Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Walmart Came to Town

Even though Walmart did not come to Northwood, it did.  Every small town mom and pop retailer felt the long arm of Sam Walton no matter the distance to the nearest Walmart, and the local retail venue was changed forever.  Elsewhere in this blog you can view a slideshow of Main Street Memories, not including this picture forwarded by Richard Holstad, and you can affirm things just aren't the same anymore.

Just as much as a retailer suffered from the low low prices of Walmart, the local theater was a victim of market forces in the form of that modern device called the television.  Hardware and craft stores couldn't give enough advice to win the hearts and souls of the buyers, and often gave away the advice and the buyer bought at Walmart.  The theater owner never had much of a chance to sell his vision one-on-one because the dial was already tuned in at home.

Perhaps the first movie I ever watched on television was "The River of No Return" starring Robert Mitchum, Rory Calhoun, and Marilyn Monroe, now available on Netflix Streaming.  (MORE competition.)  But it was in the theater pictured above that I saw the Hitchcock thrillers "North by Northwest" and "Psycho," and Charlton Heston fighting the wall of water in "The Ten Commandments."  I mean, as a Norwegian Lutheran, how could you NOT go to that movie?

My grandparents treated me to "The Greatest Show on Earth" in the early 50s, featuring a perilous fall from the trapeze by Cornel Wilde after he removed the safety nets, and though he didn't die, he did bleed copiously from the mouth.  And you remember things like that.  Though Cirque du Soleil it ain't.  (You really need to look up "Show" on Wikipedia - it was a real soap opera.)

Back to the theater itself - at first glance I was shocked to see admission was $1.25 until I realized that was the night's apparent giveaway of $125, and I'm sure you had to be there to win.  And when I looked at the late 30s model car, the barbershop and Rex Cafe on either side, I realized this was probably before my time.  It is.  "Ghost Breakers" is a 1940 movie starring Bob Hope and the lovely Paulette Goddard, so it's probably before your time, too, but it is available online as a classic.  YouTube has a number of clips you might enjoy.  Click here for one featuring Democrats.

Today Northwood apparently has a top-notch theater due to local philanthropy, and I hear often about the movies and events scheduled there including the "All Class Reunion" held last September.  If you still live in Northwood you already knew that, but most of us don't live there anymore.

These photos are the "before" and "after" or more suitably "then" and "now" versions of the J. B. Thompson Building on the corner of Highways 105 and 65 that houses the theater.  Growing up, I heard the old-timers sitting on the steps on the East side telling their stories, many in Norwegian, every Saturday night when we came to town to sell our eggs and buy groceries.  That's another tradition gone by the wayside, replaced by Walmart and thankfully by the good will and funding of the folks who make a theater like this one available.

I'm not sure - do we call all this progress?  Or not?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Radio Entertainment - the Best

Several of us were recently tangled up in a long email chain regarding the old-time radios.  Among other memories we talked about some of our favorite old radio shows like Jack Benny, George Burns, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, Lawrence Welk, and even Amos and Andy.

Like painted blackface, Amos and Andy have gone on their cultural way, but they leave a memory.  What many folks do not know is that the creators who were the only actors, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, were white guys, pictured here, Amos on the left and Andy on the right.  When the television version came out, of course, that had to change, and blacks had an opportunity to appear in a television show even though it was a representation that today would not see the light of day.

Still, that was the good thing about radio - it was all in your imagination.  The sounds, the "vision", the story line, were all in your head, and you could be as engaged, frightened, or enraged as you chose to be.  When the bullets hit the floor you heard them, and you knew it was a tense moment.  Sometimes you could even "smell" the story - or was that the heat from the vacuum tubes warming up the dust accumulated there?  And you might have been watching, I mean listening, on a radio like the one pictured here, a classy old Zenith floor model, proudly sitting in the office of one Richard Holstad.

This radio was one of three that Richard owns - though none of them worked, until he found a supplier for all the vacuum tubes he needed to get them going again, and he expressed his great fortune and pleasure in the email chain:

Last evening I was able to get all three of these wonderful old radios working ….. as I worked on them and each one came to life again, the memories flooded back of listening, with my grandparents, my parents, my brother, my friends, as well as being entertained when I was alone by these warm-hearted wonders ….. and that old Zenith floor model was around many years before I was born bringing home reports of the war, the economy, the George and Gracie show, Bob Hope, Amos and Andy, Jack Bennie …….. somebody stop me here, Lee …. Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, Hop Along Cassidy, Ma and Pa Kettle, Spike Jones ……Lawrence Welk, Glenn Miller, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley ….. all these and more came out of the speaker of THAT old radio …… AND IT IS WORKING AGAIN!   To say that I am thrilled about this is an understatement.  

Just in case you have forgotten how these dandy old radios worked, just click this link for a YouTube demonstration.  You'll be reminded how you had to "tune" the radio, that moving your arm over the radio, or walking away from it, one or the other or BOTH would influence the signal quality and you'd often need to do it over again.  It's kind of like Tim Allen showing how if you stand just right, with your head tilted to one side and your right arm at an angle, you can pull in signals from outer space.  And you just had to be there to appreciate it, but if you were born after 1955, you probably never will.

PS: here's some irony - I just realized that in the time I have been posting this blog I have been listening to Radio Paradise on the internet, with their fabulous HD photos popping up in the monitor.  The good old days are gone.  Welcome the new good old days!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Return of Monkey Bars

Good news from the New York Times.  Monkey Bars, or the Jungle Gym, apparently have value for youngsters as a playground piece of equipment.  A recent report in the Times says playgrounds may often be "too safe" without the type of equipment that allows children to understand risk as a component of safety.

My recollection is that a jungle gym was installed on the corner of the property of the primary building one summer, and it was a thrilling addition.  Climbing to the top and standing with hands in the air - but not for long - was like climbing Mt Everest the first time you did it.  And by the time you tripped over the concrete ballasts that anchored the gym but popped out of the ground because of the wear and tear of so many of us chasing around them, then knocked your head by accident on one of the bars, possibly drawing blood, you began to understand you're not invincible.

I liked the report I found in the Minneapolis Star-Trib by a writer who had taken a trip years ago to Arnolds Park at Okoboji and says: I fondly remember the fun house at Arnolds Park at Lake Okoboji in Iowa. If you didn't leave there bleeding, you weren't trying.  Bleeding is good for you.  It's one of those things you need to learn about.

We had some great swings, too, and the real daredevils like Chuck Helgeland could pump standing up, then get close to going out of control at the end of the swing path, sometimes falling because the feet would slip out and the rider would lose his grasp.  It was all heroics, showing off, I suppose, but if you could do what others could not do, that was kind of neat, wasn't it.  Like climbing the water tower in Northwood or Kensett.

I suppose the merry-go-round has been removed, too, and that ride seems like the most open-ended lesson you may ever see.   Hmmmm.  It's spinning, it's spinning fast, it gets real close to the ground over here, so I guess I'll keep my feet away from that side.  And I will climb on and get dizzy!

How many accidents happened on the playground during our grade school days we will never know, because "reporting" was not yet in the administrator's vocabulary.  But I don't recall any right off hand with a possible exception of Chuck Helgeland getting a broken arm.  Or finger.  And that may have come from playing touch football, according to the class history.

The only injury I ever suffered came not from the terrific equipment, but from mother nature's great ice slideway that formed from the melting snow that dripped off the roof and onto the slight hill that was our playground.  Everybody slid from the top to the bottom, and it was a neat cruise.  It was so neat, in fact, that one time I decided I should get down on my haunches with my knees bent, and slide that way.  And when I saw someone ahead of me I thought it would be kind of cool to actually slide under that person.

Here's where the risk/reward analysis failed me.  Whoever it was that I planned to slide under instead fell on me, so the back of my head hit the ice, and I literally saw stars.  I overestimated reward, and totally underestimated risk.  But it wasn't the playground equipment.  Should've stuck to the monkey bars!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Centennial Correction

In a posting six weeks ago we reported the Northwood Centennial was in 1953, and later got questioned on that by Richard Holstad, who said it was the County Centennial in '53 and Northwood celebrated theirs in '58.

Since then Glenn Kittleson ('65) has confirmed Northwood was '58 by forwarding these photos of a Centennial coin about the size of a 50-cent piece he has hung on to for the last 50 years.  The questions that spring from it include: 

Was the coin a fund-raiser, a purchased token that was redeemable through a purchase locally, thereby driving some sales for the merchants?  

Is the 50-cent discount still available today?

What's with the hole in the coin?

Was it heavy?

How many more of these souvenirs might be hidden away in homes all around Northwood?

How many got tossed at the end of the centennial?

Why did Glenn keep his?

Food for thought on all of this, first, that it takes all kinds of marketing schemes to raise money for a local event like this, and a widespread commitment from numerous individuals, including business owners, entrepreneurs, and historians in this case.  (We're reminded of a possibly apocryphal story told by our current state representative that a bridge was built across the St Croix River into Minnesota in the early 1900's by local businessmen selling buttons for 25 or 50 cents each.  Even then it would require an enormous number of buttons sold, but the strategy may well have helped with the funding.)  So we salute those who came up with the concept, and even moreso the folks who carried out the scheme.

Secondly, how many silver dollars - or half-dollars - do you see in circulation anymore, whether the original silver dollar, Kennedy half-dollar, Susan B Anthony, or anything similar? They're rarely seen.

But the last, perhaps larger thought, is that we're pleased to hear from Richard that his recent communication with Glenn has been reinvigorated by this blog.  "The '62 Blog does bring old friends back together again," Richard says.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Another Kind of Drive-In

You probably remember the Barrel Drive-In along Highway 18 in Clear Lake. The DJ's from KRIB would sit in the booth atop the drive-in all summer and take requests, kind of like California's Wolf Man on a much lesser scale.

And at some point during the broadcast you'd hear "Kay-Arh-Aye-Beeeee!! - Fourteen - Ninety On Your Diiiiiiial!"

Does that radio station exist anymore? The current Barrel, shown above from a Facebook page, doesn't quite reflect the right memory, but it is the Barrel, and so be it.  Because they played our music.

Mike Lien was the foremost air guitar, lip-synching guy in the class, even having the Elvis snarly lip down pat. In 1956 when Tennessee Ernie Ford's popular "Sixteen Tons" came out, and was played, I'm sure, on KRIB, Mike ran with the words to create his own version.

The lyrics read "If you see me coming, better step aside. A lotta men didn't and a lotta men died . . . " Mike changed it to "If you see me coming, better step aside. Bottleman didn't and Bottleman died!" Bottleman, of course, being DuWayne Bottleman, one of our grade school classmates.  But you never heard it played that way at the Barrel.

Richard Holstad has video of the place, taken in one of his trips back home. It won't replace seeing the original, but if you should have a chance to view what he has, feel free to sing along, "Kay-Arh-Aye-Beeeee!!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Three Movies for the Price of One

In a recent conversation I was told the Bel-Air Drive-In of St Ansgar, saluted in a posting by way of Marilyn Ulve last month, was closed. That it's now a winery. And both those statements are true, in a convoluted sort of way.

For any drive-in to be closed is sad, given the memories they have for all of us, but more on that later.

First off, let's do a little exploration with what is happening with that dandy old Bel-Air. Clearly this is not the only blog in the world, and I have learned that a fellow named Dave, who grew up in St Ansgar in the early 50's and 60's, has even more golden oldie stuff on his web site (yep, click that link) than we have here.

He's got the 50's music, he's got the Bel-Air history with a photo (above) of the entryway to the theater circa 1975, and he's even got a Beer Page to celebrate his apparent love of all things beer including a recent beer fest in Madison, WI. Being a Badger now, I enjoyed viewing his Beer Page photos. I picked out the Capitol Brewery (very good beer), mead (if you need something alcoholic this will do) from White Winter Winery in Iron River, WI, and numerous witty (if you've been drinking, especially) tee shirts.

Sorry, I got sidetracked - back to the Bel-Air. It was unique as a "fly-in drive-in", one of only a half-dozen in the country. Conveniently for us Northwood types, it's due east out of town on Highway 105 (the highway number, Janis, not the speed limit!). The screen blew down sometime in the 70's and apparently the landowners started showing movies again in 2008, after opening their winery in 2006. Winery? Yep - click the link. And be sure to find the Bel-Air page on the link to Dave's site because he includes some history in an inadvertent sort of way. And both links will get you to the summer schedule of movies.

I suppose you could call this combination of retail services (the "drive-in winery") an effort to diversify your product menu, thus increasing revenues. What it does show - as a revenue enhancer - on the summer schedule is that the St Ansgar Class of '71 will be enjoying their 40th class reunion there on August 6. Not exactly "if you build it they will come" but a nifty marketing concept anyway.

They're all disappearing. The drive-ins, that is, which is no news. If you Google drive-in theaters Iowa or Minnesota, you find out there are so few left, and the Bel-Air is not even listed as operational. Iowa had 70 drive-ins in the '50s; in 2000 the Hillcrest in Cedar Falls (been there, done that) went out, leaving only 3 - if you don't count the Bel-Air. In Minnesota there were 80 back in the day, now only six are on the list and one of them is on a "Death Watch." Most of them are in rural western Minnesota, though one of those six is about 5 miles from my door, in Lake Elmo. But I haven't seen a movie there for 25 years so I am not exactly helping their revenue stream.

Am I missing much by not going? Three for the price of one, I suppose. Scratchy speakers that sometimes got pulled off the post by mistake. Or maybe got stolen, by someone who has absolutely zero belief in sound quality, what you would call a "tin ear." Concession stands that overcharged for food that wasn't very good (so what's new about this?). Being able to sneak a few riders in by hiding them in the trunk, then parking secretively in a back row where no one will see them get out.

Going too fast over the mounds designed to give you a better view. The guy in front with his foot on the parking brake. The guy behind who forgot to turn off his lights. Buck night. Westerns. Roaming the grounds to find the couples you knew who were making out. Honking if the projection malfunctioned. In later years, taking the kids with the hope that they'd fall asleep after the first movie, which for marketing/attendance purposes was a cartoon or kiddie movie.

And there must be more that you could cite yourself. All the memories, they keep on comin.'

PS: Richard Holstad sent this after the above was posted, but it's never too late to take a short trip to the drive-in. Click the link.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Summer of Memories

Last Friday, heavy rains in the Twin Cities area led to a washout at a train trestle in a suburb, and a train wreck was the result. An old friend of mine from Michigan, who is currently a railroad engineer, often copies me in on photos and videos of train wrecks as they occur around the country, and forwarded photographs of the Saturday train wreck to me not knowing that it had happened in Fridley, MN.

Because I knew him when he was living in Minnesota and knew he would appreciate finding out more, I sent him a link to local television coverage, and only then did Don realize a personal connection:

Wow, that was close to home. I grew up at 400 Rice Creek Blvd, Fridley MN from 1965 on. Before that we were a couple miles the other way on Talmadge Way. I did some of my finest "bridge diving" at that location.

When I was about 6 yrs old and my Dad worked for the City of Fridley and was on the volunteer fire dept, they got a call that a train had run down three kids from Talmadge Way on that trestle (involved in Saturday's train wreck) and only one survived by quitting running and hanging from a tie off the side as the train roared by. That was Bill Messer, 4 houses up the street. Kenneth and Dennis (the little blonde boy) Ellis, tried to outrun the train and were killed. They were four houses up and across the street from us. 1958 was a sad summer on Talmadge Way. The Elliss' boys Dad, Burt had survived the Bataan Death March not too many years before that and now this.

When Dad heard it was a little blonde haired boy from Talmadge Way that was killed, he was
frantic, as the whole scene fit my M.O. perfectly. I couldn't figure out why he was so glad to see me when he got home and why he cried so hard when he did.

Now I kinda get it.

Even though my friend Don is not connected in any way to the class of '62, the story is one that sounds like growing up in a small town in Northern Iowa, so it seemed suitable for this blog. Richard Holstad has spoken of one of his favorite movies, "Stand By Me" starring a young Kiefer Sutherland, and it, too, features a race across a bridge to avoid an oncoming train. More than that, it addresses the issue of coming of age, of being a youngster, a teen, a youth finding his way just like we all did in the '50s.

And the last line of Don's email certainly speaks to all we are doing here in this blog: "now we kinda get it."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

NKHS' "Most Valuable" Alum?

Reviewing the last post, I was going to enter a comment about Sidney Swensrud and the value-added he has delivered to our Alma Mater and its graduates over time. And when thinking about that value I realized he is far more deserving than a brief comment appended to another posting, given the life work described in the New York Times obituary if you happened to read it, so I'm adding this "post" instead.

Sitting on stage during the portion of the Commencement set aside for awards and recognition, I was thinking about who would win the Lee Reyerson Award, presented annually to the outstanding athlete in the graduating class. Even though I knew I wouldn't be on the short list to be receiving that, it was the award I thought most valuable - until Principal Robert Scheibe addressed the issue of the Swensrud Scholarship. He advised all of us in the room that the '62 winners would each receive $600 per year for a period of four years, covering much of an undergraduate degree in those days.

That got my attention. I had no idea that an award of that size was even available. Presumably today's winners are fully aware of the value long before they even begin the senior year, and well they should, given the size of the fund today. And what an impact the scholarship must be having on so many lives, the count for which I don't know.

While the dollars given out to students has been amazing, the legacy of Sidney Swensrud may be even more amazing. The aforementioned obituary reports Mr Swensrud started school in a one-room schoolhouse, no surprise for rural America in the early 1900's, and goes on to describe his graduation from the University of Minnesota in 1923, and Harvard Business School in 1927.

Northwood, U of M, and Harvard must have prepared him well because he started at Standard Oil of Ohio very close to the top - as an assistant to the president. Yet his success came to him because of the same attitude of Sam Walton, who in in his autobiography "Made in America", told of making his stores better by personally visiting the competition to see how they operated, often getting down on his hands and knees to find out what was under the counter or in the drawers. The Times reports Swensrud used a similar strategy:

He made his mark by riding on the tank trucks of the company as they delivered gasoline, asking questions about why everything was done the way it was and then writing the answers in a notebook.

Thus, he had first-hand knowledge of how things worked, giving him an advantage over the executives who relied on reports of subordinates.

Swensrud went on to become chairman of Gulf, an international operation ultimately acquired by Chevron some years after his retirement. The "hometown boy" did good, by all standards, though in our brief interaction at the celebration held in his honor in 1971 you would never know you were standing next to a man who had held such a position and wielded such significant power in the business world. He was amiable and friendly, and whatever ego he may have had was suppressed in the meeting but then it wasn't like he hadn't been in such a position before, was it?

He has been responsible for the good fortune of many NKHS grads - and deserving of the "Most Valuable" recognition.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Swensrud Scholars and Their Benefactor

Numerous NKHS Grads have benefited from the scholarship foundation created by the late Sidney Swensrud. A 1919 graduate of Northwood High School, Swensrud became Chairman of Gulf Oil Company, creating a foundation that paved the way for college attendance for numerous graduates. The New York Times reported in his obituary that "Mr. Swensrud, born in Northwood, Iowa, in 1900, got his early education in a one-room schoolhouse and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1923."

In 1971, the city of Northwood renamed Crescent Park "Swensrud Park" in honor of Mr. Swensrud and his family. On the weekend when this happened, a reunion of sorts of was held as a chance for recipients to meet with Mr. Swensrud, and 26 (of 51 who had received the honor at that point) who were able to attend are pictured above.

In 1971 the scholarship fund was valued at $293,000 with $18,000 going to '71 winners. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, at the completion of tax year 2009, the fund had grown to $3,079,898.

No doubt his legacy is felt by many individuals, their families, and the communities where they live today. For a news article published with the above photo and viewable in the online photo album, click on this link. The photo and article are also included in the slideshow on the blog page, About the Class of 62. Photo and story are a larger size in the online album.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood Perhaps?

Sometimes you never know what you're going to dig up or run into. After we posted the Snow White story Richard Holstad passed along this photo, which came by way of Joan Olson. He thought it was perhaps a photo of the actors and thought he could identify 2 or 3 people.

Whether that's accurate or not, we don't know, but Jo Olson thinks it's a photo of a stage play some 10 or 11 years prior to our time, the time of her older brothers Russell and Rodney, and thinks she recognizes some faces, but once again is not super-sure. While she is doing her research, we're thinking that some of you, dear readers (we always wanted to use that phrase), might be able to report something before Jo gets back to us.

In the meantime, we are able to report we have identified the "older woman" who played the part of Snow White. We found, and agree, it was none other than Bonnie Mack, thanks to Janis Hendrickson, who sent this along: Bonnie Mack lives in California and has recently retired I think. While in high school, she worked as an usher (obsolete job in today’s world!) for my dad at the Northwood Theater and my mother still gets a newsy Christmas letter from her every year. We met up with her a few years ago when we were in California.

In any regard, thanks to Richard for even forwarding the photo, and this note to go with it: I am so impressed with subjects like this one that necessarily include that trusty old gymnasium ….. that building is so very significant to the NKHS system dating back to 1940 up to today.

To help to tell the story, Richard has re-sized the photo into thirds so it is easier to see the students in the enhanced version. The original and all three of the enhanced photos are available for viewing in the Remember Grade School slideshow on the blog (About the Class of 62) or by viewing on our online album. Just click either link to go there.

(You can also view a larger photo by clicking on the picture so it opens in a new window, then use the "Zoom" function of your browser to increase the size. Internet Explorer has a bar at the bottom with a button that says +100% - click it to enlarge your screen.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Class History reminds me of this stage play put on when we were in sixth grade. I'm sure it was a rousing success because what parent would NOT be thrilled by a darling child starring in a musical fantasy.

John Lee played the role of the prince who aroused Snow White from her slumber, but for the love of me I do not recall who played Snow White herself. She was an older woman, from 8th grade, that is, and John was in 7th grade.

He was probably chosen because he had that tall, handsome look that every prince should have, and whoever played Snow White was also a lovely person, presumably chosen to fit the model. Unfortunately for John, who was a talented singer, he only had about 3 minutes onstage since his only role in the play was to come onstage and wake the poor girl.

I was one of the dwarfs, Chuck Hendrickson was another one, and I don't recall anyone else from our class in any role, although presumably there were several. We wore long underwear that had been dyed brown - and carefully stitched in the appropriate place, if you know what I mean. Our highlight was marching onstage singing "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go!"

The script strayed from the original in that we - the dwarfs, that is - each had numbers, not names. Today I don't recall what number any of us had except for Dwarf #7, who was Grumpy in the movie, and was played by a 5th grader in our production; I recall his sheepish grin and lock of hair tumbling on his forehead but cannot recall his name.

At any length, the production was so glorious as to be recalled as part of our history and reported seven years later in the yearbook as indeed it should have been. It was our first legitimate broadway effort. I'm sure we were great.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Class of 62 History

The Yearbook gives a year-by-year accounting of the 13 years the Class of '62 was on the Northwood campus. Providing teacher names and a listing of new students annually, the History also provides a few stories of each year.

5th grade found us a class divided, some members housed somewhere in the main building (called the "big building" in the class history), and about a dozen of us in a 5th/6th combination at First Lutheran Church, a quick walk away.

Because it was within walking distance, every noon those of us in the combination found ourselves walking back and forth for lunch, and the picture above of Leidal, Helgeland, and Lien is one that was taken when we queued up to gather our food. Coats were required when the weather chilled so we would survive the walk. Lunch was served in the gym of the new elementary building, which beat the heck out of the basement cafeteria in the "big building" that we had used previously.

It was also during this combination year that the federal government began requiring school districts to serve a daily milk break, presumably to expand the dairy markets. Most brought cookies or crackers to eat with the milk, which for some reason seemed to have a tainted taste. Mike Wall, who was in the 6th grade section of the combination, became renowned for his TV-like commercial extolling the virtues and great taste, after which he would do his off-camera vomiting.

Unfortunately, this class history tells us nothing of the story of the Kensett students prior to the merger in 1958. Perhaps they didn't exist, were waiting patiently for 9 years for school to start for them, or simply had no history until they became a part of Northwood-Kensett. But join us they did, and at the least, the Class History gives us the names of all those students, who as we reported earlier, we couldn't pick out of a lineup as "Kensett" kids, for the most part, because they were just part of the class. All is well that ends well, and that includes the 13 years.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lien Soars for a Dunk!

Anybody who played basketball (and some who did not) wanted the ability to dunk the ball, and Mike Lien, the capable athlete that he was, wanted it probably more than most, but at 5-11 wasn't quite able to reach the rim. Without a boost.

So when the coaches weren't around, David Skellenger offered his strong back as a launching pad for those who might be interested and Lien was among those who signed up quickly. So although it looks in the above photo that a legend might have been born, perhaps the real legend was Skelly, who on hands and knees provided the platform of his broad shoulders to "ladder" the dunker to acceptable heights.

To Dave's credit, it was NOT easy. Thinking I might be able to do the same thing, I offered my own back one time, and only one time. I don't know who it was that jumped over me but I do know I was surprised when it seemed to push the air out of my chest and my chest almost to the floor. Like I say, give Dave all the credit for making others look good!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mansur: STOP - if Convenient

Denis Menke was a hard-nosed, quality baseball player from Bancroft, IA, who was "in the news" in the early '60s for his performance on the baseball field, and if memory serves correctly, was a star on a semi-pro or similar team from that area.

In 1962 he was drafted by and played for the Milwaukee Braves, later to become the Atlanta Braves, but before he ever got to that level he had gained enough attention that Principal Bill Mansur invited Phil Johnson and Larry Holstad to attend a game that Menke was going to be playing in. They agreed to join him and off they went.

As they were driving south on Highway 69 somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Mills or Forest City, the highway, as the Google streetview above shows, takes a bend to the left, and a stop sign is there to manage the merging traffic.

Speeding along at 55 or 60 miles an hour, and busily engaged in conversation with his young riders, Mansur went right on through the stop sign. And seemed not to notice it until he was several hundred feet past it, at which point he said, "Boys, did I just go through a stop sign?" Dutifully, Phil and Larry said, "Yes, you did."

Mansur brought the vehicle to a stop, put it in reverse, and backed up whatever the distance was, a quarter mile, perhaps, one arm hung over the back seat so he could see where he was going, until he was back properly positioned to make a stop. Which he did, and then proceeded on down the highway he had just left. No harm, no foul, I guess.

The details of exactly where it happened or how far he drove are fuzzy to this writer, but the story itself is accurately portrayed, and the Iowa landscape you see above is testament to the possibilities - in fact, do you see a stop sign? Neither do I.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Care and Maintenance Plus

Joe Olson and Harry Johnson were pretty good guys. We're not sure how many years they spent caring for the buildings in Northwood where we attended school but like good custodians everywhere they seemed as much a part of the faculty as anyone else, and they were always "there." In these photos, Joe is seen apparently sweeping out the old study hall. Harry looks like he's trying to hide behind the seasonal decorations.

Both of them were pretty quiet people, yet neither was afraid to voice an opinion. In some ways they were invisible, in other ways they kind of ran things. At the junior slave auction mentioned earlier in this blog one of them was asked to set up the PA system in the gym. The answer: "You won't need that." He was right, of course, but set it up anyway, just one more thing to have to tear down afterwards.

Somewhere along the line in the course of college studies we learned that the building custodians may be more than custodians responsible for the care and maintenance of the building, and in fact they may be enormously helpful for the care and maintenance of the students contained therein. On at least one occasion Joe showed he was worthy of the task. Standing on the steps at the south end of the building, with one foot up on the concrete wall that served as a hand railing, he overhead a student complaining about his relationship with his girlfriend, and wisely commented, "There are many more fishes in the deep blue sea."

Because they were everywhere, they knew everything, and functioned best by not making a scene or speaking out loudly. Hopefully today's custodians at NKHS have the same commitment to cleanliness and service that these two did, even though they rarely received any recognition for a job well done.