This story ran in the Sioux City Journal April 2, 2002.
Open house brings back memories of Stockyards in its heyday
It didn't take much of a stretch of the imagination Monday to picture 40,000 head of cattle waiting to be sold in the maze of pens at the Sioux City Stockyards.
And without a doubt, many of the men and women who returned to the Sioux City fixture for an open house had that picture in their minds as they pondered a future without the stockyards.
"I'm kind of getting sentimental about it," said Alice Coe, a bookkeeper at the stockyards for 53 years, as her eyes filled with tears.
The last livestock will be sold when the stockyards close on April 1. The covered livestock pens and auction house will be torn down and a Home Depot store will take their place. City planners envision a bustling commercial and retail development to someday cover the stockyards site.
In its day, there was no place in Sioux City bustling like the stockyards. Opened in 1887 and the largest stockyards in the world in 1973 based on salable receipts, the stockyards created an identity for Sioux City. Many of those gathered Monday could remember the days when 40,000 head of cattle would be sold. Monday's sale had about 2,000 to 3,000.
"This has all changed over the years," said Buck Clemens, a cattle buyer for 50 years who is now retired. "I think we're just a victim of the times. It's something that has to go. I don't like it, but there's nothing you can do about it."
Many packers bypass sale barns nowadays and buy directly from farmers and ranchers. It was a trend that led to dwindling sales numbers in Sioux City and other major stockyards.
"You could see it coming. Not too many people are selling at home," said Bill Wecker, who worked as a commission man for Midwest Commissions Firm for 11 years before operating his own buying business for 35 years. Semi-retired, Wecker still comes to the stockyards and buys a few cattle for his own farm. Trends had indicated the stockyards' eventual demise, he said.
"I'd heard the rumors for six months to a year. It was no shock," he said.
Monday's sale likely was the last trip for George Mammenga of Canistota, S.D. Mammenga began selling cattle in Sioux City in the 1950s. He accompanied his son-in-law, Steve Richarz, who bought Mammenga out a few years ago, and his grandson, Adam Richarz, to Monday's sale.
"They make you always feel welcome here. It's the end of an era," Steve Richarz said. "It used to be the largest market in the country. We had the largest group of cattle today. We sold 100 head of fat cattle."
Richarz said it is disappointing to lose another market. He said he is considering selling straight to a packing plant next year.
As the cattle passed through the sales floor below, former buyers, commission men and stockyards employees renewed acquaintances in the auction house, swapped stories and relived memories.
"A lot of the old shippers are coming in to say hi and goodbye," said Connie Sponder, the stockyards' secretary/bookkeeper for 25 years.
Just outside the stairway leading to the catwalk to the auction house, Wayne Lamprecht of Ponca, Neb., fired up his grill for one of the last times. The owner of a bowling alley and restaurant, Lamprecht grills hamburgers and hot dogs at the stockyards and once operated the lunch stand. He also has been a commission man for 22 years.
"It's sad to see it go. I guess times are changing," he said. "It's going to be a sad day the last day I'm here."
Although a total number of visitors wasn't available by late afternoon, stockyards manager Roger Gaswint said 750 hamburgers and 400 hot dogs were consumed.