Archived Story

Marching in the past of a different drum

Published 2:36pm Friday, May 20, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

Not long ago Tribune Editor Tim Engstrom asked me about a bass drum he happened to see while eating ice cream with his young son at Trail’s Travel Center. On the drum head was the wording of “Saint Mary’s School” and a depiction of a cross in the center. Above the cross can be seen the words “Albert Lea” and below is “Minn.” Tim wanted to know more about this school of the past.

A St. Mary’s School drum sits on a ledge in the food court at Trail’s Travel Center along with other relics. -- Ed Shannon/Albert Lea Tribune

I explained that St. Mary’s was a Catholic junior high school once located near the corner of Hawthorne Street and Garfield Avenue. Its building and gymnasium are now part of the Thorne Crest Retirement Community.

As a result of our conversation, I decided to see where this drum is now located. Following Tim’s directions, I saw it in the north end of Trail’s Travel Center. This portion of what some folks may still call a truck stop is the eating area for a food court. This old drum is in the corner up on a ledge near the ceiling directly across from the Verizon and Pizza Hut Express locations. Also located in this same part of the big building are Coldstone Creamery and McDonald’s.

Now right at this point would be a logical place to explain more about this particular junior high school and its band.

Because of overcrowding at St. Theodore’s School on East Clark Street, St. Mary‘s was opened in the fall of 1954 as a junior high school. Today, we call these places middle schools.

Among the educational activities at this school was a band of about 30 students directed by Cecil Turner, a former member of Skipper Berg’s famous Viking Accordion Band of Albert Lea.

Both St. Theodore’s and St. Mary’s ceased operations in 1971. (St. Theodore’s reopened as an elementary school in 1995.)

I have seen this particular drum several times in the past. During the time of its existence this student band was in several local parades. Also, the drum was on display somewhere in town after St. Mary’s closed. I thought that place was the Freeborn County Historical Museum. Yet, somehow the drum now on display at Trail’s Travel Center has to be authentic. And it’s unlikely there were two bass drums for this band.

On my next visit to the museum, next to the Bridge Avenue entry to the fairgrounds, I asked Pat Mulso about this drum. She is the executive director.

Mulso said the drum and other items on display in the north eating area at Trail’s are on loan from the museum. This clearly indicates the drum was originally donated to the museum when St. Mary’s closed.

This drum is on the left side of what can be easily called an elevated museum on the ledge near the ceiling on two sides of this portion of Trail’s.

With this drum are several dolls, a toy baby carriage, a collection of farm tools and implements, an old clothes basket and a wooden clothes rack. But wait, there are even more items from the past on that long ledge, such as an old bike for boys, an accordion, several glass milk bottles, a toy truck and what appears to be a old wooden plow.

What makes this particular display special, besides the old bass drum from St. Mary’s School, are those other items. They have local connections which could revive memories for some area residents and other folks stopping in at Trail’s Travel Center.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.