Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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A bittersweet journey to my hometown of Fulda

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: October 2, 2013 - 12:12 PM

The 50th reunion for Fulda High School's Class of '63 was held last Saturday. The site was the new American Legion Hall for Emil King Post 318, which is also home to Fulda's social event of the season: Fish-o-Rama, the smoked carp feed held in late January.

The bride and I stayed with Ken and Marlys Knuth in Slayton, an invitation which came after I called and asked for one.

On Saturday morning, a noble band of reunion attendees played golf at Fulda's nine-hole, Town & Country course. I was in the group on the cool, windy morning and the remnants of hair on my head had a full-blown Ed Grimley look when we finished.

I went in search of a haircut, but was turned away by the young lady at a Fulda salon who was scheduled with regular customers. I drove back to Slayton and there wasn't an open salon or barber shop.

Ken was tending to the horses -- his enormous, imperial Shires -- when I arrived at the farm and asked: "Where in the name of Blackie Smith (a Fulda barber back in the day) can I get a haircut around here?''

Ken had a solution: "I'll call Jack in Lake Wilson. He's home by now, but he'll probably come back to the shop and take care of you.''

Ken called Jack Van Eck, Jack said, ''Ah, OK, meet me at the shop at 2,'' and then we drove the 9 miles to Lake Wilson and Jack was there. The result of a Van Eck haircut looked dang spiffy at the reunion, too.

This is the way things are done in Murray County in 2013. You need a local like Kenny Knuth to arrange a haircut, since there's not enough people left in most towns to either A) have a barber shop, or B) have it open on a Saturday afternoon.

The population for the county in the 1960 census was 14,743. The 2010 census put that number at 8,725. The estimate in 2012 was 8,577, making this rural county in southwest Minnesota among the least-populated in the state

The loss of population is due to the loss of family farms. When I was a kid, there were still farmers living off a quarter-section of land. If a family had a half-section, it was in good shape, and an entire section ... that guy was what we called a "rich farmer.''

To work the land, most of the farm families were large -- seven, eight kids, sometimes 10 or 12. In small-town football, you found the hard workers (and all of your linemen) off the farm. The biggest problem for a coach was scheduling practices around the need of his best athletes to be home for "chores.''

I was not formally a member of Fulda's Class of '63. I lived there until the summer of '62, then we moved to Prior Lake before my senior year. That raised the enrollment of PL's Class of '63  to 50 and lowered Fulda's to 67.

I wrote a Patrick+ blog a couple of weeks ago on the astounding changes in Prior Lake in 50 years. All that's really needed for information on this is that PL is now the seventh largest high school in Minnesota, with a senior class of 615.

Things have gone in a different direction on the prairie. Fulda's senior class numbers 32. There are 140 students in the top four grades -- a bit of a boost for this school year after Round Lake closed its high school and a number of students open-enrolled to Fulda.

Prior Lake is playing football in Class 6A. The Lakers opened this season against Eden Prairie. I saw a homecoming game against Rosemount that drew 6,000 people.

In Fulda, the Raiders are playing 9-man football for a second season. Twenty-three kids in the top four grades came out for football. There were 300-400 people at Friday night's game. The most-boisterous section belonged to Hills-Beaver Creek... and for good reason.

The final was 60-20 for the Patriots.

Enrollment is not the only issue with Fulda's athletic teams. Participation is poor. Gregg Slaathaug won a pair of state titles in girls basketball with the Raiders in 2006-07. He now expects 13 girls from the top four grades to be on his team this winter.

As for the actual reunion, I have to say the Fulda grads were an impressively healthy group 50 years later. I credit the farm backgrounds for the majority of them.

As for my hometown, I can't say the same about main street being in good health.

Bittersweet. That's the word, right?

And to add to the bitter part, I drove back roads through Wirock, Iona, Lake Wilson, Chandler, Hadley, Currie ... and I didn't see a pheasant. Not one.

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