Monday, June 16, 2008

Festival still holds aura of Clarence Buss

COTTAGE GROVE – The Buss family gathered this past weekend for a family get-together just like they do every year for the annual Cottage Grove Firemen’s Festival now in its 77th year.

Even Dennis Buss who makes his year-round home in Anchorage, Alaska nowadays, made his yearly pilgrimage to be here just like he has been here every year since he was a child. It makes for the perfect weekend for a family reunion. The midway pulls into town complete with a Ferris wheel. Music hovers over Firemen’s Park from Thursday through Sunday.

And it all centers around baseball. From Teeners to Legion to Home Talent, there’s plenty of baseball to be had from the first day of the festival to the last. Many Home Talent League teams host a game during their town’s own summer festival, and Cottage Grove’s happens to be one of the best.

But there was one thing different for the Buss family this weekend, though. It was the first Firemen’s Festival spent without their family patriarch. Clarence Buss passed away this past February.

Clarence Buss is a name synonymous with the Home Talent League and specifically Cottage Grove. From the age of 17 when he joined the Cottage Grove team as a player to age of 83 when he passed away, there hasn’t been a single year when Buss wasn’t somehow involved in the H.T.L.

After his playing days, Buss became the manager of the team. When he wasn’t on the field, he was the team’s business manager. And he would later join the league’s Board of Directors, a post which he held right onto the very end.

Daughter Becky Ilgin explains, “The very first thing he did when he was dying was resign due to health reasons. And that was in January.”

During the Saturday of the festival, the Buss family circled just outside the left field fence to reminisce about their father.

Each member of the family had their own favorite memory of their father. Becky remembers the family vacations their father would take them on to places like Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. Daugher Carolyn Pohlman remembers the time she spent playing cards with him. Son Dennis remember the hours Dad hit him ground balls out in their front yard. And son Larry remembers preparing the baseball diamond for game after game with his father.

Grandson Scott Polman actually had the honor of playing during one of the nine Home Talent League titles Clarence Buss took part in. But Scott’s fondest memory of his grandfather was during the days after Clarence had retired from managing the team.

During the championship game of a National Baseball Congress tournament, Scott remembers, “Grandpa was actually standing behind the dugout rattling the fence because he wanted a pinch hitter to come in. I’ll never forget it. He was just hollerin’, shaking the fence hollering at the guy that was coaching then.

“At the time he wasn’t the coach, but he wanted to be.”

That story adds to the legacy that Clarence Buss would give to Cottage Grove baseball.

“For some people, it’s just Sundays,” said Scott speaking about the day Home Talent League teams traditionally play on. “For grandpa it was every day of the week …December first he’d be talking about baseball – who was playing next year, who wasn’t playing next year. He was always concerned about those teams. He cared about the league too, but this was his baby.”

As the family was talking, the current version of the Cottage Grove baseball team was beating Rio on the ballpark adjacent to them dedicated to their father, Clarence Buss Field. Only a day later it would be Clarence Buss Day at the Firemen’s Festival like it will be every Sunday during the festival from here on out.

That day would be Father’s Day, appropriately.

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Waterloo at Marshall on Sunday June 22 for the annual Marshall Festival.

Photo caption: Cottage Grove warms up before their game against Rio during the town's 77th annual Firemen's Festival

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

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