Prep Sports

Remembering Volga City: High school's only coach when it closed 'was busy all day long'

Ogden column: 90-year-old Lloyd Sodawasser has fond memories of Volga City

Lloyd Sodawasser, now 90 and living in Marion, turned over his file in this 2007 file photo, after 40 years with the Tri
Lloyd Sodawasser, now 90 and living in Marion, turned over his file in this 2007 file photo, after 40 years with the Tri-Rivers Conference. Sodawasser also was the only coach at Volga City when that school closed after the 1960-61 school year. (The Gazette)

Lloyd Sodawasser doesn’t remember the “Boatmen” of Volga City.

But he remembers Volga City very well — and very fondly.

When Jeff Linder pitched the idea behind our “May Mascot Madness” series, my first thought was how it would rekindle memories for many of our newspaper readers. These now-defunct schools were special to many, many people. They gave these towns an identity, often through a sport team or an entire athletics program.

When now 90-year-old Sodawasser showed up at Volga City in the mid-1950s, he was coming home in a sense. He grew up in Guttenberg, not far the town now known only as Volga in western Clayton County.

“It was only four years, but the most wonderful four years,” said Sodawasser’s wife of 65 years, Dar.

Her husband, a recent graduate of the University of Dubuque, was a hit. Dar found out years later many of the girls thought their new teacher and coach was handsome.

“They actually adored my husband,” she said with a laugh.

Lloyd adored the people of Volga City, too. He coached all the sports at the school — baseball and softball in the fall and spring, girls’ and boys’ basketball in the winter. Varsity and junior high.

And he taught several classes every day.

“I look back on that and I think ‘how did I do that?’” he said. “Of course, I was a young man.”

He coached the junior high teams during physical education classes — “we didn’t have too many games ... but we had enough to satisfy them,” he said — and the varsity teams after school. The girls’ basketball team, for instance, would practice right after school, the boys’ team at 6 p.m.

He would coach the baseball and softball teams on opposite days during the two seasons.

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“Three days a week, I would coach the boys and two days, the girls,” Sodawasser said. “The next week, I’d do the opposite.”

Games were doubleheaders.

“I was busy all day long,” he said.

Sodawasser remembers that 1960-61 school year, the last before the Blue Devils (as they were know at the time) merged with Elkader (now Elkader Central).

“They just knew that they couldn’t go on much more,” he said. “The sophomore class had 10 kids in it.

“It was hard to keep a building open with very few people going ... they needed to go somewhere else.”

But it didn’t make it any easier on the people of Volga City, especially the students. Some didn’t want to go to Elkader.

“It was kind of a sad year,” Sodawasser said. “... they liked their school.”

When Volga City closed, Sodawasser was hoping to catch on at Elkader. He loves the area, of course, and everything about northeast Iowa.

“Elkader did not hire one of our teachers,” he said. “... that was surprising.

“When that school closed it was just forgotten.”

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He remembers a 6-foot-5 freshman his last year — “back then that was a big man,” he said — and that there were good baseball teams.

“I remember mostly the kids,” he said.

Sodawasser ended up heading to Linn County and became a coach and administrator at Coggon, which is now known as North Linn.

But he still heads to Volga and, he and Dar said, Volga still comes to see him.

At his 90th birthday party August, two bus loads to folks from Volga attended and “stayed for the whole thing,” Dar said.

“We had 40 people come down to help me celebrate my 90th birthday,” Lloyd said. “I was just so pleased.”

“The people up there are the nicest people,” Dar said.

Sodawasser ended up teaching for 39 years and coached for 38 of those. He has fond memories of all the stops, but his first job will always hold a special place in his heart.

“They were just tremendous kids up there,” he said.

Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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