Luostari leaves 55-year legacy of advocacy
After more than five decades on the Cloverland Town Board, chairman Larry Luostari is retiring.
CLOVERLAND — A punch propelled Larry Luostari into more than half a century of public service. The fist wasn’t aimed at him; it hit Max Burhans, a member of the Cloverland Town Board of Supervisors.
“He had to go see a guy on the other side of town, and that guy didn’t like him very well, so he slugged him. And he said, ‘That’s it. I’m done,’” Luostari said.
Burhans quit, leaving an open seat. The board chairman at the time, Harold Pearson, stopped by Luostari’s farmhouse and asked him to take over the job. The year, according to Douglas County Clerk records, was 1968.
Fast forward 55 years and Luostari is now the town chairman, a position he’s held since 1977. The Cloverland man will step down from the town board this spring. He’ll chair his last meeting April 18 during the Annual Town Meeting.
The longtime supervisor will be missed, colleagues said.
“I think he’s done a wonderful job all these years and never asked for any recognition. He just does a job, and he enjoys it,” said Phyllis Massier, who’s served as Cloverland town clerk for the past 35 years. “I think that’s part of who he is.”
Luostari, 85, said he can’t drive at night anymore, and he doesn’t like to impose on friends and family for a ride to meetings. The longtime farmer is not excited about retiring.
“No. Maybe a little sad, but then time comes for everything. We can’t stop the clock. But the last word is the town has supported me, and I tried to support them. I give all the credit to the people in the town and to the board, not me. I’m just a figurehead,” Luostari said.
Those who have worked with him say Cloverland is losing an advocate, a listener, a historian, a connection to Madison, a good influence, a teller of stories. Russ Otterino, who served on the Cloverland Town Board with Luostari for roughly 15 years, estimated the chairman has told hundreds of tales.
“The thing about my age now, nobody can prove me wrong anymore,” Luostari said. “So whatever I say is the total gospel.”
Especially since all the early records for Cloverland are gone, burned in a series of fires. It’s quite a story.
The books were initially held at the home of the clerk, which caught fire and burned, Luostari said. Then they were kept at another clerk’s home, which also burned.
“There’s something about those books. I wouldn’t have them in my house,” said Luostari’s wife, Pat.
The town began storing records in a room at the Cloverland School, but moved them when the building was sold to a private party. When they renovated an old Lutheran Church into a town garage, the books moved in.
“So we built shelves and then put all the books in there, and then that burned. So we have no record of what went on in the town. All the ordinances we passed, that all went up in smoke,” Luostari said.
Leading by example
Harold Pearson was a strict penny pincher, according to Luostari.
“And of course maybe we had to be. The budget was only like $10,000 to $15,000 a year compared to $500,000 today,” he said.
Luostari, however, is a different kind of leader.
“I think he’s been a good influence on the town all these years, and I think he likes the position. But he doesn’t push it. I mean, he’s subtle about it, you know? He’s just very good at just putting his opinion out there and asking for others, and he’s not pushy at all,” Massier said.
“He was always there when you needed him. He was always available,” Otterino said.
The town chairman tackles problems head on.
“One thing about Larry is when something comes up we aren’t sure of he’s very good at calling downstate to get answers, or going farther to get the answers. He’s got the contacts. He knows who to call to get the answers we need,” Massier said.
Luostari has served on the Douglas County unit of the Wisconsin Towns Association, the Amnicon Farmers Union, and served 22 years with the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency. He's been on the Douglas County Land Conservation Committee for at least 15 years and the county Board of Adjustment for nine years. He is considering retirement from those positions, as well.
For more than 20 years, Luostari and his wife attended Superior Days in Madison, according to their son Scott, who currently serves on the Douglas County Board of Supervisors. Scott said his father influenced his own decision to get involved in government.
“When we were working the farm and doing other things we would talk about what was discussed in Madison and how it affects our local area,” Scott said. “We started to have time for morning coffee when I was not working and always have Saturday and Sunday morning coffee to this day. And as you can bet, it involves issues affecting our local area.”
Massier said Luostari is “a good advocate for home government. He’s very, very concerned that the state does not take away any rights of the towns. Home government is what he’s always championed.”
And, she said, he can talk to, anybody.
Why is it important to be in government?
"Give a voice. It's got to be a voice, and Scott is finding that out now," Luostari said.
Massier said she will miss Luostari's leadership and his stories about “ancient history.”
“I just would really like to thank him for his service. He’s just done so much for the town over the years, you just don’t even realize how much,” she said.
Luostari has already done a lot of traveling, visiting some of the 25 foreign exchange students the family has hosted over the years. He said he'll be around if the new board members need a hand.
"I will help them if they have any questions," he said.
This story was updated at 8:10 a.m. March 3 to reflect the correct amount of time Luostari served on the Cloverland Town Board — 55 years. It was originally posted at 7 p.m. March 2. The Telegram regrets the error.