IOLA – Brian Korb grew up in this central Wisconsin community that for many years prided itself on a distinct Norwegian heritage, and a fondness for baseball. He has made Iola his home as an adult.
He graduated from Iola-Scandinavia High School. He played for and coached the Thunderbirds baseball team. Currently, Korb serves as the coach for the American Legion baseball program in town.
Many of his baseball memories took place at the longtime home for Iola-Scandinavia baseball — Taylor Field.
So out of a sense of pride and nostalgia, Korb has become one of the driving forces behind a movement to give Taylor Field a much-needed facelift after decades of neglect.
“I’m a baseball guy, and all my time time growing up here, baseball has been a big part of this community,” said Korb, a 1988 graduate of Iola-Scandinavia High School. “We want to make it something people care about again.”
Interest in maintaining Taylor Field began to wane in the early 1980s when rec softball leagues began to disappear, said Korb. With the death of rec softball came a lessened need or desire by any entity, including the village of Iola, to keep up maintenance at the field.
The infield needs to be rebuilt and leveled. Foul territory could use some dirt. The light standards were installed in the 1970s and, according to Korb, the bulbs required to operate don’t exist anymore. The dugouts are in need of some repair, too.
Taylor Field is owned by the village of Iola. Negotiations are ongoing between the school district and the Iola Village Board about a possible lease arrangement for the school. Those discussions are still in the early stages, however.
“It’s all about baby steps right now,” current Iola-Scandinavia baseball coach Pete Timdal said. “The field just needs some attention paid to it not only this season, but in the future.”
Neither the school, which is dealing with budget crunch, nor the village has been fiscally able to stick a lot of money into the field due to budget constraints.
“We’re trying as much as we can to put improvements into the baseball field and the overall park,” said Kathy Briquelet, chairwoman of the Parks & Rec Committee of the Iola Village Board.
“We have a set budget every year, and part of that has to go to the maintenance of the parks themselves. The money left on an annual basis we then review what projects are requested and need to be done, and then we try to set money aside and commit money to those projects.”
Meanwhile, a group of private citizens — or as Korb put it, “baseball dads” — has organized to help raise funds to get some of the basic improvements started.
“The village (of Iola) has been great and has been willing to work with us,” Korb said. “This community has always been known for pitching in when we need a project done, and in many cases you don’t even need to ask people.”
Briquelet said the village set aside an estimated $23,000 to completely renovate the bathrooms at the field and make them handicap accessible. That project should be completed within the next month.
In addition, Korb and his group has been able to raise about $15,000 over the past year in private donations and with the help of organizations such as the Krause Foundation and the Iola Economic Development Committee.
“It’s one of those things where (the village) wants (Taylor Field) to be good. (Brian and his group) want it to be good. But it’s not something you can just improve in a year’s time,” Briquelet said. “We have to have a plan and from that plan devise how much we can spend on a yearly basis, and improve (Taylor Field) slowly but gradually.”
Once the private group of baseball dads has the financing in place, they run a proposed project by the village. When they get approval, they then move forward with initiating specific renovations.
The money raised so far has been earmarked to install new fencing around the field and put up netting behind home plate to help protect spectators and vehicles in the parking lot behind the field. To keep costs down, Korb was able to salvage the netting from the driving range at Glacier Wood Golf Course when the course recently opted to replace its netting.
In addition, the Iola Lions Club agreed to cover the cost of installing new bleachers.
“We are definitely moving in the right direction, but there is a lot more to be done,” Timdal said. “Brian has been a huge leader in the drive to make Taylor Field what it can be.”
Korb estimates that the cost of having new lights installed at $150,000. He also would like to eventually replace the scoreboard.
Once the fencing and netting projects are complete, the attention will turn to grading the infield. He hopes that can be completed before next winter arrives.
There is no quick fix and funding for all the remaining projects still needs to be raised. But progress has been made on the renovation of Taylor Field, and the desire to return the facility to the worthy home of youth, high school and American Legion baseball again.
“The biggest challenge is finding the time and days that work in (volunteer’s) schedules to work on the projects,” Korb said. “We want to make (Taylor Field) something to be proud of again.”
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