By Julie Henning

For The Star

At 92 years old, Pastor Ardin (AD) Laper may know the history of Sun Prairie better than any other individual in town. Leading the congregation of the Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church on Windsor Street for 35 years—serving the Lutheran church in Wisconsin and Nebraska after graduating from seminary in 1944—Laper is also the unnamed author behind the weekly Winnowings column in The Star weekly community newspaper.

Living in town with his wife Lily and their seven children, the Lapers have called Sun Prairie their home since 1959. Publishing his first Winnowings column in 1961, Lily was working part-time in the newspaper office; Laper has created a 50-year living history of his very own.

Laper’s weekly research methodology uses a combination of old newspaper issues, some archived with the paper and some housed at the Historical Museum on Main Street. Presenting a weekly written account of the week’s news as it was written exactly 10, 25, 50, 75, 100 and 125 years ago. 

“It’s a little easier for me now because the Winnowings column has been in existence now for 50 years. If I can get the paper 10 years back and see what was written for, say 1996, I can use the Winnowing column and move that information back a decade.”

Hand typing and hand delivering the story to the newspaper office, Laper began with a typewriter. Today he uses a computer and memory stick. 

“To me it’s a great mystery how [the memory stick] not only holds the Winnowings for one week, but for weeks and weeks and you can call them up if you want to do it. It’s kind of interesting to know how to do that,” he said.

Looking at the definition the word, winnowings can mean to blow or scatter, sort out an undesirable part or to separate the good from the bad (specifically as it relates to removing the undesirable chaff from grain). 

When asked how he uses the context of the word as it relates to the Winnowings column, Laper explained, “You’re not putting everything in. You’re selecting. In my own mind I’ve often wondered about the correct use of the word. Does winnowings refer to the chaff or the good grain that’s used? Is it sometimes used one way or the other? It’s more of a mixture. Sometimes the items are not all that interesting, but they show what went on that was different at that time. For example, to make note of when people were driving horses and using buggies as a common mode of transportation. It’s sort of interesting to make note of the way people lived that is different than our times.”

By the practice of assembling the Winnowings column, Laper has captured the growth of Sun Prairie even before he was alive.

“To some extent, Sun Prairie is growing into Madison and becoming a suburb of Madison. There’s less open space in between, but so far there’s an awareness that this is Sun Prairie and that is Madison. Although this is a farming community, it’s very striking in our congregation that right now we do not have a single farmer. There are, of course, many rural people still in the congregation.” Laper adds, “Many acres have been sold off to larger farms and the small farmer has kind of disappeared. The farmer still works the land, but with fewer people.”

Laper continues, “It is a lot of extra work for me to include the obituaries, but I feel that to some extent it may be of interest to people reading the column. I try to cut back and not to get into too many details, but I include the names of the children. I don’t name the siblings’ names any more. Especially in the later years as the city has grown, there have been more deaths in the paper.”

Laper considers himself partially retired from the ministry, making homebound visits to congregation members who have fallen ill or wish to receive Holy Communion. “That’s the way we do it in our church,” Laper said. He also delivers sermons to children attending the Peace Lutheran School. 

Residing together in their home, the Lapers are in good health and good company. With all of their children grown, the Lapers enjoy a legacy of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. AD reflects, “There are many couples that don’t have that privilege.”

With the 50th anniversary of Winnowings and the 125th anniversary of Sun Prairie, Laper is looking for someone to continue on with his legacy. “One of these days I should discontinue the column, and I wonder who will carry it on. At my age, it could be discontinued overnight. You just never know.”

At 92 years old, Pastor Ardin (AD) Laper may know the history of Sun Prairie better than any other individual in town. Leading the congregation of the Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church on Windsor Street for 35 years—serving the Lutheran church in Wisconsin and Nebraska after graduating from seminary in 1944—Laper is also the unnamed author behind the weekly Winnowings column in The Star weekly community newspaper.

Living in town with his wife Lily and their seven children, the Lapers have called Sun Prairie their home since 1959. Publishing his first Winnowings column in 1961, Lily was working part-time in the newspaper office; Laper has created a 50-year living history of his very own.

Laper’s weekly research methodology uses a combination of old newspaper issues, some archived with the paper and some housed at the Historical Museum on Main Street. Presenting a weekly written account of the week’s news as it was written exactly 10, 25, 50, 75, 100 and 125 years ago. 

“It’s a little easier for me now because the Winnowings column has been in existence now for 50 years. If I can get the paper 10 years back and see what was written for, say 1996, I can use the Winnowing column and move that information back a decade.”

Hand typing and hand delivering the story to the newspaper office, Laper began with a typewriter. Today he uses a computer and memory stick. 

“To me it’s a great mystery how [the memory stick] not only holds the Winnowings for one week, but for weeks and weeks and you can call them up if you want to do it. It’s kind of interesting to know how to do that,” he said.

Looking at the definition the word, winnowings can mean to blow or scatter, sort out an undesirable part or to separate the good from the bad (specifically as it relates to removing the undesirable chaff from grain). 

When asked how he uses the context of the word as it relates to the Winnowings column, Laper explained, “You’re not putting everything in. You’re selecting. In my own mind I’ve often wondered about the correct use of the word. Does winnowings refer to the chaff or the good grain that’s used? Is it sometimes used one way or the other? It’s more of a mixture. Sometimes the items are not all that interesting, but they show what went on that was different at that time. For example, to make note of when people were driving horses and using buggies as a common mode of transportation. It’s sort of interesting to make note of the way people lived that is different than our times.”

By the practice of assembling the Winnowings column, Laper has captured the growth of Sun Prairie even before he was alive.

“To some extent, Sun Prairie is growing into Madison and becoming a suburb of Madison. There’s less open space in between, but so far there’s an awareness that this is Sun Prairie and that is Madison. Although this is a farming community, it’s very striking in our congregation that right now we do not have a single farmer. There are, of course, many rural people still in the congregation.” Laper adds, “Many acres have been sold off to larger farms and the small farmer has kind of disappeared. The farmer still works the land, but with fewer people.”

Laper continues, “It is a lot of extra work for me to include the obituaries, but I feel that to some extent it may be of interest to people reading the column. I try to cut back and not to get into too many details, but I include the names of the children. I don’t name the siblings’ names any more. Especially in the later years as the city has grown, there have been more deaths in the paper.”

Laper considers himself partially retired from the ministry, making homebound visits to congregation members who have fallen ill or wish to receive Holy Communion. “That’s the way we do it in our church,” Laper said. He also delivers sermons to children attending the Peace Lutheran School. 

Residing together in their home, the Lapers are in good health and good company. With all of their children grown, the Lapers enjoy a legacy of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. AD reflects, “There are many couples that don’t have that privilege.”

With the 50th anniversary of Winnowings and the 125th anniversary of Sun Prairie, Laper is looking for someone to continue on with his legacy. “One of these days I should discontinue the column, and I wonder who will carry it on. At my age, it could be discontinued overnight. You just never know.”

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