GREEN BAY — Each weeknight, Bill Jartz slips on a suit coat, adjusts his matching tie and broadcasts live to thousands of people in northeast Wisconsin as a TV news anchor.
Thousands more hear him during Green Bay Packers games as the public address announcer at Lambeau Field.
But what truly invigorates Jartz can’t be found in the spotlight of TV studios and glitz and glamour of NFL showdowns.
He’s most proud of his rural Wisconsin roots — growing up on a small farm outside Clintonville in Waupaca County and, for the past 24 years, living with his wife, Mary, in a log cabin tucked away on 60 acres near Maribel in Manitowoc County.
“Everybody always assumes I’m going to be dressed in a coat and tie wherever I go. It’s not like that at all,” said Jartz, who proudly owns 10 John Deere tractors. “I’m pretty much a country bumpkin. I spend my days wearing vertical-striped blue and white bib overalls. That’s what I wear. That’s what I’m comfortable in. Because that’s who I am.
“It really takes me back to being a kid on the farm. I have a lot of wonderful memories. And that’s a big part of why I appreciate so much the hard-working people in agriculture. I’ve come to know so many farmers, and they’re amazing people.”
Jartz, whose legal surname is Schmidt but is widely known by his TV last name, fondly recalls his upbringing on a hobby farm with cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits. He also enjoyed growing fruits and vegetables.
Jartz carried that work ethic into sports, earning all-state football honors at Clintonville High School. He received an athletic scholarship to Northwestern University and graduated with a journalism degree in 1980.
That same year, Jartz stepped into the spotlight as a sports anchor at WSAW in Wausau. Three years later he transitioned to WBAY in Green Bay and — following a brief stint as a stockbroker — for the past 20 years he has been a popular news anchor for the Channel 2 station.
Meanwhile, his announcing days at Lambeau Field began in 2005.
Through it all, however, Jartz’s rural roots never wavered.
“With Bill, what you see is what you get,” said Mary, his wife of 34 years. “A lot of people might think a TV anchorman would be an egomaniac, but nothing is further from the truth.
“He is just a small-town boy from Wisconsin — and that’s a good thing. He respects people who work hard for a living, he takes pride in the values learned on a family farm, and I think that’s evident when he meets people and talks to them.”
Jartz has plenty to talk about, especially when it comes to tractors and farming.
During his youth, Jartz’s family had Allis-Chalmers and John Deere tractors. One incident still elicits a nervous grin.
Jartz was driving the family’s John Deere and “I gave it some gas and the right wheel fell off,” he said. “I was devastated. Here’s my dad’s pride and joy — we loved this tractor — and there’s the wheel sitting over there.”
Jartz, who was 12 years old when his father died, remained loyal to John Deere tractors by collecting 10 over the years. And he’s hasn’t been afraid to get them dirty.
“As for the tractors, I’m not sure I’ll ever really get this obsession with two-cylinder Johnnys,” Mary said of her husband. “He can’t figure out why I need multiple pairs of black shoes, so I guess we’re even.
“I will say that the tractors really are a thing of beauty when they’re all shined up and in the field — I’ve even learned to drive a few of them. And, if tractors make him happy, then I’m happy.”
Those tractors get put to good use, Jartz said.
“I think I’m kind of a frustrated farmer,” he said. “I have a lot of gardens. I just love growing things. I truly do. For me, when you see spring come around and you see things start to pop out of the ground ... For me, it’s just the joy of seeing things grow.”
Jartz’s agricultural roots run deep. In addition to his childhood on a farm and current rural home, Jartz has been known to help at a friend’s dairy farm. He also served as emcee for the 70th Alice in Dairyland competition, held at Lambeau Field in 2017. And he announced the 2018 Dairy Cares Kickin’ It With The Cows Run/Walk, held in De Pere to benefit Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Several times Jartz has emceed Breakfast on the Farm events during June Dairy Month and assisted at county fairs, not to mention various charitable endeavors. He also addressed the Waupaca County-based Woodland Badgers 4-H Club, of which he used to be a member. Recently he spoke at Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center in Manitowoc County as the inaugural presenter for its Breakfast at the Barn program.
And as a youngster Jartz showed cattle at the Waupaca County Fair, winning a blue ribbon with a Guernsey named Daisy.
Through it all, Jartz has noticed a common trait with people in agriculture.
“More than anything, they’re inherently optimistic,” he said. “I don’t think you can be in farming without being optimistic. Let’s face it, right now these aren’t real good times in the ag market. Commodities are down, you’ve got the tariff issues, the political issues. And even though you have better technology, better seeds, better genetics, there’s still so much they can’t control. Yet here they are, some of the most positive people around.”
It didn’t take long for Mary to notice that too. Although she grew up near Milwaukee with no agricultural background, she quickly developed an appreciation for farming.
That interest factored heavily into the couple’s decision to move to Maribel, a rural community about 25 minutes southeast of Green Bay.
“When we looked for a place in the country, it was important to both of us to find a community that was still actively farming,” she said. “The traditions and values of family farms are the backbone of our state, and Bill shares that hard-working, community-focused attitude.
“Bill was able to really get back to his roots and garden with a passion, have room for his tractors, and be a steward of the land. As for me, I love flower gardening, so we work those blooms in between the rows of beets and potatoes.”
Jartz sees another characteristic common among those in agriculture.
“The neat thing about agriculture, and I knew this very early in my life, is the teamwork that’s involved,” he said, recollecting when the Clintonville community united in the wake of a barn fire. “Everybody came together out there and pounded boards and took care of the cattle and helped with the hay while all this stuff was going on. It was like teamwork in sports.
“That’s the great thing about agriculture — how people come together.”
Organizers of the 2019 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days continue to prepare for next year’s event, announcing extended show hours and putting out a call for local farming artifacts to be displayed at Walters Grain Farm in Jefferson County July 23-25.
However, Jefferson County will have another opportunity to host in the not-too-distant future as it was also announced last week that the show will be held at the Jefferson County Fair Park in 2021. According to Matt Glewen, general manager for Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, two sites were under consideration to host the 2021 event, with Jefferson County Fair Park, located on the northwest edge of the city of Jefferson, selected over the Iola Old Car Show Grounds in Iola.
While both sites offered enough space for commercial and educational portions of the show, as well as nearby farmland for popular field demonstrations, the Farm Technology Days board ultimately decided on the fair park due to its facilities and accessibility. Although their site was not selected, Glewen said the interest and cooperation from Iola Car Show leaders was greatly appreciated, with the possibility of collaborating in the future left open.
The 2021 show will be the first one in the show’s more than 60-year history that will be off the farm and organized and run by Wisconsin Farm Technology Days Inc., the statewide organization that supports the event. In all of the events past, shows were organized and run by the county selected to host each year.
The show will return to a county-hosted show in 2022 as Clark County plans to host. The location and dates have not yet been announced.
The 2019 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days will be held July 23-25 at the Walter Grain Farm in Johnson Creek. By hosting in 2019, the Walter family joins a small group of farm families that have hosted more than once.
Jefferson County organizers anticipate a large crowd, as 86 percent of attendees to the show come from a 100-mile radius, which for the 2019 event, would include the cities of Madison and Milwaukee. It’s one of the reasons why organizers, for the first time in show history, have decided to hold extended show hours on the first day, Wednesday, July 24, opening from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Ticket prices will also be reduced after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, with the normal show hours for the remainder of the event set at 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We’re hoping to draw in more visitors on Wednesday through two avenues,” said LaVern Georgson, executive director of 2019 Jefferson County Farm Technology Days. “Our goal is to welcome urban visitors after work as well as farmers that want to spend more time at the show. This will give attendees the opportunity to spend more time seeing all the show has to offer.
“For those that can’t get there first thing in the morning, the extended hours provide an opportunity for them to come around lunchtime and still try to take in most of the show,” he said.
As part of the 2019 Farm Technology Days, the Jefferson County historical societies are also partnering to create an exhibit telling the history of agriculture and farming in Jefferson County from ancient Native Americans to modern farmers. To help tell that story, the exhibit planning committee is looking for farm-related artifacts to be loaned for the duration of event. Ideally, these artifacts would be self-supporting (i.e. able to be placed on a platform with no additional supports needed), large enough to need more than one person to move the artifact and farming-related.
“These items might include things like a grain reaper or an old piece of farm machinery with a seat that could be used for photo opportunities,” said Greg Sambs, chairman of Innovation Square, where the artifacts will be displayed. “If the piece of equipment was made by a company located in Jefferson County, all the better.”
For more information about lending artifacts for the show, contact Sambs at 920-723-8622 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Merrilee Lee at 920-563-7769 or email@example.com. More about Wisconsin Farm Technology Days can be found at www.farmtechnologydays.com.
AMERY — Jenna Hendrickson said she never suspected that the Christmas tree her family “harvested” each year off their land hadn’t actually grown there.
For years, her older siblings had played along with her parents’ charade, pretending that the Balsam fir her dad, Wes, chopped down was indeed from their land. Last year, Jenna’s dad and her mom, Tracy, finally revealed the truth to their youngest child — that they had always bought the Balsam fir from a local Christmas tree farm and planted it for their children to find.
“I was in shock,” the 15-year-old Amery High School sophomore said. “The rest of the night, I was thinking about all the past trees.”
Jenna’s story is the winner in the 2018 Christmas Memories Contest sponsored by The Country Today. About 35 readers submitted entries in this year’s contest, which was judged by The Country Today editorial staff.
Jenna’s story is featured on Page 1A of this edition. Second- and third-place entries can be found on Page 1B. Honorable mention selections will be printed in the Dec. 26 edition.
Second place in the contest went to Jarrod Reeson of Barneveld, whose story was titled “Swisher Sweets and sleigh rides.” Reeson wrote about holiday memories of his late grandfather, who was known for his boisterous laughter, Swisher Sweets and horse-drawn sleigh rides given to grandchildren.
Third place went to Ruth Wood of River Falls, for her writing, “One Tuff Christmas.” Wood describes the difficulty her single mother had getting into the holiday spirit during a tough financial time until her employer came through with a special Christmas “bonus” of Tuffie pot scrubbers that the family used to decorate their tree.
Jenna said she entered her story in The Country Today contest after hearing about it from her high school English teacher. Students were participating in a writers’ workshop and had to submit two pieces to be published. Jenna’s essay on the Christmas tree hoax was a natural fit with the newspaper’s Christmas Memories Contest.
She said she often thought it peculiar how the family always seemed to find the perfect tree growing in strange places where no tree had been growing the previous year, such as atop a large sandhill, in a hole or next to other trees that were dead. The tradition of buying a tree from a local tree farm and propping it up on their property began when Jenna’s brothers, Josh and Jake, now in their mid-20s, were toddlers.
“They both were in on it, so it had to be true,” she said of her parents. “I look back on it and I feel so stupid.”
Jenna said her older sister, Jessica, figured it out on her own, but “for me, they just had to give it away.”
This year’s Hendrickson family Christmas tree came from the same place it’s always come from — Mickelson’s Tree Farm near Deer Park — but for once, Jenna’s parents skipped the extra step of setting it up on their land for Jenna to stumble upon.
The top three winners in the Christmas Memories Contest will receive $75, $50 and $25 cash prizes, respectively. Honorable mentions were awarded to Jim Zitzelberger of Oshkosh for “Vietnam Christmas,” Charlotte Heikkinen of Clinton for “Where have my fish balls gone?” and Karen Hicks of Henderson, Nev., for “My Best Christmas Memory.”
Contest rules require that all entries be true stories. Readers are encouraged to continue to enter the Christmas Memories Contest in future years as well as submit stories for the weekly Yarns of Yesteryear feature on the front of the newspaper’s Section B.
By Jenna Hendrickson
Every Christmas, my family and I would make a trip over to our land about a mile down the road from our house. Every year, on the land, there was always the perfect Christmas tree. The trees were always in random spots that sometimes a tree couldn’t possibly grow in, and they were never in the same spot from year to year. They also never showed up until it was time for us to find one, even though trees of this size take many years to grow. Great timing, right? But my sister, brothers, and I never thought anything of it and so we would “saw” the tree down, toss it in the back of our truck, and haul it back home. We did this every Christmas, until last year, when my parents told me something that would change this tradition forever.
My dad always liked to joke around when we were searching. He’s been using some of the same jokes since my brothers were little. But this year was especially cheesy and over the top. I didn’t think anything of it though, because it was normal for the occasion.
We drove around a tree line and there it was. A bright green, perfectly sized balsam fir next to a group of old, dead trees.
“That one!” I exclaimed.
“Where? What one? I don’t see anything. That big one over there?” my dad said jokingly while pointing to the huge, old tree he points to every year that he says he wants to cut the top off of.
“Haven’t heard that before,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Eventually, he admitted to seeing the tree and stopped. But, of course, he made sure to drive past it and back up for dramatic effect. We hopped out and walked up to it.
“I don’t know how you do it, kid. Every year you always find a great one,” my dad said to me.
“I am getting pretty good,” I said sarcastically.
My dad then walked back to the truck to grab a saw. He brought it over, sawed for a little bit, and then, without even trying hard, he tipped it over and yelled, “Timber! Stand back!” I mentioned he liked to be dramatic, right? We picked up the tree and set it in the truck.
“Yep, this’ll do. Hey, look, it even already has a hole in the bottom for the tree stand. That’s impressive. How did you manage to do that?” he asked me.
“Look, there’s a hole in the trunk.” he said. I walked over to look, and sure enough, there was the hole he told me about. At this point I was a little confused. I may not have processed that trees couldn’t grow in weird places, but I at least knew that they don’t already have holes drilled in them for people’s tree stands. I looked at both of my parents and asked why there was a hole, and that only made them smile. They then went on to tell me that they’ve been buying Christmas trees and sticking them in the ground or leaning them up against other trees at our land every year since my brothers were little. Might I remind you that my brothers are now 25. I was 14 and had fully believed that these perfect trees were just sprouting up every single year, even though they take a tad bit more than a year to grow. Not to mention, they also always had the holes already drilled in them, but somehow, I never realized. Rightfully so, I told my mom and dad that they had ruined my childhood and that it was filled with lies.
Thinking back now, I laugh at myself for believing it all and not second-guessing any of the details. It makes sense why my dad was always the one to finish “cutting” the tree, why he always made sure to grab the trunk, and why his jokes were so cheesy.
Even though I joked about them “ruining” my childhood, I can’t deny that I would love to do something like this with my kids in the future.