Fifty Years After

wrhttco65In the first month of 1965, Time Magazine published an article that featured members of the senior class at a California high school. Ten years later two members of that class interviewed thirty classmates for a book, published in September 1976, that inspired a TV series whose fourteen fictional episodes started airing barely a year later. The book and series were both titled What Really Happened to the Class of ’65. The image at right is from the book cover.

whc65_timeI was a high school senior in 1965 and I know that I and my classmates had a lot in common with the students in that Time article. There is no doubt that many of the things affecting those California teens also affected teens in every high school in every state. On the other hand, there were a whole lot of differences, too. For one thing, most of America’s high schools are not located in areas where sun and sand are so wonderfully abundant. Neither can the students of most schools be called affluent, a word that was used with justification for those California seniors. The world of 1965 impacted every senior class in America but the senior class that Time talked of in their “Today’s Teen-Agers” article might not have been all that typical.

I can’t really make a case for my class being any more typical. I don’t believe anyone ever used the word affluent to describe my school but neither were we impoverished. Whether or not statistics support it, we thought of our parents — farmers, factory workers, and a few professionals and business owners — as middle class and we lived, more or less, in the middle part of the country. Our school was not equidistant from the coasts but it was sure a long way from either and, except for some images conjured up by Beach Boy tunes playing on the local AM stations, not much influenced by them. Unlike that California class featured in Time,  there wasn’t 506 of us. There is no reason to think that the size of our class was unique and, if you get real picky about precisely when diplomas were issued or other details, it can even be varied slightly. But three score and five seems right and it’s the way we’ve always thought of ourselves. We were the Ansonia High School Class of 65 of ’65.

We graduated smack dab in the middle of a decade that was about as turbulent and confusing, yet as filled with promise and potential, as any could be. The nation’s president had been assassinated during our junior year. The Times issue that carried “Today’s Teen-Agers” also had an article on LBJ’s inauguration after winning the November election and one about a Dr. Martin Luther King visit to Selma, Alabama. 1965 was the mid-point of the Vietnam War (November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975) and the first year that regular US combat troops, and not just “advisers”, were used there. By decade’s end, violence would end the lives of Dr. King, another Kennedy, and some 50,000 US soldiers. But the last half of the 1960s also brought us electronic calculators, the first artificial human heart, the beginning (as ARPAnet) of the Internet, and men on the moon.

whc65_50fWe came together this week, some of us, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our graduation. The school is still small and each year the Alumni Association organizes a gathering for all of its graduates. That was held Saturday as usual. Not usual was a Friday evening gathering organized by some classmates who put in a lot of effort to make this year special. Twenty-six class members and our class sponsors met for dinner at one of the area’s nicer restaurants and had a great time sharing stories and trying to identify each other. The fun and reminiscing and even the eating continued at the nearby home of a classmate (Sharon Bickel) whose gracious invitation for desert was accepted by just about everyone.

whc65_50s1whc65_50s2Nineteen of us also made it to the annual banquet on Saturday. All alumni and the current year’s graduates are invited with the “5s” (5th, 10th, 15th, etc.) getting some extra recognition that includes having a room set aside for their use. The jokes and chatter pretty much picked up from where they had ended on Friday.

whc65_50s4whc65_50s3The special treatment continued at the actual banquet and even included being first at the buffet line. I’m guessing that the fifty year class is given this particular honor because this seems to be the point at which attendance peaks. That seems to likely be true of us. There were fourteen of us in 2005 and a half dozen in 2010. The fellow in the dark coat at the right of the first picture is Tom Brewer who was one of the classmates who, as I mentioned earlier, put in a lot of effort to make this year special. Others were Ed Ault, Carolyn Baker, Tim Barga, Bob Birt, Rick Jones, June Snyder, and Charlene Steed. Rick not only helped with organizing things, he represented our class with one of the most entertaining “speeches” ever delivered at an alumni gathering. I put “speeches” in parentheses because, while there were many useful observations and insights, the humorous content and great delivery made it seem almost a performance.

whc65_50s5The final event of the alumni gathering was a dance at Eldora Ballroom where the class of 1965 was once again at the head of the line. Many of our 1960s Fridays and Saturdays were spent at this big hall, which is part of Eldora Speedway, listening to The Jokers or EG and the Bumblebees.

So what did we do during our five decades as adults? In other words, what really happened to the class of 65 of ’65? We got married and had kids. We got divorced and remarried. We served in the military and went to places not the least bit like Darke County, Ohio. We went to college and some (unlike me) even graduated. None of us became doctors or lawyers or Indian chiefs but we did become accountants and engineers and business owners. Some of us found success and happiness in fields such as teaching, healthcare, and law enforcement that make communities worth living in and, yes, a lot of us stayed in or returned to the communities we grew up in for that very reason; They are still worth living in.

Spending time looking back on those good ol’ school days with those who made them good was great fun. Not everyone had the option. As might be expected, contact information could not be found for a few (only 3) so they didn’t get an invitation to respond to. Also to be expected, but saddening nonetheless, is the fact that nine of our classmates are no longer living. One, who I’ve written about before, most recently here, died in Vietnam less than two years after graduating. The others died of various causes over the other forty-eight years.

Twenty-six and nineteen are respectable numbers. There’s a good chance that Friday’s gathering was the class’s biggest since graduation. There is also a good chance that it will never be equaled but it might. When we were born, life expectancy was not quite 70 for females and five years less than that for males. Us guys have already beaten the odds; The gals are close. Now that we’ve made it this far, they tell us we’ll average another 15 or 20 years so there should be plenty of us (or them) around to celebrate the 60th anniversary. If I can, I will.

Addendum 26-May-2015: It is usually only a fraction of the photos I take that make it into a blog or trip journal post and the public is spared (most of) the really crappy ones. I have been asked about other pictures and decided to just post all of the photos from the weekend in my seldom used Flickr account. They are here, re-sized but otherwise unedited.

Book Review
The House on Hathaway Road
The Henkalines

The House on Hathaway Road coverNot only did I graduate from high school smack dab in in the middle of the ’60s, it was smack dab in the middle of the Henkalines, too. There were four of them; a girl and three boys. The girl was a few years older than the boys. The oldest boy graduated a year before me and the next a year after. Though I was most familiar with the two boys closest to me in age, I knew them all. It was a small school in a small town in rural Ohio. Everybody knew everybody.

All four siblings contributed to the book. Jack, the guy just a year behind me, got things started in the 1990s by recording remembered stories on his laptop during idle time on business trips. The idea was to provide some personal history to his own children. This was a low priority and sometimes forgotten task until the death of a friend gave Jack a nudge. The friend had long maintained a journal and his widow told Jack how much that helped her and the children deal with the loss. It prompted Jack to return to his recording. In time, the brothers and sister became involved in filling in some blanks and recording their own stories and ultimately producing The House on Hathaway Road.

After introducing their parents and the house they grew up in, each of the four “kids” provides a chapter. Chapters on the final days of the parents and on the next generation follow. A member of that next generation died in an automobile accident in 2007 and there is a chapter dedicated to her. A Henkaline family tree concludes the book.

Jack’s original goal, to pass on some history to the next generation, is clearly accomplished and then some. There are certainly items in the book that will be of little interest for non-Henkalines but there are many more that provide glimpses of the 1950s and ’60s that almost anyone can enjoy. There are some truly universal memories like 24 cent gas and gathering in front of the TV to watch whatever Dad wanted to watch. The Henkalines even include a chapter titled “Nostalgia” with pictures of things that most people of a certain age will remember. Things like skate keys, TV test patterns, and Burma Shave signs. Other memories might not be exactly universal unless you lived in “the country” in the Midwest. In that case, things like chicks in the mail, laundry day with a wringer washer and “on line” drying, party line telephones, and all-purpose aprons might sound familiar.

One of the stories that Jerry (the guy a year ahead of me) tells might be simply entertaining to most readers but for anyone attending Ansonia High School in 1963 it’s a major highlight on the memory reel. Jerry was a starting tackle on the team that broke a 38 game losing streak. I recall a story that newscasters Huntley and Brinkley, who ended most programs with something lighthearted, used our first victory since 1958 as that night’s closer. I’ve never found any documentation for that but Jerry’s reporting of an uncle in Oregon who first heard the news on radio indicates there was some national coverage and that the Huntley-Brinkley story could possibly be true. I’ve always considered my time at AHS to have been excellent preparation for being a Bengals’ fan.

The book’s dust cover speculates that readers might find themselves saying, “That story reminds me of what happened to me growing up.” That’s likely true of almost any member of my generation regardless of where that growing up occurred and absolutely true for those of us who grew up within a few miles of Hathaway Road. Those in other generations will still enjoy the book but they might get jealous.

The House on Hathaway Road: Where Memories Began, The Henkalines, Aventine Press, February 18, 2013, hardcover, 9 x 6 inches, 286 pages, ISBN 978-1593308124

Also available on eBay.

Half Century Gone

Kennedy official photoOn this day fifty years ago I was a high school junior. I do not even remember most of the day and some that I do remember is foggy and questionable. I remember some very small pieces all too well. I remember going to my chemistry class and taking a seat in the second or third row. It was the rightmost seat facing the teacher’s desk and the wall of blackboards. My memory is that the principal, Mr Pawlowski, entered before class actually started and gave us the news though it might have come from Mr Conrad, the instructor. In my memory, Mr Pawlowski quickly moved on to personally deliver his message in other classrooms so that every student heard the same version. It is logical and might indicate how important he thought the message — and its uniform delivery — was but I cannot be certain that my memory is accurate. The message was, of course, “The President has been shot.”

The remainder of the school day is blurred. I believe that no more classes were held and I have a vague memory that students who walked to school were allowed to leave. Maybe we all were. I’m fairly confident that I drove to school that day. I was sixteen with a car and a driver’s license. What else would I do? I do remember that by the time I left school, whenever and however that occurred, the message was no longer that the President had been shot; By then we knew that the President was dead.

The time between hearing that the President was shot and learning for certain that he was dead could not have been long. Other points of uncertainty were not so easily or quickly resolved. Who did it? Was the country under attack? Were we, in our tiny Ohio town far from both Dallas and D.C., safe? With the exception that New York replaced Dallas, those are the exact same questions I had on a September morning nearly thirty-eight years later. The world in which the terrorist attacks of 2001 took place was not, however, at all the same as the world of 1963.

The basement of the school building in which I heard the news had sealed containers of “rations” stacked along the walls. With their Civil Defense markings, they were visible reminders that this was a designated fallout shelter. The first anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis was not even a month in the past. I recall learning, only a couple of years before, a new prefix: mega. I didn’t need it to discuss megapixels, or megabaud, or even megabytes. I needed it to try to comprehend the power, in megatons of TNT, of hydrogen bombs being tested in the friggin’ atmosphere. The Cold War was not as nebulous as the War on Terror and I think it was somewhat scarier. Has there ever been a more accurate acronym than the one referring to Mutual Assured Destruction?

I do have some memories of the evening. A buddy and I went driving around because that’s what sixteen year old boys with cars did. The world was closed. Games and dances were canceled; Restaurants shut down. The buddy had a little battery powered tape recorder. This was well before cassettes or even 8-tracks. It used very small reels. It was pretty much a toy which we used to make Dickie Goodman style “break-in” recordings that were even worse than the ones Goodman did. That night, as we drove through the one city (1960 population 10,585) and some of the small towns in the county, we made comments and observations into the recorder. It is long gone, of course, but I’ve often thought of just how interesting it would be to listen to that tape today. It might offer a unique look at rural Ohio on the night of the assassination or it might just be filled with stuff like “Holy cow!. Even Frisch’s is closed.”

The weird uneasiness continued through the weekend as facts and rumors tumbled out. Lee Oswald was arrested. The shooting of a cop, J D Tippit, was somehow related but it was not at all clear how. Then Oswald was shot and things got even more confusing. I’ve convinced myself that I watched Jack Ruby gun down Oswald on live TV but the scene was shown so many times I can’t be sure. Two things helped; The eventual realization that the office of President of the United States had been transferred just like the rule book said and the fact that Walter Cronkite was in the newsroom. I think it a pretty safe bet that I’ll never trust any one the way I trusted Walter.

Ansonia High School 1964 yearbookPresident John F Kennedy was officially pronounced dead at 1:00 PM CST; The same time as the posting of this article. The scan at left is of an introductory page of my high school’s 1964 yearbook. I imagine something similar appeared in the yearbooks of thousands of schools across the country. I believe the picture is a closely cropped version, with the background removed, of the official one at the beginning of this article.