Fifty years ago 104 of us walked across the stage and graduated from High School in the small town of Pleasant Grove – the first class to break a hundred and the first to graduate from the new high school. We were optimistic about the future, but nervous about careers, marriage, school, where we were going to eventually live, and Army Basic Training.
Leaving behind was the excitement of so many things that were experienced for the first time – for some of us that high school period turned out to be the best of our lives, for others, they were glad it was finally over. All of the anxiety of being teenagers and wondering where we fit among our fellow classmates were now in the past. No more “who is the most popular, or in the right group, or had the best clothes, the most handsome, or the prettiest, the smartest, or the most athletic.”
At that point The Twilight of our Lives seemed far away and we had little thought of how long we might live – all we knew was that it was a long, long way away. All of us were born between October 1941 and October 1942 – we were seventeen and eighteen – not yet old enough to vote. Life expectancy was 65 for guys and three years older for girls. Now with all of us either 67 or 68, its 84 for guys and 86 for girls, the numbers increasing just because we’ve made it this far – twenty of our classmates have passed on. At age 18 we looked at people in their fifties as old and those in their sixties as really old. Now we look at 70 coming up as a vigorous age and the possibility of the eighties and beyond very reasonable.
We entered life with the World at War. Pearl Harbor had already passed for some of us, but other events were underway. Germany was at the gates of Moscow, Mount Rushmore had just been finished, all Jews over the age of six in German occupied countries were required to wear a yellow Star of David, the Rose Bowl was played in North Carolina for fear of attacks on the West Coast, first US forces landed in North Ireland, Joe Louis won the heavy weight boxing title, Congress advised the President that all west coast Japanese should be locked up for the war’s duration, Glenn Miller’s Chattanooga Choo Choo sells one million records, How Green Was My Valley wins the Best Movie at 14th Academy Awards, a Japanese sub fires on California, the President orders men between 45 and 64 to register for non combat duty, Byron Nelson wins the Master’s Golf Tournament, General MacArthur leaves the Philippines, Jimmy Doolittle bombs Tokyo, gas and food rationing begin, Bing Crosby records White Christmas, Ann Frank begins her diary, Walt Disney’s Bambi is released, Ian Fleming graduates from Spy School, race riots begin in Harlem, Eisenhower becomes the Supreme Allied Commander, the Japanese drop incendiary bombs on Oregon, Auschwitz begins gassing experiments, the Little Golden Children’s books begin publication and the Dow Jones was just under 100.
During the years between our birth and graduation – our characters were molded into shape by our parents, who generally believed in strictness and discipline. We were expected to do well in school and do our chores when we got home and show respect to anyone older. Our only rights were what our parents gave us. Our folks were middle class and their hopes for their own lives had pretty much solidified, but they had great expectations for each of us. The most dreaded phrase we could hear from our mothers’ was: “Just wait until your father gets home.” Just imagine what would have happened if we had come home with a tattoo or a lip piercing back in those days? We would still be grounded in the fruit cellar.
Usually our Dad’s wishes were law. We were expected to be home for dinner – no excuses – and we didn’t leave the table until everyone had finished. Dinner was for conversation and eating pretty simple fare – our moms’ canned fruits and vegetables and chili sauce – many of our families kept a freezer locker down at Smith’s Market. Liver and Onions was a staple at dinner and you weren’t allowed to leave the house for school until you had a good breakfast – Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal, or Bacon and Eggs – no one even knew about cholesterol. We didn’t eat out except for Mother’s Day and vacations were limited to visiting relatives. When most got a black and white television there were TV trays so the entire family could watch Edward R. Murrow, Lawrence Welk and the Kennecott Theater. Our mothers made a lot of our clothes up until Jr. High and then you had one pair of shoes for school if you were a guy and maybe three or four shirts to rotate along with your Levis. Many of the dresses the girls wore were made by their mothers from pattern bought from Ben Franklin. We had mandatory bed times, especially on school nights and our parents always knew where we were – or at least thought they did. You had roller skates with a key to lock the skates onto your shoes. If you had figure skates for the ice rather than strap-ons, it was a big deal.
Fords and Chevys were the order of the day and when a family got a new car it was a huge event since most only had one vehicle. We shopped at Ben Franklin and Christensen’s’ and had ten-cent drinks at Smith Drug counter and went to the Grove Theatre. The matinees were $.14 cents, and for that you got a newsreel, a cartoon, a serial and then the main feature. For another nickel you could buy Red Hots to throw at the girls sitting down in front. A real treat in later years was to go to the Geneva Drive Inn in Orem across from the High Spot. Gas was bought at Carter’s Service Station, most banked at Bank of Pleasant Grove, and a good meal could be had at the Sugar and Spice, Cozy Corner or Corlesons, Kirk’s Drive-in or quickly at the Polar King. We read the Pleasant Grove Review and bought construction items at Radmall’s Hardware – we did give the Pool Hall a wide birth – and by the way, it is now the oldest operating pool hall in the state of Utah – its worth going in just to have a look.
We grew up in a wonderful time and didn’t realize it – life was relatively simple – no internet, no video games, no cell phones, no lawsuits, no media to invade us night and day. Our entertainment came from one another, dragging Center in Provo, an occasional movie or dancing to the Night Hawks, Chester Stone’s dance band. Forty-Five and 33-RPM records were played on a HiFi. No one had much money but we didn’t know it and didn’t need it – gas was 19.9 cents on occasion, hamburgers Twenty cents at the High Spot, French fries a dime and a drink was a nickel. The best-bottled drinks were orange and grape Nehi. We went to Mutual Dell in the summer and to the Ice Pond up Provo Canyon in the winter.
Geneva Steel employed most of our Dads’ – our moms stayed at home and ran the household – cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, sewing and mending – although a few worked at Christensen’s and at the American Fork Training School. We knew our mothers would be there when we came from school and that our dad’s would appear after work to take care of any violations of family conduct that were reported. If we fouled up at school, the first problem was the teacher and the principal; then the real trouble began when we reached home. Corporal punishment was expected and approved. We respected and feared our parents – especially if we thought we were disappointing them. When you did something really wrong, you were ashamed to bring disgrace on your family name and did whatever was needed to get back into good graces. Our parent’s only investments were their houses and savings accounts.
In the summer the guys picked cherries and peaches and pears and worked on the Pea Viner; thinned sugar beets on the beet crew, plus took care of chickens, milked cows and got allowances. The girls picked raspberries and strawberries, and worked at the Beacon Café on Orem Hill or at the Polar King or the Frost Top. Baby-sitting at 25 cents an hour was another big money maker. We saved for Strawberry Days and went down early to see Monte Young’s Carnival put up. Attendance at the Stock Parade Friday, and the two parades on Thursday (10 AM and 6 PM) were absolute necessities, as was going to the rodeo. We knew we have the best celebration – much better than Steel Days at AF or Pioneer Days in Lehi. The girls were Strawberry Days Queens and Miss Pleasant Grove and in the Pep Club. They wore sweaters and white blouses, and white bobby sox’s; and jumpers and sheaths to school. We were taught by Mrs. Ash and Calvin Walker, and Mr. Brock and Mrs. White and Miss Fenton and Iowa Hall and Mr. Taylor. It was always exciting in grade school to see what teacher you had for the year and who was in your class. We braided the May Pole and played Dodge Ball and baseball at noon and ice-skated in the winter. Everyone had a favorite seat and a seat companion on the bus, but we were respectful of the drivers.
In High School we had Jess Walker, and Mr. Miner, and Harry Richards, Guy Hillman and Ernie Smith, and Don Crump and Miss Condor, Willis Banks, Leslie Rees, and Mrs. Doty. When we finally got to be seniors we got to sit on the front rows of the assemblies and had the good seats at ball games. We didn’t have any racial minorities in our class, and all but two of us were members of the LDS Church. Eventually we produced Bishops, Stake Presidents, Patriarchs as well as a few backsliders and apostates. About 60 percent of the guys went on missions – all over the world from Uruguay to Texas to Scotland to North Dakota, to New England to New Zealand. Many of our classmates – about 20 – have gone on Senior Missions.
Our Senior Year we had a mediocre football team, however the King Sisters sang Autumn Time in Pleasant Grove at Homecoming – never a big hit, even with us. The basketball team was good, going to the state tournament and our baseball team lost in the state finals. We had Pep Club, and the Pep Band, and the Marching Band with white buck suede shoes, and Cheerleaders and School Sweaters and Letterman Jackets and Pleated Skirts and turned up pants cuffs and class rings. Guys had a slick brylcream look or a flat top with long sides and gals looked great in ponytails, pageboys and flip-ups. Curlers and bobbi pins were used to style hair and if your hair didn’t dry quickly enough you laid on the heat vent. There were pedal pushers and cutoffs; sugar starched slips to make the felt skirts stand out, and an occasional Jantzen Sweater. A big shopping trip was to Clarks in Provo if you had saved enough money.
Drugs were something your parents bought at Smith’s Drug. If you smoked you were branded a rebel; and if you made a run to Evanston to buy beer with a fake ID, there was a good chance you would end up in hell – at least according to John P. Fugal, the Seminary President. And if you were speeding in the family’s car, there was John Huntsman, our resident police officer, to pull us over and then tell our parents.
First Dance, First Dates, First Kiss, First Love, – formal dresses, Robert Hall sports coats, double dating – Sophomore Slide, The Junior Prom (with our parents there to watch the Promenade) and the Senior Hop. We made best friends – some for a lifetime. Every one of the 49 boys and the 55 girls knew each other. Parking up by the flood control at the end of Grove Creek Drive. Going steady – and guys and girls with a reputation. Most guys in the class dated younger girls and the girls dated older boys. Only two classmates married one another. Most of the rest of us married someone from around our area. And then we tended to stay or eventually come back to Utah.
Most of us couldn’t afford a car in school so we borrowed our parent’s cars or pickups, and tried to stay out of trouble so our driving rights wouldn’t be taken away. You were really cool if you could afford a car, especially if it had a great paint job with pin stripping, Lakers on the sides, Smitty mufflers and a redone Naugahyde interior. The guys lusted after 57 Bel Aires and 58 Impalas and 427 engines, but settled for 51 Chevys or 49 Plymouths or 52 fords. Cars had bench seats so it was easier to have your girlfriend sitting right next to you and drive with one hand on the Necker (steering) Knob. We watched the occasional airplane go over, but most never got a ride until they headed for duty in the armed services.
About half of the senior boys went into the armed services within a week or so of graduation – National Guard or Army Reserve – six months active duty, then three years of weekly meetings and summer camps. Eventually about 75% of the guys served in the Armed Forces, some in Viet Nam in the Marines. The girls went on to further education at Trade Tech, Utah State, BYU, College of Southern Utah and other schools. They started jobs, got married and generally started down the road to being productive citizens as well as starting families within a few years. Eventually some had eleven children. The guys went to school or work with about 70 percent getting further education beyond high school.
Our class produced everything from Harvard PhD’s to Death Row Inmates. One accomplishment we can be proud of is that we produced not one lawyer or politician other than a three-term mayor of PG – the best one Pleasant Grove has ever had. No Doctors either but we did have one Dentist. Most of us ended up as pretty normal people, truck drivers, small business owners, police chiefs, joining the union and working at Geneva, contractors, insurance agents, clerks in banks, administrators in health care, engineers, manufacturing reps, teachers, and good mothers and fathers. Quite a few stayed in the National Guard or Reserve until retirement. We’ve produced about 340 children, over 1000 grandchildren and about 200 great grandchildren.
Lets look for just a second at a few of the things that went on in the world during that last year of High School.
Dwight Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Bill, The Mau Mau Uprising ended in Kenya, Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley California, 3500 Troops are sent to Viet Nam, Ben Hur wins a record number of Oscars, A Soviet Missile shoots down Gary Powers in a U2, The Fantastic’s, the world’s longest running musical opens in New York City where it would play for 42 years, Four Israelis abduct fugitive Adolf Eichmann in Brazil, The nuclear submarine USS Triton completes the first underwater circumnavigation of the Earth, Dow Jones hits 600, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro enter Havana and the new government is recognized by the US. Theme from a Summer Place was the number one song.
Now fifty years have passed, we’ve put on a little more weight, have thinning gray hair, maybe shrunk an inch or two. Much of the energy with which we left high school has been dissipated over life’s travails. Our conversations often center around our families, memories and medical issues – quadruple bypasses, knees and hips replaced, cataracts, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, heart problems, depression, hearing loss, and a host of other age related diseases that we never even thought about at age 18. We’ve bidden our parents goodbye, raised our own families and now get to enjoy our grandchildren. – Everyone is retired or coming up on it very soon. For many, these Golden Years can be the very best time of life. To take a little artistic license with Tennyson, maybe there is much left for us yet in the future.
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which we had in olden days; that which we are, we are; made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, to reach our destiny.”
So here we are friends at first and friends at last.
Long Live the Class of 1960.