Albert Lea class of 1964 looks back on 50 years

Published 6:00am Sunday, August 3, 2014

Column: Woods & Water, by Dick Herfindahl

The Albert Lea High School class of ‘64 will have its 50th class reunion August 8 and 9. The class of ’64 was the first class to be significantly bigger than the preceding class. As the baby boom continued, classes became so big the school needed to have graduation at the fairgrounds. So we led the boom and were much bigger than the class of ’63, but we weren’t the biggest class.

The Albert Lea boys’ basketball team played Lyle on March 16, 1962, according to Joan Graham. At the time, Albert Lea had three of Minnesota’s top 10 scorers on its starting five and was considered a contender for the state tournament. Minnesota only had one division, so schools as large as Minneapolis North played schools as small as Edgerton. Lyle upset Albert Lea in the game. — Provided
The Albert Lea boys’ basketball team played Lyle on March 16, 1962, according to Joan Graham. At the time, Albert Lea had three of Minnesota’s top 10 scorers on its starting five and was considered a contender for the state tournament. Minnesota only had one division, so schools as large as Minneapolis North played schools as small as Edgerton. Lyle upset Albert Lea in the game. — Provided

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 hangouts like Phil’s Café, Field’s Pizza Cellar, Dee’s Drive-In, and my friends and I would spend a lot of time at the Broadway and Rivoli Theaters. In those days, it seemed 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 usually performed on weekends. There were bands like the Closers, Little Caesar 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 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 Rs 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 that my dad was a staunch Democrat.

The Rivoli Theater featured Saturday and Sunday matinees and Saturday afternoon double features, according to Tribune columnist Dick Herfindahl. — Provided
The Rivoli Theater featured Saturday and Sunday matinees and Saturday afternoon double features, according to Tribune columnist Dick Herfindahl. — Provided

For us baby boomers, life was fairly simple back then. Most importantly, we learned to be creative because we made our own brand of fun. I remember playing kickball and other organized games on phy-ed day when Mr. (LeRoy) Maas would come to the school and oversee our play time. This, however, was not the play time that we looked forward to; the best times were at recess when we played games on our own like red rover and ones that we created.

Our class was the first one to go all three years through Southwest, which was a brand-spankin’ 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 adhered to, including 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 we could go out of the building and eat lunch. Some days I would bring a sack lunch and eat in mine or someone else’s car. Most days however, I would go to Shea’s Ice Cream Store where you could get 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 and white 19-inch Zenith TV. 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 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 the introduction to “50 Years… ALHS Class of 1964” written by my classmate, 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 who carried our country into a new era of growth and prosperity. Men used G.I. 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 35 percent.

Shea’s Ice Cream Store was a favorite hangout for kids in 1964. — Provided
Shea’s Ice Cream Store was a favorite hangout for kids in 1964. — Provided

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 unorganized 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 including 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.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.