Class of 1957 GHS 60th Reunion Introduction September 16-19, 2017

                        Class of 1957 GHS 60th Reunion Introduction             

                                      September 16-19, 2017

                                      Mayflower Bar and Grill

                                      Grinnell, Iowa

So it’s so long, to so many, so far behind us,
those lovers and friends, that we no longer know.
We’ve still got old photos and songs to remind us,
of someone we used to be, so long ago.

60th class of 57

Thanks to the Reunion Committee:  Chairperson: Pat Cogley, Administrator: Karen Peterson, Patty Peak, Mary Davis, Sherry Adkins, Jack Byers – great fun working on this committee and so much effort by all.

*Great meal tonight –  you can’t miss on the Mayflower’s dinners – don’t know how it was on the Pinta and Santa Maria, but the Mayflower has always been very good.

We are a unique class –  we attended four years of high school in a hotel, played basketball there in a ballroom and our wrestling team trained in a Honeymoon Suite.  Only high school in the world with room service, a cocktail lounge and valet parking.  Picture this – sitting in Miss Cook’s 9 a.m. English class and there’s a knock on the classroom door.  She says, “Who would that be?”  Student says, “Must be my breakfast, Miss Cook, or the valet with my car keys.”

Why on earth do we need valet parking?  Valets don’t forget where they parked our car. .    Back then, the hotel was across the street from a simple, pleasant park, not a construction site.

So welcome to Grinnell College, Iowa.  Thought I’d take a stroll around the square and was told I needed a college I.D.  .  I figured, well I’ll just go over to Newton and walk their square and maybe pick up a new washer from the Maytag factory.  Guy over there tried to sell me a super-sonic windmill. . .no more washing machines in Washer City.  The average age in Newton these days is deceased.

*When I came in tonight, Larry Criswell asked me if that wasn’t the same shirt I wore at the reunion of 2012.  That answer is I have a shirt for everyday of the week – this is it.

John and Mary 60th Reunion:  John and Mary were classmates and friends and after high school they were married to other people.  The two couples socialized often. On their 60th high school reunion,  John as a widower asked Mary, a widow, for her hand in marriage.  She accepted.   The next morning John was stressed,  he couldn’t believe what had happened the night before.  He called Mary on her cell phone and asked her, “Did you accept my proposal last night?”  Mary replied, “Yes, I did and I am so happy you called,  I couldn’t remember who asked me.”

Is this really you and me – us – in 2017 or will we find that when we leave tonight and we will have only been pretending 60 years had passed and it was really only a senior class party in 1957 with the theme “The Future” and the way we look tonight were only paper-maché masks we made depicting what we guessed we would look like 60 years hence.  And at home we take off the masks and find ourselves 18 years old again and go back to school on Monday.

I fear not – the age of patch and repair is upon us.

We are now at the stage of our lives where there are few questions to be answered.  We know the answers – what jobs we would have; who we would marry;  how many kids;  who would die and in what order. .  We are the class with all the answers.  The results have been tabulated.

Mark Twain said aging is an issue of mind over matter,  if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

On graduation night in June of 1957,  I somehow recall Gary Buffum walking down the old auditorium aisle toward the stage to receive his diploma.  I didn’t know him well, not really a high school friend,  but a classmate – anyway,  Buff had swagger as his black gown flowed behind.  He had a little clout as Joe, his dad, was a wheeler-dealer as a business entrepreneur as owner of the famous White Spot and the Bowladrome,  place of after school employment for several of our class mates – Harold Moyer,  Bob Locker, Ray Harris,  Bill Smith,  Gene Heinlie were some of those.  Buff used to be seen descreetly smoking a long cigarette,  must have been a Pall Mall,  on his off school property time.

I asked myself as Gary proceeded across the stage to shake hands with our distinguished Superintendent of Schools,  Kyle Jones,  what is he going to do with his life?  Well, he took immediate action and served in the U.S. Navy from 1957-1961.  He lived his life in Pittsfield, Mass. and worked 25 years for General Electric.  He had a son.   He died on Dec. 23, 1994.   His long-time companion, Barbara Rice, journeyed to Grinnell by Rock Island Railroad for his funeral.  Gary made only one visit back to Grinnell by train after high school as he hated flying.

Anyway, when Gary died, Gene Heinlie on behalf of the family went to the Grinnell Depot to meet Barbara and take her back to the Buffum’s home.  Gene arrived, looked around and saw a nice looking woman of color waiting inside the depot,  it was Barbara Rice.  Why do I tell this story?  When Gene related it to me a few years ago,  I was moved for sure.   Gary Buffum had the courage to follow his feelings and instincts to partner with a woman whom he apparently loved.  He was a man ahead of his time –  he could see a truth on a cultural subject which we all at times I imagine have been hypocritical and maybe still have not come to grips with.

Another answer we have is about the character of one of our classmates. . . Another classmate, Eldon Criswell, saved lives with his quick thinking west of Grinnell while working for the RI Railroad resurfacing the tracks in summer of 1961 – tell story. (See full story on last two pages).

GHS Class of 1917 – 100 years ago –  familiar names in yearbook

Willy Kearney

Eldon Olds

Ray George

Sy Inman

Karl Cessna – father of Ken Cessna – Corpus Christi, TX.

Did you know that Howard Edwards, Barbara’s dad, was a 1924 graduate of Grinnell College with a major in Greek?

That Gerald Laros of Laros Newstand – was born in Grinnell in 1898 but graduated from Stanford U in California in 1920 and his son, Gerry, who became a prominent surgeon, also attended Stanford as well as Northwestern Medical School. .

Re:  The Grinnell High School Class of 1957’s 60th Reunion in Grinnell, Iowa in 2017

“The “Class of 57” offers a toast. . .” (opening  line of the class song written by Helen “Saundy”  Olson, former  Grinnell  Schools  English teacher). . .

Who are we?  Born between 1930 and 1940, after WWI and just before or right at the start of WWII.  As a self-appointed historian for this occasion,  I know I Iack objectivity because I am one of us.   I have tried to become educated about the Golden Years, but was able to find very little information about it. Plenty of stuff about babies, children, adolescents, young adults, and middle age – but little about us where we are now in our lives.

We survived being born by mothers who might have smoked or drank when they were pregnant and or took aspirin, ate tuna from a can and didn’t get tested for diabetes.  They put us to sleep on our tummies in cribs covered with lead based paints.  We wore baseball caps, not helmets when riding a bike and rode in cars with no seat belts, no booster seats and no air bags.

We were born before chickens had fingers, before buffalos had wild wings, before TV, penicillin, pizza, polio shots, frozen foods, Zerox, contact lenses and birth control pills.  There were no credit cards, laser beams or ball point pens – no pantyhose, air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes dryers and clothes were hung outside to dry.  How many of you have had a “spit bath by handkerchief in public from you mom?”

We never heard of FM, tape decks, electric typewriters or guys wearing earrings.  Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and instant coffee were in the future. There were 3 things we didn’t have at the kitchen table – elbows, hats and cell phones.  We are called senior citizens or over the hill.  We remember party telephone lines, 25 cent gas, and milk delivered to our front doors.  . WE WERE SO LUCKY TO HAVE BEEN RAISED IN THE 50’S.  Somehow we managed school, work, and extra-curricular activities.  Some of us rode the school bus and we did reports in the library using Encyclopedia Britannica. . Life was simple, but looking back it seemed to be fun.

Let’s reflect:

60 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.  But the sons and daughters of your classmates did not- they went to the new school. Some of us married, worked and settled in Grinnell, a few went into the Army or Navy, others went off to college.

On Sept. 16, 2017, members of the class gather again in Grinnell to celebrate their 60th Reunion. 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 over forty 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 a little later this evening.

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 reunion activities, Bill was seen wading in the pond at the Iowa State golf course with his suit pants rolled up over his knees 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, maybe as good as it has ever been on all fronts, but really somewhat different with the Hotel Grinnell, Condos in the Spaulding and Legion Building, the renovation of the old shoe factory and more.  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, yet successful in our own ways 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.

There were 25 students from rural areas in our class.  (Students from Rural Areas:  Karen Peterson)


1.     Upon graduation ten classmates decided to start a Round Robin Letter and sixty years later, it still makes the rounds.  When it comes there is a letter from each member; they take out the one they wrote and add another and send it on its way.   Members:  Janet Dexter Ryan, Lois Laymiller Hoksbergen, Mary Williams Johnson, Pat Cogley Lang, Marilyn Millgate Peery, Dee Miner Saunders, Vanita Plesek Seeberger, Sharon Ferneau Wassom, Dorothy Siehl Wolverton, and Karen Petersen Groves.  

2.      Rural students of the one-room country schools had to take an exam and pass it to go to high school.  Many were the only person in the grade so they had no comparison to know if they had a chance of passing that exam.  It was quite a threat and worry the day they all met in Montezuma to take the exam.  They practiced a program the same day as all rural eighth graders participated in the program, had a photo taken of the entire group, and received their diplomas a couple weeks later.

3.     When President Dwight Eisenhower was being inaugurated in 1952, only one family in the school district had a television so  all went to that house that day to watch the big event!  Quite a remembrance!

Walking to school was customary as it was dirt or mud roads to get there quite often.  Pat lived 2 miles from school—one mile gravel and one mile dirt.  Karen was 1 ½ miles from school and all was mud or dirt.  It was common to cut across fields (over or under fences, etc.) and have a little less walking.  Also if it was pasture it was a lot easier to walk on than mud.  Of course, there could be livestock in this area as well.

Teachers were sometimes hard to come by as they could not be married, they often roomed at a nearby home.  Since there was only one teacher, this person would have to start the fire for heat, see that water was obtained from a nearby farm, etc.  

 Pat’s mother was a teacher beginning at age 18, she probably had students quite close to her in age.

 With students in nine grades, the teacher had her hands full but the older students sometimes helped out with the younger ones.

 The outdoor privies were always upset at Halloween time as a prank so someone would have to come and set them back up.  In our years we always had two—one for the boys and one for the girls.  That might have been different before that.

 A couple times a nearby school would come to another school to visit.  One time Chester #1 (Lorna Beck’s school) came to visit Sheridan #3 (Karen’s school) and another time Sheridan #4 (Don Mayo and Pat Lang’s school) came to visit Karen’s school (Sheridan #3).  


 I spent three life-changing years in an African city where and I met my wife to be, Geneva, who was working there for the U.S. State Department.  I was coaching basketball and we had a game with a US Navy ship and went back to the ship for a lunch afterwards and I saw Don Beck there. (embellish)

Seldom did a day pass during that time when I didn’t think for a moment or two about friends or family in Grinnell, whether they were still on Main Street or had checked into the Hazelwood Condominiums.

Years ago when Hollis Sisco was home on leave from the Navy,  I asked him if he got homesick when he was thousands of miles from home.  He said that before he went to sleep at night on the ship he always thought about what was going on in Grinnell at that moment.  Grinnell has always been “home” for me and many of us and always will be.

We moved to Corpus Christi, Texas last year 2011 where we have passed the early stages of our retirements.   The first neighbor I met in Texas was Joe Penne, first cousin of Jack Penne, the Mr. Penne who taught World History at GHS.

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.  Another booby prize, get used to being called “Sweetie” by middle-aged waitresses.  The lady at Casey’s here calls me “Hon”.

I have learned that there’s nothing easy about taking it easy.  Have found it’s a good idea to make an effort to remember to plan an activity of some kind every day and to be busy doing something that makes sense to us since we usually don’t have daily job responsibilities.

The inevitable question always comes up from strangers, “What kind of job do you have?”  I have considered using some creative terms to describe my retired activities:  like walking my dog, Holly, I would call it “geographical exploration” along with cardiovascular stimulation;  reading, as “technical and general research” and my daily trip for coffee with friends as “professional consulting”.  Oh, well.  What’s the difference?  I am just grateful to be here.


I doubt there are many among us who do not read the obituaries.  Reading about the death of a friend or of an acquaintance can be a short reminder of local history.  When I read of “loving, adoring, and cherished” to describe the deceased, I sometimes scratch my head.  You can’t really get away with anything living in Grinnell, and some of those adjectives just don’t fit the person I used to know.   Even the “will be sorely missed” part at times is a stretch.   Then there is the “surrounded by family” makes me think of the Apaches circling a wagon train just before preparing for an attack on his will.

Yogi Berra said he liked to go funerals of his friends because then they would come to his.

These days the past seems to be a good place to park and spend our time. I suppose one reason is that it has not changed for us and we tend to remember or adjust it to a safe, pleasant place, although many times it was not that.  Even in its reliable form it is almost all we have.  My mother in her old age favored movies and books with happy endings – not an ending hanging with no real conclusion.


Things have changed at GHS. There is a state of the art theatre and stage. Athletic facilities and training facilities are, well, we would have thought incredible – the people who want to build motors could do so in the high school lab and home economics is probably high tech too. (Many of us were listening more to our glands than to the teacher – that part is probably the same today.) I imagine Christopher Columbus had pretty much the same emotions as we do. Life changes, hopefully they are all good.

Each of us has had 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 there are nurses.  We do have dedicated mothers, sisters, brothers, housewives and husbands.  There is on our rolls a Hall of Fame professional cowboy, a highway patrolman, 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 of the interstates from sea to shining sea; we have 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.  Had there been a swimming team, Sharp Lannom, Frank James and a couple of others swam like fish and had there been more opportunities for our girls, I imagine we would have had a strong girls teams in all sports, although Sherry Hagen and Kathy Killian did have the opportunity to distinguish themselves in interscholastic girls’ tennis.

A few classmates can’t be located and we know nothing of them. Wonder what has become of Don Stark, Tom Gregory, Don Baughman, Bill Munford and Kay Craig?  There are no politicians on our rolls and as far as we know none of us who has served “hard time”  – maybe there’s a link.  A class member has become mayor for Grinnell and the town has a web site– Our Grinnell. com.

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 coffee drinkers, hunters, trappers, fishermen, philosophers, 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, Utah, Texas, etc., but we still have a presence in Grinnell through classmates whom 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. There’s the story of 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 a very important ingredient in this formula.  The class of ’57 offers a toast . . . and wishes everyone our share of that elusive luck. . . (Patty Johnson will read list of deceased class mates, then after that,  we will continue with a Reunion Quiz).

In Memory of:

Paul Ahrens  1989

Lorna Beck 2014

Linda Bensen 2014

Dennis Brubaker  1989

Gary  Buffum  1993

Mary Jane Bullock 2013

Bob Clapp 2010

Ralph Cooper 1961

Eldon Criswell 2009

John Ditzler 2016

Barbara Edwards 1979

Guy French 1982

Judy Johnson 2014

Bill Jones 2017

Carolyn Jones 1986

Nancy Kahl 2000

Donna Larsen 1998

Gary Lincoln 2013

Ed Little 1983

Ramsey McKey 2013

Ray McDonald  2009

Bonnie Miller  1971

Jim Mitchell 2002

Jerry Monroe 2014

Sam Mullins 1969

Mary Ann Palmer 2008

Bill Phipps  2003

John Renaud 1990

Lynda Robison 2015

Betty See 2007

Small Lois  2015

Bill Smith 1962

Kay Smith   1982

Larry Snider 2015

Bob Sowerwine 2015

Charlotte Strand 2002

Dorothy Strong 2016

Ronnie Sutton 1998

Louie Taylor  2009

Marilyn Thompson 2014

Jim Tomlinson  1998

John Wassom 2011

Warren Weaver 2011

Bill Werneburg 2004

Dorothy Wiley 2016

Clair Wilson 2009

Bill Windsor  2015

Now a 60 year memory quiz –

1.  Who was the Latin teacher?

2.  Who taught typing?

3.  Who was a substitute teacher you remember?

4.  Who was our junior high principal?

5.  High school math teachers?

6.  Junior high coach?

7.  Guidance counselor?

8.  Became a lawyer and was married to a classmate.  (Name both)

9.  Who was?

a.  wrestling coach?   b. tennis coach?   c. baseball coach?

10. a. Class Valedictorian b. other students who graduated from 8th grade in Poweshiek County  in top 10 in class of  ’57 academically?

11.  Anyone married more than 4 times?

12. Anyone have a parent still living?

13.  What business woman ran a shoe store in Grinnell?

14. Name of restaurant between the theatres? Name of restaurant across the street from that restaurant?

15. Italian immigrant who had a shoe repair shop where Harold Moyer worked?

16. Owners of the Candyland?  Class mate who worked there?

17. Name of drug store furthest west on 4th Avenue.

18. Homecoming queen?

19. Classmate who made his living at one time as a train conductor?

20. Travel shows presented in the schools by whom?

21.  Who became nurses?

22.  Ran the G Recreation?

23.  GHS class of ’51 came back to Grinnell and taught English at GHS? GHS class of ’51 who became an elementary principal in Grinnell?

24.  Classmate whose dad owned United Food.

25.  Name of junior high operetta?

26.  Classmate who   a. drove a school bus for over 20 years

b. owned a motorcycle

c.  has a grandson on U of Iowa track team

d.  became a civil engineer

e.  had a liquor book in high school

f.   was a funeral director

g.   was a commercial airline pilot

h.  was a professional cowboy

i.   has an airplane propeller in her living room

j.   had his own dance band

k.  twins in our class

l.  works for Grinnell Historical Society

m.  died in a school bus train accident in 1949

n.  two who took dance lessons in Newton

o.  had a new ’56 Ford Convertible

p.  moved up the ladder at Amana Refrigeration

q.  his father was a minister

r.  went into Navy out of high school

s.  worked as Pester’s Gas Station

t.  lives in Utah

u.  was a sports writer in Eldora,  Iowa

v.  lives in California

w.  delivered the King of Beers

 Faculty in Annual:  Supt Jones, Principal W.W. Owen, Marvin Amo, Mrs. Brown, Jerry Clark, Mr. Converse,Irene Cook, Lil Coop, George DeHart, Tony DeMaro, Viola Karstens, Miss Lentz, Paul Maaske, Joe McCoy, Father Gregory, Mr. Hanson (Band asst), Mr. Hermier, Arlene Horn, Elizabeth Mitchell, Esther Norris, Helen Olson, Mr. Pease, Eldon Petersen, George Robinson, Janet Stewart, Mr. Strauss, Lola Clark, Ray Tyler, John Walstra, Mrs. Watkins. [Can’t think of any alive].

What have we learned through these last 60 years?

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of an adult, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.  (by Veronica Shoffstall)

Answers to Quiz:   1.  Miss Karstens  2. Jerry Youngbeck  3. John Craven, Mrs. Watkins 4. Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Charlston  5.  Miss Wheeler,  Mr. Peebler,  Miss Stewart 6. Dale Christison, Larry Skipton 7. Ray Tyler  8. Ramsey McKey – Nancy Kahl  9. Wrestling-John Walstra;  Tennis – George DeHart and baseball – Paul Maaske.   10.  Pat Cogley:  Lois Laymiller, Jerry Verwers, Karen Peterson  11. No   12. Three classmates had living parents.  (Dale Christison is only faculty we know of who is still living – in California: WWII vet – with wife Barb.) 13. Margaret Arnold  14. Model Lunch and The Raven.  15.  Joe Marcellino  16.  Pete Staffnou and Jim Joris  (Sherry Adkins).  17.  Turner’s Pharmacy 18. Ann DeLong  19. Eldon Criswell 20. Al Bell  21. Pat Flanagan, Mary Williams-nurses 22. Clark Wilson 23. Jack Marcum,  Jerry Hagen  24. Charlotte Strand 25.  Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan  26.  A. Joel Prescott  B. Larry Criswell C. Jim VanDraska D. Jerry Verwers E. Guy French  F.  Bill Windsor  G. Dick Norris H. Don Mayo I. Sherry Hagen J. Louie Taylor  K. Bill and Kay Smith  L. Karen Peterson  M. Jerry Hay N. Sherry Adkins and Linda Robison  O. Paul Ahrens  P. Buddy Vulstyke Q. Don Stark R. Bill Smith, Gene Heinlie  S. Jerry Monroe  T. Martha Keeney  U. Sam Mullins V. Wayne Olson w. Larry Ellis

Program by Dave Adkins   GHS  Class of 1957

Eldon Criswell: Class of 1957, 55th Reunion Story                                     by D. Adkins   July 13, 2012

At the 55th reunion of the class of 1957 on July 7, 2012 in Grinnell at the Mayflower Dining Room, we had a nice dinner at a bargain price due to a surplus in the class treasury (we should send the committee to Washington D.C. to work with that budget) and after the dinner there was a program.   One of the features of the program was to share anything about our school days or classmates that anyone happened to remember.  There were comments made about teachers and about plagiarized art assignments, etc.  However, the next day,   

I could have kicked myself for not sharing a true story about Eldon Criswell, cousin of Larry Criswell and a class member who passed away on August 26, 2009 after a long career with the Rock Island in a variety of jobs.  But truth is I didn’t think of it until the next day.  Eldon didn’t graduate with the class, but instead joined the USAF and served for four years. When he returned from the service, he got a job on the railroad where his father, Elmer, and his uncles, Obe and Shell, had worked for years.  

In his younger days right out of the AF, Eldon worked as a laborer. He was “ornery”, not malicious, but always into something and a very hard hitter as a defensive back in football.  He loved the contact that football provided and was always ready to crack his opponent when the opportunity presented itself.   He called me “Adluns” and he scared some of the Parker and Cooper School boys with his sometimes unpredictable and aggressive behavior, but he eventually lightened up a little and was just another school friend and classmate.

In the 1950’s, the Rock Island Railroad used to hire extra laborers during the summer for special projects. It paid good for those days, sun tan also – but it was also hard, hot work.  Tom Ellis was the first guy I knew that worked there (full time) and others from GHS who spent some time working on the tracks and crossings during summer vacations were Fred Johnson, Chuck O’Brien, Hollis Sisco, Chuck Reeves, Ray Pearson in addition to John Lawson, Dick Lineweaver,  and Jerry Doonan from Brooklyn.  Joe Tuttle had a Grinnell section gang with employees with names like Patton, Bunn, and Hawkins as regulars and Howard and Gus Trease from Kellogg worked on the Newton section with John and Rusty Irwin and at times on resurfacing through Metz for Francis Hartwick who lived in Des Moines.  Shanty Amsberry and George Mitchell were other long term railroaders.

I got a job as an extra laborer on the Rock Island Railroad in the summer of 1960 as they were resurfacing just outside of Newton.  Eldon was working on the same crew, although he was a regular employee and went on to do well as a machine operator and eventually retired from the railroad as a conductor on a passenger train.  However, at the time, he was a laborer also.  Some of the yore and color of railroad work was around the art of driving spikes – and a very difficult work skill it was when two workers drove the same spike with alternating blows using a “spike maul” – a sledge hammer like tool with a very small head which required that the contact with the spike be made perfectly.  To complicate the 1-2 striking process was the position of the spike behind the rail so that the workers had to hit the small spike head perfectly at the correct angle and in rhythm.   I broke a couple of maul handles and was banned from driving spikes by the boss, Francis Hartwick.  However, Eldon was good at it and he loved to show his prowess with his left-handed swing of the maul.   

One very hot August day (in 1960), we were working with a crew on a section of the track west of Newton at a crossing and a few houses in a place called Metz, Iowa.  In fact it was so hot that day that eventually the track began to expand and eventually “kinked”.  The rail jumped, pulled up the spikes and broke free of its tie foundation.   It could have injured seriously or even killed someone in its way, but fortunately we were all on the North side of the track and it kinked to the South.   In addition to the danger to the workers at the site of the kink, the Rock Island Rocket #10 was due at that spot going full speed any minute on its run from Des Moines to Chicago.   There is no way that the engineer would have known about the kink and also no way that he could have stopped the Rocket in time to avoid a serious derailment and possible death to many passengers.

Eldon Criswell was not a reader of great literature nor a mathematician, but he was “game smart” and tough and he immediately reacted.  He sprinted to the motor car which transported us to the job site and carried the tools.  He knew that there were emergency flares on the car and he knew exactly where they were.  He grabbed two flares and took off on the dead run  West  toward the approaching, but still out of site Rocket.   Had Eldon stayed in school, like his brother Paul Criswell before him, Tiger fans probably would have seen him on occasion as he streaked down the field on a punt return or with an intercepted pass.  However, this run was much more important than a school game – he was sprinting to save lives.  

His dark image got smaller and smaller as he distanced himself from where we were waiting, then suddenly we all saw a bright red explosion of emergency flare being ignited.    He was probably close to a mile from the kink site and his quick thinking and action assured that the Rocket brake, slow down and eventually screech – and I mean screech, steel to steel – screech  to a stop about 100 yards from the danger spot where 20 of us were waiting.  We worked like crazy for two hours repairing the rail with the Rocket stopped just a few yards West of where we were laboring. Then I recall the Rocket with several cars rolling past us, barely moving, passengers with faces pressed to the windows trying to see what had happened until it had cleared the kink area.    

We worked until dark that night getting the rail safe and in order.   No one patted Eldon on the back or gave him the medal he deserved – they didn’t do that out there. He wasn’t real popular anyway because, like I said before, he was so darn ornery –   like the time big John Irwin was sound asleep under a tree by the Colfax Depot during a noon hour.   John was a big, strong mountain of a guy and was snoring like a freight train with his mouth wide open, which provided Eldon a perfect opportunity, which he couldn’t resist, to deposit a dead fly between snores.   John choked, coughed and gagged and Eldon laughed and laughed and ran off around behind the depot to hide.   He was ornery – yes; but he was a hero and champion that day when it came to saving lives.   I saw him last at our 50th reunion and didn’t recognize him until he came up to me and called me “Adluns”.   I believe that Warren Weaver, also deceased, drove down to Southern Missouri just before the 50th reunion to see Eldon.  He walked into a small town coffee shop and asked if they knew Eldon Criswell – and Eldon, the hero, was there having coffee.


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