Former county ag agents recall 1960 Farm Progress Days in Wood County

Wisconsin State Farmer
Louie Rosandick of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, left, and Marv Kohlbeck of Pittsville, Wisconsin, look at a scrapbook of the 1960 Wisconsin Farm Progress Days in Wood County, Wisconsin. Rosandick, 93, was county ag agent and the show’s executive secretary. Kohlbeck was farm and home development agent in 1960.

Dwight Eisenhower was president. It’d be four more years until the Beatles would make their Ed Sullivan Show debut. The year was 1960. Wood County, Wisconsin, was hosting for the first time what was then called Wisconsin Farm Progress Days—the state's largest farm exposition. 

The theme for the August event was Crossroads of Agriculture. Field demonstrations were at the Wood County Hospital Farm and adjacent University of Wisconsin’s Marshfield Agricultural Research Station. It was the only show in Wisconsin Farm Technology Days history held at a university experiment station.

Exhibitors were located at the Central Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, site of the world’s largest round barn.

In 2018 the massive farm show returns to Wood County and the Marshfield area July 10-12. Farm Forward is its theme this year.

Organizers reminisce 

Two organizers of the 1960 show recently got together to reminisce. They are Louie Rosandick, 93, of Wisconsin Rapids, retired UW-Extension Wood County agricultural agent, and Marv Kohlbeck of Pittsville, 86, retired assistant county agent focused on farm and home development and retired ag lender. 

Joining them was Rosandick’s wife, Libby Rosandick, who’d met her husband while working as Wood County Extension’s 4-H and home agent. She wasn’t working at the Extension office the first time Wood County hosted the 1960 show, which was the seventh to be held.

Louis Rosandick, who prefers “Louie,” served as executive secretary of the 1960 Wisconsin Farm Progress Days in Marshfield, Wisconsin. He was the Wood County Extension agricultural agent.

Rosandick was executive secretary of the event. The general chairman was the late Clarence Searles, a Wisconsin Rapids cranberry grower and chairman of the Wood County Board of Supervisors. In the official program, Searles highlighted Wood County’s dairy industry, which comprised 65 percent of the county’s farm income. He also highlighted the fact Wood County was the largest-producing cranberry county in Wisconsin.

Fifty-eight years later those two agricultural industries are still going strong. The 2018 show co-hosts – Weber’s Farm Store/Heimans Holsteins and D&B Sternweis Farm – are operated by multi-generational dairy families. And cranberries are playing a big role in tent city food tents and Innovation Square, where there’ll be a miniature marsh and other educational exhibits on Wisconsin’s official state fruit.

The 1960 show was held Friday through Sunday and drew a reported 50,000 people. On Sunday, Catholic and Protestant services were conducted at the fairgrounds as part of the show.

Milk flows where alfalfa grows

Advertisements in the show’s 1960 program featured what was cutting edge – blue sealed-storage units, chainsaws, 10 to 65-horse Farmalls and 10 to 85-horse International tractors, barn cleaners and tiestalls.

Field demonstrations in 1960 featured forage harvesting and “land smoothing.” Kohlbeck said in addition to land-leveling, hay crimping was promoted as a way farmers could cut hay one day and put it up the next. And alfalfa was the queen of forages. “Milk flows where alfalfa grows” was a favorite adage of the day," he added.

Rosandick recalled how impressive a new hay-baling method was at the time, the pop-up baler that threw bales into a following wagon.

The official program from the 1960 Wisconsin Farm Progress Days in Wood County showcases the theme, Crossroads of Agriculture. The 2018 theme for Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Wood County is Farm Forward.

“I handled too many of them,” he said of riding the wagon to stack small square bales.

Wood County’s first show also spotlighted:

  • Demonstrations of mechanical stone picking, two-way plows and a fence-making machine, as well as liming pastures and wheel-track corn planting
  • A large farm pond and cooperative watershed drainage ditch, showing need for neighbor cooperation for farmland drainage
  • Chemical weed control versus cultivation of corn
  • Timber management – At that time 40 percent of the county was wooded
  • The then-new state soils lab and Dairy Herd Improvement lab at the research station
  • A youth day and a visit from then-governor Gaylord Nelson
  • A women’s program that included a dairy bake-off, food demonstrations and a comparison of when it’s less expensive to purchase clothing versus sew it at home
  • Round-barn educational exhibits focused on mastitis, Dutch Elm disease, mouse control and “radioactive fallout,” the latter because the United States was in the Cold War with the Soviets.

Death threats

Something neither Rosandick nor Kohlbeck recalled was noted in a 1960-show scrapbooked Marshfield News-Herald article. The appearance by then-Alice in Dairyland Joan Mary Engh of La Crosse in a Saturday grandstand program at Farm Progress Days was cut short after police received two telephoned threats against her life.

The newspaper reported that ‘Alice” was whisked from the grandstand stage by police who after escorted her from the city. It’s unknown who the called was or if the person was ever apprehended.

Great careers

Rosandick was the son of Yugoslavian-immigrant parents and one of 13 children on a farm in Clark County. He attended a country school, which he purchased for deer-hunting headquarters. Because there was no bussing in those days, he left home at 13 to attend school in Granton. Rosandick lived with three farm families closer to the school. He graduated from UW-River Falls and later earned a master’s degree from UW-Madison. Rosandick taught high-school agriculture before joining Extension. He was also in military service at the end of World War II. In the medical corps, he joked that he was a “bed-pan commando” stateside.

Rosandick said he never had a day working for Extension that he didn’t look forward to coming to work.

“They were wonderful people, the farmers,” he said.

Kohlbeck, worked with Rosandick in the Extension office for six years. He said he tended to focus more on beginning farmers, while Rosandick worked with the more-established producers. After many years the two men are good friends who still routinely get together. They chuckled over a recollection Kohlbeck had of borrowing a beer truck to deliver fertilizer to a farm where he had fertilizer research plots. The farmer, not knowing there was fertilizer in the truck, was dumbstruck when Kohlbeck asked, “Where do you want it unloaded?”

Kohlbeck also remembers sampling milk on farms and enjoying being invited to breakfast by farm families. He grew up on a farm near Cato, Wisconsin and graduated from UW-Platteville. He, too, was in military service. He taught high-school agriculture one year before joining Extension. He worked 30 years in farm lending at a bank in Pittsville.

Kohlbeck is active in the Pittsville Lion’s Club and will be helping the Lion’s make food-tent deliveries during Wood County Farm Technology Days. Rosandick hopes he, too, can attend the show.