July 7, 2012
By Dave Adkins – Sr. Class President
“The “Class of 57” offers a toast. . .” (opening line of the class song written by Helen “Saundy” Olson, former Grinnell Schools English teacher). . .
Fifty-five years ago on a rainy spring evening the GHS class of 1957 received their diplomas and walked out of the old high school building on 4th Avenue for the last time “to seek our fortunes” – same building where many of our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents had made a similar exit years before. Some of us married and settled in Grinnell, a few went into the Army or Navy, others went off to college. On July 7, 2012, members of the class gather again in Grinnell to celebrate their 55th Reunion. In Mexico, they have a saying: “El tiempo se mueve solo en una dirección”. Time moves in only one direction. There’s no truth to the rumor that the theme of the reunion was going to be based on what Papillon, played by Steve McQueen, said to French police officials after 5 years in solitary confinement in a cell on Devil’s Island, “You *#*#*, I’m Still Here!”. We started with 104 graduates and twenty-seven is my count of class mates who will join us in spirit as their name is read at the Mayflower Dining Room in their fond remembrance this evening.
Purchased from O’Connor Photography of Grinnell
Class reunions mean many things to different people. I read an article written by Bob Covey on the Ames High School class of 1957, 50th Reunion. Bill Stuart, a great Ames High athlete living in Australia, made the trip back to Ames wearing a business suit and carrying a shaving kit. Early on the Sunday morning of the week-end activities, Bill was seen wading in the pond at the Iowa State golf course with his suit pants rolled up hunting golf balls – something he had done as a kid growing up in Ames. Bill passed away in Australia exactly one year after that reunion.
Most of us were born and raised in or near this small, quiet burg whose economic activity centers on Grinnell College, agriculture, a couple of factories and small businesses – a pretty ordinary place in America in the 50’s. Grinnell looks good today, but really not much different outside of the flower pots on the street corners, just like Des Moines. In those days, there were unofficial dividing lines in Grinnell designated by North and South of Sixth Avenue and North and South of the Rock Island RR tracks and “farm kids”, but that all pretty much melted away when we all headed to junior high and high school in the same buildings across from the City Park and got to know each other. And the product of that ordinary place, the GHS class of ‘57, turned out pretty normal and engaged in pretty ordinary lives – although each of us views our own as special and extraordinary – legends in our own minds as the saying goes.
I seemed to struggle with my own life for several years after leaving GHS– but went on and graduated from Cornell College in 1962, taught Social Studies and Physical Education and coached basketball at West Liberty and Prairie City (It’s really not a city.), then spent two years as a teacher and coach with the U.S. Dept of Defense Schools on Okinawa. Back from Okinawa one summer, I ran into Edd Bowers and John Pfitsch who had been on sabbaticals to Mozambique and Portugal. They told me that the University of Lourenço Marques, Moçambique was looking for a full time basketball coach and that they would recommend me for the job. I spent three life-changing years in that African city where I became fluent in Portuguese and Spanish and met my wife to be, Geneva, who was working there for the U.S. State Department. We came back to Grinnell in 1974 where Geneva worked at the Alumni Office at the college and I finished writing a dissertation and painted houses for Dick Clark. We married in 1975 and have since lived and worked in Topeka, Kansas; Winter Park, Florida; Overland Park, Kansas; Moraga, California; Brisbane, Australia; Des Moines, Hobart, Australia and then back to Des Moines for 22 years.
We moved to Corpus Christi, Texas last year in August where we are in early stages of our retirements, although I still do some work for a seminar company in Tehuacan, Mexico and some adjunct Spanish teaching. A word on retirement: suggest that you don’t rush into it. If you are ok with what you are doing, figure out how to keep doing it, at least part time. Patrick Fanning, who observes and writes about retired people, says that real people have things to do and that leisure is the booby prize of retirement. I have learned that there’s nothing easy about taking it easy. I make an effort to remember that as I plan my days to be busy without daily job responsibilities.
The above is a brief sketch of where I’ve been since the rainy spring evening 55 years ago. Each of us has our own journey – our class has no astronauts, but we do have a decorated fighter pilot who served in Viet Nam. We have no M.D.’s, no psychiatrists no dentists in our class, but there were a handful of Ph. D’s and a nurse. We do have dedicated mothers, sisters, brothers and housewives. There is on our rolls a Hall of Fame professional cowboy, a PGA golfer, a couple of published writers, college professors, a basketball coach, farmers, a funeral director, a lawyer, an airline stewardess, and some successful entrepreneurs, big city and small town executives, welders, technicians, mechanics and truck drivers following the white zipper from sea to shining sea, salesmen, assembly line workers, and secretaries.
Several moved away. David Johnson, Wally Wittenberg and Doug Foley were among them and would have strengthened our football team. Johnson was an all-state fullback in Missouri, Wittenberg an all-state lineman in Parkersburg and Foley a starter in both basketball and football at Tama High School. A few classmates can’t be located and we know nothing of them. Wonder what has come of Don Stark, Don Baughman and Bill Munford? There are no politicians on our rolls and none of us who has served “hard time” to my knowledge. A class member has become mayor and the poster boy of Grinnell on Jack Mathews’ outstanding website – Our Grinnell. com. Check it out if you haven’t already. Another classmate who used to have a long pigtail and could out run all the boys in her 5th grade Parker School class, became a parole officer in LA and in retirement a high stakes poker player in Las Vegas.
Many of us are now defined more by what we do after our years of work than what our actual jobs were. We have become hunters, trappers, fishermen, collectors, travelers, golfers, linguists, tennis players, poets, musicians, gamblers, bridge players, etc. And, of course, there’s been disease, death, birth, marriage, divorce, remarriage, etc. Like I said, we all have our own journeys and it’s fun to go to a reunion to learn a little about them, not too much, but a little. We have scattered now – California, Arizona, Missouri, Minnesota, New England, New York, Florida, Texas, etc., but we still have a presence in Grinnell through classmates which the out-of-towners greatly appreciate. These class mates living in Grinnell are the only “family” left here for many of us. These reunions become serious benchmarks and we begin to realize that someday they will end. When my mother passed away in 2001, she was one of the two remaining from the GHS class of ’24 and the other, Mildred Paxton, played the organ at her funeral. The class of ’24 officially ended a couple of years later when Mildred passed away.
In spite of all of this reality, I have to remind myself that we shouldn’t lose our senses of humor when we look back and when we contemplate our lives. It is only an experiment. I read about a guy that had carved on his tombstone – “What the hell was that all about?” There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous about how does an AA member becomes an “old timer” in that organization. The answer is that he doesn’t drink and he doesn’t die. As far as high school classes go, old-timers are those whose names are not read in memoriam during the reunion – those who have a combination of good genes, luck, and a healthy life style. Luck seems to be very important in this formula. The class of ’57 offers a toast . . . and wishes everyone your share of that elusive luck. . .
In Memory of:
Mary Ann Palmer