Wyoming historian, 86, died on Monday at home
When it comes to the history of the Wyoming and Forest Lake area, there aren’t many who know more than Ken Banta did. As a descendant of the pioneer family that put down roots in Wyoming in 1857, Banta took pride in knowing and preserving the past.
Perhaps that is why he never strayed too far or too long from the Banta family farm, just a mile north of Forest Lake and the county line.
The area lost another key pipeline to the past on Monday, Dec. 2, with Banta’s death. He was 86 when he died suddenly at his home in Wyoming. Banta and his wife, Arliss, have called the Banta farm home since 1959.
“That was everything,” Mark Banta said of his father’s love of history. “He pretty much lived to get the community to understand (history).”
The elder Banta was a pack rat of sorts. He kept huge volumes of family letters and documents that clearly identify important dates and events in local history.
Mark Banta said he spent time this summer and fall recording videos of his father’s stories and descriptions of photos saved in albums.
“He wanted to keep history going,” Mark Banta said.
Ken Banta had long been active in Wyoming historical documentation. He also shared his knowledge and treasure trove of documents with the Chisago County Historical Society. When history buffs in Forest Lake became serious about documenting the past three years ago, Banta was there to share what he could and work at the summer museums.
Ken Banta was an expert on country schools that once served the area. Mark Banta said that his father had deep family pride in a deed dated in November 1860 that conveyed an acre of Banta family farm property to Forest Lake School No. 9 for the first schoolhouse.
The elder Banta was equally proud that many of the first prominent Forest Lake settlers actually lived in what is today Wyoming on the north side of the chain of lakes, his son said.
Family ties strong
Ken Banta was a fourth generation Banta to live on the home place. It was 1857 when his great-grandfather Isaac Banta homesteaded 160 acres. It was here that his grandfather and father, Isaac Marion Banta and Vernon Banta, respectively, were born and raised.
Ken Banta was born on Nov. 29, 1927, in Minneapolis to Vernon and Darlene Banta and spent the first 11 years of life in the Twin Cities. Mark Banta said summers for his father were often spent on the farm, even after his parents moved to Arlington, Va., where his father worked on disability programs for the federal government. Vernon Banta had lost an arm in a dredging accident on the farm as a young man, Mark Banta said.
“He (Ken Banta) came home every summer that he could,” his son said.
A permanent move to Minnesota was blocked by military service, but only for a short time. He joined the Army in the waning days of World War II following high school graduation in Arlington in 1945.
He rose to the rank of staff sergeant during the war and saw duty during the Allied occupation of Austria. His civilian life spanned a little over a year following World War II before he was recalled to the Army during the Korean War. He attended a military school in Washington, D.C., and went back to active service in Korea as a first lieutenant, his family said.
After the military, he moved to Minnesota and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1955 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture and economics. It was at the university where he met Arliss Plotnik, a nursing student. They married on March 29, 1955.
He worked with Hormel in Austin as a hog buyer and worked for the company in Nebraska before coming home. In 1959, Ken and Arliss Banta purchased the Banta place and made the farm their permanent home.
He spent 10 years farming for a living before becoming a loan officer for the Farmers’ Home Administration in Minnesota. He retired in 1986 after 20 years with FHA.
Banta continued to pursue his love of history during retirement. His efforts were centered from the farm. One of his first projects was to fully restore a 1930 Model A Ford. He learned to drive in the Model A and kept the vehicle in pristine condition, Mark Banta said.
He also found time to serve his community. He served on the Forest Lake School Board, the Wyoming Town Board and the Comfort Lake Watershed District.
Ken Banta was a key player in the formation of historical societies in Wyoming and Forest Lake.
“He was the glue,” said Diane Finnemann who led the drive to establish a Forest Lake historical group in 2011. “He was so knowledgeable about this area. I don’t know if we have many people left with that knowledge.”
Finnemann said Banta’s willingness to donate his time and historical artifacts were anchors in three successful summer museums.
“He has his own museum, practically,” she said.
Finnemann, who is no longer active with the Forest Lake group, said Banta’s passion for history was something he shared with anyone who would listen.
“He really valued the history,” she said. “He loved talking with the kids. He so enjoyed it.”
Mark Banta said he will attempt to continue some of his father’s efforts to preserve area history. For the past 20 years, Mark Banta has farmed 40 acres of lowland on the farm growing hay that is fed to horses and used for cover hay. He also owns a 10-acre parcel that borders the Banta place.
A memorial service for Ken Banta will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Forest Lake, with family visitation at 10. Memorials are preferred to Hosanna Lutheran.
He is survived by his wife, Arliss; children Keith, Kathy (Dominic) Comeratte, David (Beth), Mark (Cynthia) and Doug; seven grandchildren; five great-grandchildren.
An interment of ashes and family gathering in honor of Ken Banta will take place sometime next summer on the Banta farm and at Wyoming United Methodist Church Cemetery, the family has decided.
Cards and memorials may be sent to the family in care of Mattson Funeral Home, 343 North Shore Drive, Forest Lake, MN 55025, or by visiting www.mattsonfuneralhome.com.