By PAUL BARLOON
JACKSON JUNCTION, Iowa, Nov. 25, 2015 – Above is a turn-around on the headline of the “Iowa Boy” column in the Des Moines Register on Thanksgiving Day of 1980. Back then, my name was there in place of Chuck’s. You see, Mr. Offenburger had just embarked on what would become a 35-year tradition of using his Thanksgiving Day column to profile the “Turkey of the Year” – a student at Turkey Valley High School here in northeast Iowa.
Starting that year, the senior class at the school with the perfect Thanksgiving name would choose a student each year to be the subject of Chuck’s column. The selection criteria were simple and open-ended: Choose an all-around good person – someone Chuck would describe in his column as a “good gobbler.” I was honored by my classmates as the first selection way back in 1980.
Paul Barloon, the first “Turkey of the Year.”
As a 17-year-old, it was quite a thrill to see my name in the largest newspaper in the state. In those days, it seemed that practically everyone read the Register and the “Iowa Boy” column was definitely a reader favorite. While I was the individual being profiled that year, Mr. Offenburger made sure that his column also emphasized the special character of the area and the school district itself.
That school district has certainly undergone some changes over the years. Back in the early 1980s, the area (which includes the towns of Fort Atkinson, St. Lucas, Waucoma, Lawler, Little Turkey, Protivin, and Jackson Junction) was full of relatively small family farms. The families, though, were relatively large. Having six or more siblings was not unusual for members of the TVHS class of 1981. On the farm, four-row corn equipment was considered “big” and it was common to assemble crews of six or more people in the summertime to bale hay into “small” square bales – hundreds, maybe thousands of them!
At school, girls basketball was six-on-six, volleyball was only a noon hour recreational activity, and classes were large enough to field a varsity, a junior varsity, and a freshman football team – each with 11 players. The most common student names were Schmitt, Kuennen, Reicks, and the occasional Hageman. The high school faculty included the names (with apologies to those I am forgetting) Arjes, Anderson, Carolan, Carspecken, another Hageman, Hangartner, Hansen, Hensley, Herold, Stoltz, Strudthoff, and, of course, “Bernso.”
As years passed, farm equipment and hay bales both got much larger while corn rows got narrower and farmers fewer. At Turkey Valley High School, girls basketball changed to five-on-five, volleyball became a varsity sport, and class sizes shrank to the point where the football team has recently gone to eight-player.
While the school grew smaller over the past 35 years, the honor felt by each “Turkey of the Year” remained large. Mr. Offenburger continued his annual pilgrimage to our corner of the state to shine the spotlight on the district and the next senior class honoree. Each Thanksgiving, Chuck’s column gave the world another look at the special area, its school district, and some of its people. A complete list of the “Turkey of the Year” selections may be found below here.
In short, we felt that our rural district in the northeast corner of the state was a pretty special place in which to grow up and go to school. Thanks to Chuck Offenburger, a much wider audience got to see a glimpse of that every year.
Like all good things, though, the run of “Turkey of the Year” selections has drawn to a close. As the initial honoree, I was contacted by a current staff member (and fellow alum) and asked to try to express our collective gratitude to Chuck Offenburger for shining a spotlight on the area each Thanksgiving for the past 35 years. It was certainly appreciated.
So, on behalf of the students, faculty, staff, and alumni young and old, we say a big “Thank you, Chuck Offenburger, you turkey!”
HERE IS THE ROSTER OF “TURKEYS OF THE YEAR” from Turkey Valley High School in northeast Iowa:
1980, Paul Barloon.
1981, Mike Kuennen.
1982, David Lusson.
1983, Barb Pinter.
1984, Steve Samec.
1985, Connie Mueterthies Frick.
1986, Carl Reicks.
1987, Chris Galligan.
1988, Paul Arens.
1989, Dana Reicks.
1990, Kris Kovarik.
1991, Greg Arens.
1992, Jenny Reicks Koudelka.
1993, Leon Arens.
1994, Lynn Smith Arens.
1995, Kim Kuennen Stevens.
1996, Jackson Hayek.
1997, Jeff Halverson.
1998, Mike Arens.
1999, Steve Nolte.
2000, Dana Croatt.
2001, Matt Hackman.
2002, Andy Pavlovec.
2003, Greg Stammeyer.
2004, Kyle Panos.
2005, Bryan Christophersen.
2006, Todd Schmitt.
2007, Keith Langreck.
2008, Grant Cuvelier.
2009, Neil Hackman.
2010, Luke Shatek.
2011, Nolan Milbrandt.
2012, John Hageman.
2013, Riley Meirick.
2014, Cole Langreck.
Cole Langreck, the last “Turkey of the Year,” in 2014 with Chuck Offenburger, showing off the trophies that have become part of the tradition.
The author of this guest column, Paul Barloon, is now a lecturer in mathematics at Iowa State University in Ames. You can write him at email@example.com or comment on his column by using the handy form below here.
2 thoughts on “From Turkey Valley HS: “Chuck Offenburger, you turkey!””
Paul, nice article! Well written and a good review of the changes back home in the last 35 years. Pat Lynch, Marilyn Hageman and Janet Carspecken would be proud! Thank you for recognizing Chuck Offenburger! Chuck did a great job of describing the N.E. Iowa farming community we are fortunate enough to be from annually at Thanksgiving time. We all have a lot to be grateful for especially at this time of the year! From one TURKEY Valley Trojan to another, HAPPY THANSGIVING!
Wow, what a great read! I don’t think anyone could have said it better. Thanks, Paul!