The Albert Lea High School class of ‘64 is holding its 50th class reunion this coming weekend, August 8th and 9th. The class of ’64 was the first class to be significantly bigger than the preceding class, but as the baby boom continued, classes got so big they had to hold graduation at the fairgrounds. So we led the boom, were much bigger than the class of ‘63, but we weren't the biggest class.
In ’64 the downtown was the hub of the community, stores were open until 9 p.m. on Friday nights and “dragging Broadway” was what we did on Friday and Saturday nights. There were many “hang outs” like Phil’s Café, Field’s Pizza Cellar, Dee’s Drive-in, and we would spend a lot of time at the Broadway and Rivoli Theaters. In those days it seems like there was a drive-in in almost every area of town that offered burgers, fries and shakes. You could get a pronto pup and a frosty mug of root beer at the A&W drive-in, which was a popular place when you were dragging Broadway. We liked hot cars and, unlike today, they didn’t all look the same. It seems as if there were almost as many car clubs around back then as there were drive-ins.
The teen center was a popular place where live bands would usually perform on weekends. There were bands like the Closers, Little Cesar and the Conspirators, Surfin’ Ole and a lot more whose names elude me. The Starlight Drive-in was also on the list of popular places we liked to go on weekends. Summers were usually spent hanging out at the beach during the day and dragging Broadway at night. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to be drag racing on South Broadway or the Bath Road on a Friday or Saturday night, not for pink slips but for bragging rights.
Growing up north of town in the ‘50s and attending Hammer School, which was where the football field is located today, afforded me six years of country school education. The years spent there are probably the most memorable of all my school years. This is where not only the three “R’s” were taught, but where many valuable life lessons were learned as well. As kids we learned politics from our parents and whoever Dad supported, he was the man! I remember when Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower ran for president and the “I Like Ike” button that my Uncle Orville left at the house because he knew my dad was a staunch Democrat.
For us baby boomers, life was fairly simple back then and most importantly we learned to be creative because we made our own brand of fun. I can remember playing kickball and other organized games on phy. ed day when Mr. Maas would come to the school and oversee our play time. This, however, was not the play time we looked forward to; the best times were at recess when we played games on our own like Red Rover and ones that we had created.
Our class was the first one to go all three years through Southwest, which was a brand spanking new school. Although it was an adjustment coming from a two room schoolhouse to the big glass one, those were good years with good teachers and lots of memories.
During our days at Central High School we had certain rules that we had to adhere to, like a pretty strict dress code. Loren Ward, our superintendent, was ex-Army and his rules were strict and pretty much without any flex. Our lunch time was actually our own and that was a time when we could go out of the building and eat lunch. Some days I would bring a sack lunch and eat in my or someone else’s car. Most days however, I would go to Shea’s Ice Cream Store where you could get a couple of those “silver dollar” hamburgers, milk and an ice cream roll for about 50 cents. If you wanted to eat a little lighter there was Merrill’s popcorn stand on the corner of Broadway and Clark.
Probably the one day that sticks in my mind the most is the day that President Kennedy was shot. I was sitting in Mr. Christopherson’s social studies class when that stunning news came over the speaker. I can remember spending the next few days intently watching the events unfold on our old black & white 19-inch Zenith. I was watching when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV.
After graduation you either got a job or you went to school, but always in the back of the minds of us young men was the reality of the Vietnam War and the draft. This affected a lot of our classmates and many changes followed; most of us made it home safely, but some gave the ultimate sacrifice and they should never be forgotten.
The following two paragraphs were part of a book introduction written by a classmate of mine; Joan Claire Graham:
We share a common background. Most of us grew up in Albert Lea. Only a few of our moms worked outside the home, most of us attended church as children, and if our dads were not farmers or professionals, they held down steady jobs at factories like Wilsons, Queen Stove, Universal and Streater. We were the first of the post war boomers, babies born during a time of optimism that carried our country into a new era of growth and prosperity. Men used GI benefits to get an education or buy a house, and the population exploded, triggering a building boom in Albert Lea. Very few homes in the Ginkel Addition, Garden Villa or Shoreland Heights were built before 1945. From the time we were born until we graduated from high school, the population of our little city grew by 35%.
Although we were expected to help our parents at home, most of us spent the better part of our summers outdoors riding bikes and roller skates, playing neighborhood games of make-believe and participating in organized or disorganized sports. Parents who lived through the Great Depression raised us conservatively and encouraged us to do well in school so we could get a good job and become independent. They endorsed school discipline that included consequences for failure to obey rules, a dress code, and occasionally corporal punishment. They supported a curriculum that offered a rich variety of classes in humanities, foreign languages, math and science, business, agriculture and technical training. The school offered extracurricular activities, and the city, churches and organizations sponsored additional opportunities after school and during summer. It seemed as though everyone wanted us to do our best.
Joan was right when she said that we were encouraged to do our best. I have to honestly say that if it were not for a couple of fine folks — Grace Dahle, my 12th-grade English teacher, and later on, Jim Lutgens, a former sports editor for the Tribune — I would not be writing today.