Elementary Years: 1954-1959
See Appendix 3: Class Pictures; Appendix 4: Colfax Classmates through the Years; Appendix 5: Colfax Teachers through the Years
I was to begin the second grade at the time we moved to Colfax. My first view of the elementary school was its playground. Bill Muck, in a yellow rain coat and my future classmate, was playing on the monkey bars and made a mental impression that persists to this day. See Appendix 3, Class pictures, elementary schools.
Somehow the second grade was an epiphany in several ways. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Margaret Hootman, showed an uncommon and very personal interest in our class. She was a former telephone operator who only taught two years in the Colfax system, yet she kept photographs of those two years and kept up with some members of that class for many years. I attended her 90th birthday party in Iowa City, Iowa in June 2011. She died a little over 2 years later in December 2013.
I remember taking some sort of math test in second grade during a thunderstorm and recall finishing early. I received praise from Mrs. Hootman, and I think it was then that I became aware that I was at least an above average student and tried to present myself as such.
Being new to Colfax, being in second grade was also about socializing with others. The lunchroom was in the basement of the elementary school. There was a large room with tables for the big kids. Adjacent to that room was an area set off by a wooden fence with tables for small kids who were probably in the first or second grade. Small kids eating lunch brought from home or eating school-provided lunch would be seated there and would be supervised by a teacher. Of importance to me was the requirement to finish all the food served on the lunch tray. One could not be let out of the small kids’ area until all the food was consumed. In particular I did not like cottage cheese or green beans, and I was sometimes held until I finished eating the foods I did not like or after everyone else had been dismissed. I do not recall that kids who had brought food from home had a similar requirement. Of course, sometimes Miss Wilda Byal would be the supervising teacher, and she was the least sympathetic of the overseers. The lunch cost was 35 cents per meal, I think.
Cinnamon rolls were a favorite food item.
My third grade teacher was Mrs. Cecilia Hopkins, and that grade’s emphasis seemed to be on learning to write in a cursive manner.
It was perhaps during third grade that we attended the “The Commandments” starring Burt Lancaster at the Star Theatre in Colfax. The theatre showed films every evening and afternoon matinees were shown on the weekends. It cost just a few cents to attend. The theatre had a balcony, but young children were excluded from going up there. I had the sense that older persons went up there to make out. The theatre was managed by Mr. Cliff Marquis and perhaps owned by him as well.
Before Christmas, the theatre would show a serial movie that took 5-7 weeks to complete. Christmas at the Star theatre also meant a visit by Santa Claus. We lined up to receive a sack of unshelled peanuts, candies and an orange from Mr. Gus DeCamp who played Santa. As I recall, the orange took up a large volume of the sack.
Fourth grade was taught by Miss Marilyn Kelly, and I believe it was in the fourth grade that we learned our multiplication tables. I loved spelling bees where boys were pitted against girls or some such arrangement, and then people were asked to spell words one after the other. Eventually only one person would be left standing as others misspelled a word and had to sit down. My embarrassing moment was having to spell the word ‘naked’. I did manage to spell it correctly, though I can imagine blushing at the time.
Fourth grade was where I learned what the middle finger salute meant. For some reason, I turned to the girl in back of me, Terri Smith, and gave her the bird. She recognized that I had no idea what it meant, and so she educated my on its meaning. I do not recall that I apologized to her, and I doubt that I ever did. I wrote the following on a card I made at school for Mother’s Day in 1957:
I’ve never known a finer day
made for my mother.
She works so hard at home all day
for us and all our relation.
All the world over
there’s nobody nicer,
so sweet and kind.
She’s got a hot temper
as an old mama lion,
but when she comes to it
she’s gentle and kind.
I do not recall if there was any feedback about the ‘hot temper’ line, though I imagine that my mother just laughed about it.
Fifth grade was a year of a crush that I had on my teacher, Miss Karen Nord. Who knows why these things happen. She was a new teacher, I believe, and only stayed at Colfax for one year.
At about this time, I was diagnosed as being near-sighted. I began to wear glasses and have worn them ever since. I remember wearing them to school and noticing that things were in 3D and not just in a 2D mode. I do not know why my early class pictures do not show me wearing glasses.
Mrs. Marcia Caldwell was the sixth grade teacher. It was in sixth grade that classmate Beth Barrett’s father died suddenly. He was a World War II veteran, and owned a television sales and repair store across the street from my dad’s grocery store. Beth was smart and cute. I felt like I competed against her academically, and probably had a crush on her as well. More spelling bees!
My remembrances about grade school would not be complete without mentioning Miss Wilda Byal, the elementary school principal. She seemed very stern and elderly at the time. Rumor had it that she had a paddling board with a nail in it, and that she used it freely and often for the smallest of infractions. Thankfully, I never visited her office. Interestingly, she proved remarkably personable in later years and our high school annual for 1965 was dedicated to her.
We played all sorts of sports on the playground at morning and afternoon recess, and these often involved races. I got the nickname of ‘Hoss’ or ‘horse’ for the way I ran. Classmate Sherry Faidley was particular fast…for a girl.
Sports meant playing in Little League during the summer months. I believe the league was fairly newly organized around four teams: Cards, Sox, Cubs, and Yanks. The respective hats were colored red, green, blue and yellow.
Bob Van Elsen and I were members of the Cards while we were in Little League. The best day was getting a new hat from Pratt’s Clothing and Dry Cleaning store. The new hats all had a ‘C’ pressed on the crown of the hat above the bill. It did not take long for the new hat to look like an old hat.
I loved playing third base, catching and pitching. My skills improved with the passing years, and in my last year in Little League I had a pretty good fastball and hit four home runs. Bob Van Elsen and I alternated pitching and catching for the Cards.
The Colfax Little League had an All Star team the last several years I played. We went up against the All-Star team from Newton and lost each time. However, the last year that I played in Little League, I had at two hits in the All-star game while Bill Muck hit three consecutive home runs at the ballpark in Newton. Nonetheless, the Colfax All-stars lost the game 8-7.
My parents never came to any of my little league games until the very last one. Games were usually played in the afternoon so my father stayed at the store. My father and I did play catch occasionally, but I don’t recall his asking how the games went or how well I did. The last little league game was between the Cards and the Sox. I was pitching against Dan Petersen of the Sox. The game was close, but, unfortunately, I struck out for the last out to end the game, and the Sox won. My parents both attended, but left the ballpark before I did. The result of the game was never mentioned.
Neither parent ever again attended any of the athletic events in which I participated or expressed any particular interest in how well the team or I did. It did not bother me at the time, but in looking back I think I would have liked their support in attending some of my games.
About 1958 or 1959, the Star Theatre was remodeled into the Triangle Lanes. I liked to bowl, and my parents bought me a pair of bowling shoes. I started out with the lightest bowling ball that was colored red. I participated in a young persons bowling league that met on Saturday morning for several years. After I began working at Easter’s, I could no longer bowl in the Saturday morning leagues. My highest bowling score was 214.
I enjoyed singing to piano accompaniment, both in school and in Cub Scouts. Several classmates and I were part of the staging for “The King and I” put on by high school students. We were required to whistle as well as sing, but I lacked that particular skill.
I began to take accordion lessons while we still lived in the house on Lincoln Street. My teacher was Leona Brunk. My parents bought me a beautiful, blue accordion with two or three stops on it. I was known for studying my accordion music in front of the television to the chagrin of my brother. I was pretty good, and played at a festival at the Maytag Park in Newton, Iowa. Eventually, I gave up the accordion for the trumpet. My brother had started with the trumpet before switching to the clarinet. So I followed in his footsteps in about the 6th grade. In April 1959, I played the echo for Taps at a funeral. See Other below.
My best friend in grade school changed when I moved from the house on Lincoln Street to the one on Locust Street. I played with Jim Hamer almost every day, either in his yard or mine. He was a year older than I. Playing catch at the first of spring was a ritual that was highly anticipated by both of us. We also played football, threw acorns at each other, and messed around with his collie dog King. He also had a playhouse in his yard that served as an area of safety during rainstorms.
After the move to Locust Street, Bob Van Elsen became my new best friend. Much of what we did involved sports, especially baseball. Besides little league, we played whiffle ball at his house. He usually pretended to bat for the Chicago White Sox, while I batted for the line-up of the Milwaukee Braves. I spent a lot of time at his house doing things that young boys do.
During the last several years of elementary school, I took square dancing lessons from ‘callers’ Don and Lily Reynolds. Lessons started on the black top basketball court at the elementary school. Several of us were chosen to participate as “The Pepper Steppers”. We did travel to Ames, Iowa to be on television showing off our square dancing skills. The partners in the Pepper Steppers wore color-coordinated outfits. The color of the clothing that Sharon Mallory and I wore was light green.
I participated as a cub scout and attended pack meetings at the homes of Lind and Olson.
Sledding in Colfax was pretty good. The best place for sledding was Division Street beginning at Oak Park Street and going to the bottom of that first incline. Of course, there was the possibility of colliding with a moving or parked vehicle, but the speed of the course was very good and outweighed the risk.
Friends and I played Cowboys and Indians, but it was more like Hide and Seek. I had several cap guns and the caps could be purchased at the Variety Store and elsewhere. The caps were on a roll and fitted into the gun so that with every shot the roll was advanced to put an unexploded cap in the firing position. Of course, the best bang for the buck was taking a hammer and hitting a roll of caps with a single swing.
I attended the Methodist Church after moving to Colfax. My second grade Sunday school teacher was Mary Hunter, then Mary Wood. Mary would continue to be a friend for the rest of my life. She had worked at Easter’s grocery in Colfax, but later worked for the Monroe Company. I had perfect attendance for many years.
There was a candy store run by a Mrs. Junus. She is memorable because she would not allow small children to get candy from the vending machine by themselves. She would catch the candy from the chute of the vending machine in her own hand and then transfer the candy from her hand to yours. The candy store later morphed into a flower shop.
When we moved to Colfax, there was a tall cylindrical water tower at the east end of Howard Street. It was a ‘standpipe’ type of water tower and Howard Street was nicknamed ‘Standpipe Hill’. Shortly after our move, the old water tower was removed and a new, modern type of water tower was constructed on the same site. It was said that there was not a lid to the standpipe water tower and lots of leaves and twigs were found floating in the tower’s water.
While we lived on Lincoln Street, US Highway 6 (currently F48) that ran just south of our house was completely redone. The shift of the highway began west of town, crossed near the athletic field and detoured up Howard Street to Oak Park Street to rejoin the old highway at the top of the hill just in back of our yard on Lincoln Street. The DX filling station stood at the corner where the detour joined the old highway. It is hard to think of all that traffic from US 6 struggling up or down the Howard Street hill.
I believe that my mother was hospitalized in Des Moines shortly before we moved from South Lincoln to South Locust. I think she ended up with a total hysterectomy and removal of both ovaries. The reason is not known. I do know that she had some serious complication(s) after her surgery, likely including a blood clot. My father spent a lot of time at the hospital with my mother, and Kenny and I were pretty much left on our own. She did end up with severe osteoporosis later in life.
Perhaps in the fifth and/or sixth grade, the some boys had the opportunity to be dismissed in mid-morning to go to the lunchroom to pick up milk and cookies for the elementary classes. The cost for a carton of white milk for a week was 10 cents; chocolate milk was 15 cents per week. Cookies were free, I guess. It was thought that only the richer kids could afford the 15 cents per week. I imagine that I had white milk.
Charlie Sage, the school janitor, would ring the school bell located in the tower to give a warning of the beginning of the school day, the end of the lunch hour, and perhaps at other times. Occasionally, he would let students ring the bell. I often wonder what happened to the bell after the elementary school was torn down.
The elementary school had a “special class” for children who were intellectually impaired or perhaps socially challenged in some way. There was no mainstreaming of students at the time.
My maternal grandfather William Charles Kreie died on March 27th, 1955 in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He had been ill for some time. We did not attend his funeral. My mother, Kenny and I had attempted to visit him in Manitowoc earlier that winter, but my mother lost control of the 1953 Chevrolet on an icy highway east of Cascade, Iowa. The car rolled down an embankment and ended up on its roof. None of us was hurt, and we took a bus back to Colfax.
My paternal grandfather Harley Garrett died of a heart attack on about April 2nd, 1957 at the age of 64. He was the State of Iowa veterinarian at the time. His wife, Lorena Floye, was emotionally distraught for days after his death.
Classmate Duane Lewis’ father, James F. (Bullit) Lewis, was killed in a construction accident at the site of the new high school on League Road. He was driving a bulldozer when a tree he was pushing fell back on him. I played the echo of Taps at his graveside funeral at McKeever Cemetery located north of town just off highway 117.
My father purchased a 1958 4-door hardtop Firesweep DeSoto with an automatic transmission. It was two-tone light green and white with tail fins and two radio antennas on the tailfins. It did not have seat belts in the front seat, but those were added later. It was as close to a mid-life crisis purchase as my father ever made. I believe that the DeSoto line of cars was discontinued after the 1960 model was presented. He kept the DeSoto until he bought a 1964 Plymouth sedan.
During 1958, we moved from the rental house on South Lincoln Street to a purchased home on South Locust Street. The house that my parents purchased was smaller, but was within closer walking distance for my father to his store and for me to the elementary school. The house had just two bedrooms and one bathroom. That meant that my brother and I occupied the same bed again until he moved away to college in 1960. There was a full basement that was not divided. In it, my father had a workshop, a ping pong table was heavily utilized and a family entertainment center placed there, too. The entertainment center consisted of an old television and console with a radio, phonograph, and a cabinet for record albums. (Brother Kenneth still has this piece of furniture.) An old tattered carpet covered the cement floor.
The Ground Observer Corps (GOC) was part of the homeland security defense that reached prominence from the mid-1950s to its deactivation in 1959. A tower similar to that shown below was located on a prominence to the north of the ‘new’ high school and was staffed by volunteers. The observers looked for possible soviet bombers flying in the area and their observations were called into a central location for sorting. My brother and parents were volunteers from time to time. I went along on occasion. The silliness of searching for enemy bombers in the heartland of the US was not seen at the time as the hyping of the cold war with the USSR was part of the US strategy. Newer radar systems supplanted the GOC along with the rise of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
A Greyhound bus stop was located at the Skelly gas station at the corner of US Highway 6 and Walnut Street. We took the bus back from the car accident previously mentioned.
Television was important to me after school. Slim Hays and his pal, Alkali, had a television show that started out with cartoons and concluded with a western movie. The cartoons of the time were Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and similar classic characters. Saturday mornings were mostly western TV shows, such as Hopalong Cassidy (horse Topper), the Lone Ranger (horse Silver) and Tonto (horse Scout), the Cisco Kid (horse Diablo) and Pancho (horse Loco), Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (horses Trigger and Buttermilk), Wild Bill Hickock (horse Buckshot) and Jingles (Joker) and Rin Tin Tin . Other shows were Fury, Sky King with his plane the Song Bird, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon with his dog King. I also liked to watch Pinkie Lee, and Winky Dink. Winky Dink was interesting because one had to place a special plastic film over the television screen and new clues would be added each week to complete a picture or puzzle. I must have pestered my mother about getting the plastic screen as I think I eventually had one. By that time I had probably outgrown the show.
Another television show that I enjoyed was “The Floppy Show” with Duane Ellet as the puppeteer. The show was locally produced out of Des Moines, Iowa. There was usually a gallery of very young children that engaged in conversation with Floppy. Cartoons, such as Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes, were an important attraction to the show. Duane Ellet and Floppy actually came to a Father/Son banquet in Colfax.
Before Duane Ellet and Floppy, the Howdy Doody Show (1947-1960) with Buffalo Bob Smith as the emcee was the must watch television show for me. Some of the characters were marionettes and included Howdy Doody, Mr. Phineas T. Bluster, and Flub-a-Dub among others. Other real persons on the show included Chief Thunderthud, Clarabell the Clown, and Princess SummerFallWinterSpring, The collection of kids was called “The Peanut Gallery”. Buffalo Bob would always open the show with, “Hey, kids, what time is it?” and the peanut gallery would answer, “It’s Howdy Doody time!”
Favorite toys included: an American Flyer train; an Erector set; ping pong table; a Schwinn 2-speed middle weight bike with front brake. I still have the train set and the Erector set. My parents bought the Schwinn bicycle for $69.50 for my birthday about June 1957 from Edwards’ bicycle shop in Colfax. It was probably the best birthday present that I ever received. I kept the Schwinn bike until 1975 when I was in medical school. It was like parting with an old friend when I let it go.
Halloween was a bit confusing in that trick or treating in Colfax took place on Beggars Night, the night before Halloween. I don’t know why that was, but no one went out on the actual night of Halloween. Bob Van Elsen and I would usually go out trick or treating together and would often cover most of the town. It was not unexpected for people to ask for a trick before handing out a treat so we usually had something lame prepared. My mother would usually inspect my haul when I returned home. She confiscated and ate any of the popcorn balls that she found. Candy bars were full-sized, of course.
I remember well going up to an out of the way house and knocking on the door. An elderly gentleman came to the door and looked at us as we shouted, “Trick or treat!” He said that he had forgotten that it was Halloween (Beggars Night) because his wife had just died. He gave Bob and me each a dime as he did not have candy. Of course, we took his dimes, but it makes me sad to think of the situation even today.
When we moved to South Locust, we still had operator-assisted telephone service. Our home number was #259, while the grocery store number was #51. I recall that my grandparents Garrett had a rotary dial phone with number CR7-9083. I used to practice dial with the receiver still in the telephone cradle. Direct dial came into use in Colfax about 1960 or so.
School assemblies with Al Bell were a favorite of many of elementary students. For ten cents, we went to the gymnasium and sat while Al Bell showed a 20 to 40 minute film of his travels. Bell went to over 400 rural Iowa schools from 1949-1979 with the intent of exposing children to the wider world. He was very entertaining and I looked forward to these assemblies that seemed to occur every year. Bell died in 1993. He does have a website at albellremembered.com.
The mid-1950s marked the introduction of the Salk vaccine for the prevention of polio. Polio was a terrifying disease that could cripple and kill children. It typically occurred during the summer months. In some children, paralysis of the respiratory muscles (bulbar polio) led to the use of a so-called ‘iron lung’ to assist with breathing while waiting for possible recovery. Don Evans from my elementary school class had polio before second grade but fully recovered. The Salk vaccine was given by a series of shots and was replaced within a few years by the orally administered Sabin vaccine.
The March of Dimes was a national campaign begun in 1939 to combat polio. We would line up dimes in a row as part of the campaign. The March of Dimes still exists but its focus has changed to improve the health of mothers and infants.
The construction of Interstate 80 north of town begun in about 1958 was completed in 1960, though completion of the interstate through Iowa would not be completed until 1972. Travel time from Colfax to Des Moines was greatly reduced and traffic gradually moved from US Highway 6 (now F48) to the new interstate as portions were completed. The speed limit initially was 75 mph during the daytime and 65 at night. Businesses were lost along Highway 6, including Trax, Pesters, Shell, Texaco, Skelly, DX, and Sinclair gas stations as new businesses appeared along the interstate interchanges.
The elementary school playground took up nearly ½ of a city block. About 1/3 of the playground was blacktopped and had 3 basketball hoops. The rest of the playground was covered in gravel and had 2 merry-go-rounds, two slides, two backstops for ballgames, a jungle gym, teeter totters, chin up bars, and a horizontal ladder. A large concrete sandbox provided hours of fun. Charlie Sage, the janitor, would throw trash into a concrete block incinerator on the playground that was not at all enclosed. The recreation hall (rec hall) stood on the corner of the playground and was where the band practiced, scouts met, parties held, etc. Nearly everything on the playground was a disaster waiting to happen.
I suffered a concussion on the playground when I ran into the side of the rec hall. I woke up at home with a large ‘goose egg’ on my forehead and with Dr. John Lyle attending me. I went back to school the next day seemingly none the worse for wear. The rec hall remained undented and intact.
A memorable person on the playground was Lenny Owens, a boy who did not have any legs at all. When he was dropped off at school, he would swing himself down from the car and propel himself by planting his arms ahead of him and then swinging his body forward. He was a foul-mouthed kid. Later, he was fitted for aluminum legs and used crutches to swing forward. Lenny died young.
My good friend Duane Lewis pulled my handkerchief away just as I was about to blow my nose. I ended up with a terrible mess on my hands.
Such are the remembrances from the playground.