970, to join them on stage for a full set of music. Mike also performed a solo acoustic set Saturday night before the DJ started spinning music, so that those who didn’t make it to the Friday event could get a chance to hear how talented he is.”
Saturday night everyone met up again at The Prairie House, where they set up three large tents so folks could enjoy the evening outdoors. A DJ was spinning music from the 1960’s and 1970’s, and there was food and a bar for everyone, including The Sparta Beer Shop, who pulled their vintage wagon right up to the tent, adding to the ambiance of the night. “Everybody was ready to have a party.. We tried to be outside and spread out and not be concerned about spreading COVID,” recounts class of ‘70 graduate Sherri LaCourse. All expenses were paid for by an anonymous classmate, and not a single detail was overlooked. Sherri adds, “While most Saturday night events were held in the tents on the Prairie House lawn, a full buffet of delicious appetizers, entrees, and desserts was staged inside the house by chef Shawn McManus, who credits much of his talent and artistry to his mother, Barb (Wolfe) McManus. Continuing our theme--Barb is yet another member of the class of 1970.”
Memories from High School Days, Class of 1970
“When we were in high school, there were groups that hung out together like the athletes, the musicians, and the academics. Now that’s all over and we can all come together and share common memories,” reflects Skip Frazee, Sparta class of ‘70 alum. Skip continues with some memories of the time around 1970: “...I remember First Class postage stamps at 6 cents each, meeting at the Dairy Queen after games, black and white TV, muscle cars, and listening to AM Radio. FM radio and color TV were just coming out. I remember using a slide rule instead of a calculator, and thinking it was so fast. Calculators hadn’t been invented yet.”
There was no streaming from the internet, there were no cell phones or personal computers. In fact, phones had cords attached to the wall. A good part time job for a high school student was to be a long distance telephone operator. Music was played on the radio or on records, with 8 tracks and cassettes just starting to come out, and CD’s yet to be invented. “We listened to Rock & Roll music like the Beatles, Van Morrison, and The Beach Boys at night on AM radio’s “The Big 89 WLS” out of Chicago and “KAAY out of Little Rock”, recounts Skip, who also worked part time as a Disc Jockey at WCOW as a High School Senior at Sparta High.
Frazee gets more serious: “Once boys turned 18, we registered for the draft. If you were number 50, well, you were probably going to Vietnam, if one didn’t have a deferment. If you were like me, number 207, you probably didn’t have to go.” Skip also recalls the gas was .35 cents per gallon, and the big deal about a man on the moon with Sparta’s original astronaut Deke Slayton.
Pop culture and politics weren’t the only hot topics in 1970. 52 years ago, agriculture, and especially dairy, was a lot bigger in the area. Skip recalls many friends having both morning and evening chores at their family’s small dairy farm. Bill Nussdorfer, fellow 1970 graduate and retired veterinarian, explains: “I graduated from veterinary school in 1980 and began practice that summer here in Sparta. True to its name the Dairy State, our practice area was full of small family-owned dairy farms primarily, with herd sizes generally in the 30-60 cow size. [Today] most of the state's production [has been consolidated and] comes from larger herds, milking often hundreds or thousands of cows within a facility.”
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is kids and their shenanigans. Names shall not be mentioned but it was reported at the reunion that some mischief was in fact had in the 1960’s by at least a few in this group. In the summer some teenagers worked around their lack of a driver's license by going from Leon to Sparta on a tractor. Winter came around and snowballs were thrown at moving objects at least once. Even chases across downtown rooftops were confessed. For the most part though, kids kept busy with school and extracurricular activities, homework, family, church, hobbies, sports, music, clubs, jobs, and chores. Times were “a lot more innocent,” as Sherri LaCourse, former student council member, remembers.
The Class of 1970 Wants to Continue Making Great New Memories
The Class of 1970 had so much fun at their “Class of 70 Turns 70 Reunion” that they are planning to meet “...for casual lunches the first Wednesday of each month starting Oct 5 at 11:30 AM at the Greens Restaurant in Sparta. All classmates from the Class of 1970, along with their spouses, are welcome to attend,” notes Sherri LaCourse. They hope to remember the good ol’ days while making great new memories, too.
Jennifer Rodriguez Moran
More Reflections and Memories of the Times by Sherri LaCourse:
It wasn’t until Junior High—grades 7 through 9, (Middle School grades 6 through 8 came later)—that we began to come together as a class. During our elementary school years, we were quite “segregrted”, whether because of attending one of the many rural schools that still dotted the school district, one of the two parochial schools, or one of the public schools in town. Prior to Junior High, it was only during activities like Howard Huff’s recreational programs at City Hall, swimming at the old municipal pool, or joining groups like Boy or Girl Scouts that we crossed paths with the kids that would eventually become part of the future graduating class of 1970.
During the late 1950s & early 1960s in Sparta, if we were lucky enough to have a good TV antenna, we could pull in two channels—CBS out of La Crosse and NBC out of Eau Claire, although weather conditions had to be just right to pull in NBC without experiencing “snow” on the screen. Before PBS and “Sesame Street” we had “Captain Kangaroo”. We got many of our early life lessons about how to behave from TV shows like “Father Knows Best", “Leave It to Beaver”, and “Ozzie and Harriet”. Those are the innocent times we grew up in.
Unless your parents paid extra, those telephones attached to the walls were often “party” lines, which meant that neighbors on the same line as you could surreptitiously pick up their receiver and listen to your phone calls—“hacking” years before that term was even invented. In the mid-1960s, the Sparta phone exchange was upgraded to include a 608 area code, a 269 prefix, and a 4 digit assigned phone number. This was done to be interconnected with more urban areas and to allow direct-dial long distance phone calls. (No operators needed.) This came right at the same time that many of us were developing our own form of social media—talking for hours with our friends on the phone. What a mess to memorize all the new numbers.
While the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 was probably one of the first big traumas of our young lives—we all remember where we were when we first heard about the shooting—it was after we entered Senior High in 1967 as sophomores that we really became more aware of events going on in the world around us. Racial discrimination and civil rights were major issues , the Viet Nam War was in full swing, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated in the spring of 1968, and the Democratic convention in Chicago that summer was marred by violent anti war protests. The music we were listening to was becoming more rebellious, political, and psychedelic. In the summer of 1969, both the moon landing and Woodstock, opposite ends of the American value system, were major events. To paraphrase Bob Dylan “the times they really were a-changin’ ”.
In Sparta, many of our classmates were feeling more empowered and political during this time. Because we lived in a small rural town, it began with some pretty innocent baby steps. For example, prior to 1969, Sparta had a dress code that said that girls could not wear slacks to school, only skirts and dresses were allowed. Boys had to be clean shaven and well groomed—hair should not touch their ears or collars. Girls were called to the office to have their hemlines measured to make sure that they were no more than 3 inches above their knees. Boys were called to the office, where the principal kept nothing but a can of shaving cream rolling around in one of his desk drawers. No one ever reported having to use this can of shaving cream, but it was pulled out of the drawer and used as a prop in some pretty serious lectures.Many members of our class felt that such rules were restrictive and unfair. A “clandestine" meeting was held at the home of one of our classmates, and a petition was written, which was then presented to the school administration. The success of this first step of empowerment and activism is reflected in the pictures of our class’s 1970 yearbook, which was dedicated to the idealistic peacemaker.
Just as the draft was a milestone event for the males in our class, other events occurred that brought national news in 1970 much closer to home. When the Kent State shootings happened in May, 1970, several members of our class were motivated to create and hang a large anti war protest sign in the main hall of the senior high school. In July of that year, less than two months after our graduation, the anti war protest came right to Sparta’s doorstep, when three military personnel, who came to be known as the “Camp McCoy 3”,’ detonated bombs that extensively damaged the camp’s phone exchange, main electrical plant, and a water reservoir. One month after that, a deadly bombing at a UW-Madison military research center took place. This was the world that confronted the Class of 1970 as we began to move out into the next chapter of our lives.
More Reflections and Memories on Agricultural Changes by Bill Nussdorfer
Here are some thoughts on the changes to agriculture during my career, especially in the dairy industry.
I graduated from veterinary school in 1980 and began practice that summer here in Sparta. True to its name the Dairy State, our practice area was full of small family-owned dairy farms primarily, with herd sizes generally in the 30-60 cow size. Many of the farms were also modestly diversified, having possibly some pigs, beef cattle, chickens or raising some cash crops to supplement their income. Typically the farms had 2-3 generations of family working together. If you traveled around the state most of the rural areas were similar. Throughout the decades however, the trend has been a decline in the number of farms and in particular the number of dairy operations. Dairying is an intense business demanding significant investments in equipment, facilities, labor and management. Often as profit margins tightened dairy farmers had to expand their herd sizes to stay profitable using technological advances in equipment, genetics and building designs. Or, instead of making large investments, some chose to leave the dairy industry. These trends have continued, and in present times there are very few small dairy herds left throughout the state. Most of the state's production comes from larger herds, milking often hundreds or thousands of cows within a facility. The dairy industry has also consolidated throughout the state so that you will find several regional areas with high numbers of dairy cattle, others with very small numbers. Land which at one time supported a dairy herd through pasture or crop production, typically hay and corn, may now produce crops strictly for sale, usually corn or soybeans. In the immediate Sparta area, there are very few dairy herds operating. I would estimate there are less than 5% of dairy farmers remaining in our area as compared to 1980. However the land remains in production, often larger fields of corn and soybeans, harvested and stored and sold as cash crops.
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