Loyal man recreated the town he grew up knowing so well
Editor’s Note: The following story was published in the Tribune Record Gleaner on July 27, 1994. Howie Sturtz finished his re-creation of Loyal that year, and donated it soon thereafter to be displayed at Citizens State Bank of Loyal. Mr. Sturtz has since passed away, but his re-creation still hangs in the bank lobby.
by Dean Lesar
A young lad plays tag on the roof of the Loyal stockyards buildings ... He shovels the sidewalk of Hattie Bart’s cafe for 20 cents, then spends half of his earnings on a piece of pie. Hattie throws in a second piece for free ... A growing boy washes cars for free at Hutchins Service, just so he can drive them a few feet. He doesn’t have a license yet, you see ... Out in the back alley, he puffs his first cigarette ... Later, down at Neuman’s bar, Swede plugs the juke box with another nickel so a budding musician can play along with his trumpet … Back at home at night, the young man’s father has worked hard enough to give his son most everything a small town lad in the 1940s could ask for … The year is not certain, just sometime between 1938 and a decade later. The memories are clear as a summer day on Thomas St., though, for Howie Sturtz.
The years have removed the boy from Loyal, although only 15 miles south to Neillsville. Though he’s farther away in time than miles, the passage of 44 years has done little to bleach his recollections.
All is well in Sturtz’ Loyal, all nine feet by 3 1/2 feet of it. Mr. Picus is there on the front steps of his store, watching the town go past. Up at the Lutheran church, Rev. Langholz is waving to passers-by. On Main Street, Doc Hable is running out the door on a call. And there’s young Howie Sturtz II, not pictured, but remembering every minute.
Sturtz has preserved in wood and paint the memories of his boyhood in Loyal. For two years, piece by piece, he created the town in which he grew up. Most every detail is there, every one that stands out in his mind anyway.
Sturtz grew up on Thomas Street in Loyal. The house is still there today, even if the boy is not. The father he remembers is gone now, too.
Every inch of Loyal was the boy’s. He peddled his bike up and down Main Street a thousand times, swung open the business doors once and again. Though he earned quarters splitting wood, delivering newspapers, pumping gas and mowing lawns, the only revenue he ever saved of that childhood was paid in memories.
Now better than four decades later, the man who went on to successful business and music careers wanted to go back home. Loyal, obviously, had become the 1990’s version. The only way to go back was to remake it.
Sturtz was visiting in Door County one day in 1992, when he noticed a local artist had rendered a collage of the area and hung it on a wall.
“I said I could do that with the city of Loyal,” Sturtz said. Sturtz had just retired from a job at a Marshfield car dealership when the thought of recreating his childhood town first came along. The idea was first transferred to cardboard pieces of the way he remembered Loyal, then gradually evolved into painstakingly detailed wooden buildings and supporting pieces.
Sturtz labored in his basement shop for two years. His wife, Dorothy, helped create a background and the couple’s children and grandchildren chipped in when they could. Sturtz’ town became his passion, a job that ended far more elaborate than it started but couldn’t be set aside until it was done.
It was done last month.
“I like to call this ‘I remember Loyal,’” Sturtz said from his Neillsville home as he gazed at the streets of Loyal, circa the late 1930s and 1940s. “Almost everything on here would have existed in this form.”
A sign here or a building there might not be the way someone else remembers it, Sturtz knows. “This is the way I remember it. Make your own,” he answers. In his mind’s eye, Sturtz can still see Albert Davel leaning at the front of his Clover Farms Store. In his recreation of Loyal, Albert Davel is a tiny plastic man doing the same. Others from his childhood are there as well. The high school band is playing in the bandshell under the water tower. Lothar Oestreich is out in front of his northside Shell station, the way he always was. The business facades are all there, 72 of them. Stock Chevrolet — Everything You Want In An Automobile. Fred Lakosky Implements — SEE LAKOSKY FIRST. Railway Express Agency — The passengers will please refrain from flushing toilets while the train is in the station. August Witt and Son. Feed Seed. Phone 209.
Sturtz used anything he could find to rebuild anything he could remember. He clipped tiny decals from collector’s magazines to dress storefronts. The plastic people and vehicles came from Twin Cities’ hobby shops. The old water tower was turned out on a lathe.
Finding the right materials was more difficult
Please see Memories, page 12 Memories,
from page 11
than knowing what to put where, Sturtz said. Not an artist, the “what” question for Sturtz was more easily answered than the “how.”
“My memory of Loyal is just ultra-clear to me,” he said. “It was the impressionable years when I was growing up. I really enjoyed growing up in Loyal, I guess that’s one of the reasons I have this compulsion to do this.”
Life in Loyal during and after World War II fell short of easy, Sturtz recalls. Still, his recollections of boyhood based in a little white house on Thomas Street are fond.
“My dad was especially good to me,” Sturtz says of the man who passed away in March, 1993. “I wish he could have seen this. The times were hard but he always seemed to come up with the money for me to go to a music festival or to have a horn to play. I had a happy time growing up in Loyal. We were hard up, but I guess I never realized it because everybody was hard up. Little as I had, I had more than some other kids.”
Sturtz said he once knew everybody in Loyal. He spent his days investigating the crannies of the town and looking for the mischief any other boy might seek.
“I was close to Loyal,” he remembers. “I peddled up and down those streets.”
The boy turned into a teen and then a young man. In 1946, he started his own orchestra, a band he still leads today. In 1948 came graduation. Marriage to Dorothy followed a pair of years later.
The year 1950 was the last Sturtz could claim Loyal as his home address. He moved to Neillsville, where he managed a Marshfield radio station’s Neillsville branch.
Radio was to be Sturtz’ calling and in 1957, he founded and built WCCN. He owned and operated the station until 1976, the same year he came within a whisker of winning a State Senate seat.
Sturtz is semi-retired these days, selling cars a few days a month and playing 5-6 jobs per month with his orchestra.
His routine doesn’t take him back to Loyal too often anymore. His version of his town can serve that purpose now.
But after all his work, Sturtz wonders what other people will think. “At times I think, are people gonna look at this and laugh and say, ‘You didn’t really do all this?’” he said. “At other times, I think there’s a thousand happy stories in there for people who lived there at that time.”
Sturtz said the real test will come when people actually get a chance to see his Loyal. He’s fairly confident they’ll remember it somewhat like he does.
“People who are acquainted with Loyal can walk up to this and probably spend an hour looking and say ‘Oh my God, I remember this and let me tell you what happened to me one time,’” Sturtz said.”I think this will prompt a lot of memories.”
A pair of boys peeks in the window of R.W. Miles and Son’s shop for their first fuzzy glimpses of television … A young man pumps gas at Oestreich’s Shell Service Station where the sign says, Gas Today 22 cents, Drink Coca-Cola While You Wait … The local kids skate on wintry days on a pond surface that will be cut into blocks and sold … A boy’s father makes a sign for his workplace that reads ‘Clark County Highway Garage No. 3 1940’… Shirley Temple’s on the screen at the Loyal Theatre as “Heidi”….
“People who are acquainted with Loyal can walk up to this and probably spend an hour looking and say ‘Oh my God, I remember this and let me tell you what happened to me one time,’” -- Howie Sturtz