Farm Progress Days 1960: Alice in Dairyland’s visit cut short
By Kris Leonhardt
In 1960, the stage was set for the seventh annual Wisconsin Farm Progress Days, to be held at the Marshfield Fairgrounds, the Marshfield Branch of the Experimental Station, and the Wood County Hospital.
This was the first time the event was held in Wood County and local organizers were excited for the opportunity to bring it to the area. As it turns out, this would be the last time Wood County would host it until this year’s July event at the Heiman and Sternweis farms.
Noted as the “Crossroads of Agriculture,”organizers hoped that the Aug. 5-7, 1960, event would see visits from numerous celebrities, such as the two presidential candidates and the reigning Alice in Dairyland.
Alice in Dairyland was, and remains, an important celebrity fixture at each Farm Progress – now Farm Tech – event.
The 1960 Alice was Joan Mary Engh, 19, of La Crosse and the event was a staple on her appearance schedule.
Upon arriving in Marshfield, Engh was set up at the Hotel Charles before making her August 6 appearance at the Fairgrounds.
While engaged by her hosts at the event, Marshfield Officer Don Haralson received a phone call around 12:34 p.m., inquiring if the officer had seen Engh that day. When Officer Haralson said that he had, the caller made a statement threatening the beauty queen’s life.
Haralson then phoned Marshfield Police Chief Walter H. Wohlfart, who radioed the temporary emergency station at the Fairgrounds.
All available officers were requested to protect their reigning Alice, as she prepared to make her way to the stage.
County and state officers escorted and guarded Engh as she accepted a corsage from Farm Progress organizers. Her appearance was then cut short as she was escorted back to the Hotel Charles.
During this time, the police department received a second call from the individual, who stated that he couldn’t be prevented from carrying out his will.
Engh left Marshfield under a cloud of secrecy and made her way to Madison.
Joan Mary Engh would be undeterred by these events and the effects of becoming a celebrity. Two years later, she would earn the title of Miss Wisconsin, and in 1963, she would become first runner-up in the Miss America pageant.
Next week: More on the 1960 Farm Progress Days event