“I first met Joan while attending a DATCP Board meeting. She had a calm sense of professionalism combined with a friendly personality. I have always respected her ability to serve her newspaper with well written stories on important topics. At the same time, she has served the agricultural community in Wisconsin at a high level. We all thank her for her career long contributions.”—Jim Holte, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President
She often says that she could write a book and knowingly Joan Sanstadt already has, only in newspaper format. It’s about Wisconsin agriculture.
From the meeting rooms to the roads less traveled, cooperatives and the legislature, elections and multi-faceted topics that have affected Wisconsin farmers and farmers throughout the nation, Sanstadt has covered it with integrity, tenacity, professionalism and a smile.
During the late 1980s, Dave Natzke, who was the editor of the Wisconsin State Farmer, needed someone to cover the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), Department of Natural Resources and the State Capitol. He said that Joan’s resume didn’t jump to the top of the pile, “but something told me I should talk to her about the position.”
“During her interview, she exhibited exactly what I was looking for,” said Natzke. “She was a self-starter who had the tenacity to cover state government on behalf of Wisconsin farmers. She wasn’t afraid to challenge lawmakers and administrators and she had the energy to work through bureaucratic barriers. Her previous experience in the publishing industry also gave her an additional real-world business perspective.”
Subsequently, when Natzke became managing editor of Agri-View, there was a similar reporter-editor position to fill with a role of covering the State Legislature and agencies regulating and impacting agriculture.
“Joan’s knowledge and experience and my confidence in her abilities and skills made for an easy hire,” said Natzke. “We were reunited on Agri-View’s editorial team in 1991 and we remain friends and colleagues to this day.”
Shortly after Sanstadt started she tackled stray voltage covering cases that eventually went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. More than 20 years later stray voltage is still making headlines.
Also during the 1990s, Sanstadt reported on use value assessment of farmland with farmer groups vowing to fight cities. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation recognized Sanstadt’s skill in covering this topic with an award presented by Dane County President Darlene Arneson. She also received the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau in 2003.
Growing up with her four siblings on a 120-acre dairy farm south of Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, which is not far from International Falls or the “Icebox of the Nation,” Sanstadt learned her core values: family, faith, education, love of reading and attention to details. She was involved in school plays, speaking contests and wrote for the school newspaper and was an active member of the Happy Hustlers 4-H Club.
In 1950 during Sanstadt’s senior year, the Dupont family moved to a farm near Oregon, Wisconsin, where she graduated from Oregon High School.
After graduation Sanstadt immediately started looking for a job and was with her cousin Jean Champagne at the news stand at the State Capitol explaining to the stand’s operator Jerry Higgins that she was looking for work. At about the same time Carl Zielke who was the manager of the Wisconsin Press Association stopped at the news stand and as they say in the newspaper industry, the rest is history.
Sanstadt started as a reader searching for items of interest for the Wisconsin Clipping Bureau’s clients. During the next several years she filled multiple roles for the association and describes the 1950s as the Golden Age for weekly newspapers, “a time before shoppers were circulated and the weekly papers influenced people’s lives.”
In 1973 Sanstadt resigned from the Wisconsin Press Association to work with her husband at the New London Press and the Hortonville Star selling advertising. It was in March of 1974 that she received a “baptism by fire” as she described the Hortonville Teacher’s strike. Sanstadt was the first reporter allowed into the Hortonville School during the strike.
Sanstadt has always put honesty first in her work as a writer and a reporter. She will tell you that by doing honest reporting your personal and professional network will continue to grow during your career.
“Joan is pure class. Since I first met her in the 1990s as a fellow farm reporter, I have admired her attention to detail, tenacity and tact. Ag journalism in Wisconsin will never be the same once she decides to hang up her keyboard and take a well-deserved break.” —Casey Langan, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Spokesman and former regional editor for The Country Today
In December, Sanstadt was recognized by staff at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel and DATCP staff presented Sanstadt with a Certificate of Appreciation signed by Governor Scott Walker.
“As an agricultural reporter, Joan Sanstadt was a trusted source for farmers, industry leaders and government officials for decades. She reported on challenging topics honestly and clearly. She will be greatly missed by the agricultural community for her knowledge, experience and warm personality.”—Ben Brancel, Wisconsin’s Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
Many of the people who Sanstadt has highlighted during the years have retired and as of January 31, Sanstadt is taking their lead for a “well-deserved break.”
Sanstadt plans to enjoy time with her family including her children: Julie Garner, Rialto, California; Mary and Gary Briand, Palm Bay, Florida; Janet Barger, Milwaukee; Wally Barger and Joan Stuessy, Blue Mounds, Wisconsin; Mike Barger and Susan Rauman, DeForest, Wisconsin; and Barb and Pryor Gibson, Raleigh, North Carolina; 12 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. She also has a list of books that must be read and as her colleagues in the newspaper industry can imagine, she will enjoy the freedom from her Monday noon deadlines.
Joan Sanstadt, thank you for your integrity, tenacity, professionalism and your dedication and passion for agriculture . . . and your smile. You have served the agricultural community well and made many friends along the way.
Marian Viney is a graphic designer for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. Viney grew up on a dairy farm near Oregon. Prior to working with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Viney served as managing editor for Agri-View, a Wisconsin agricultural newspaper and as a marketing specialist with the Wisconsin Historical Society.