It’s mid-May and the senior classes in the local schools are busy with planning their graduation activities. Remember those days? Well, mine was over 50 years ago. I was a member of the Class of 1965 – Camanche High School, home of the Indians.
Actually, our class started celebrating the end of our junior year and if I remember correctly, we are still celebrating. Interesting how most of us have always kept in touch, some more so than others. When we come together for annual reunions or just get together because either Tom Bowers, Connie Anderson or Steve Horn are back to eastern Iowa for a visit, it always ends up in a “remember when we did this” or “I can’t believe we did that” session.
At the end of our junior year, we ushered the seniors down the hall and out the door of Camanche High School. We were now in charge. We were now the upper class. We now ruled the hallowed halls of CHS.
Or so we thought.
Our class may have stood out in the minds of many people for different reasons, but mostly for our work that we did when the Flood of 1965 hit our little town, which rests upon the mighty banks of the Mississippi River. On the inside front of our yearbook, “Chieftain,” appears a drawing that Frank Miller of the Des Moines Register drew, depicting a teenage person piling endless sandbags on the banks of the river to save homes. It simply reads “The teenager who will cheerfully volunteer for hard, duty and often dangerous flood duty.” Our yearbook was dedicated to “us,” the teenagers who helped fight the Flood of “65.
That happened the end of April 1965, just before we had our graduation ceremony and parties. We took it in stride. We worked around the clock to fill sandbags and place them very carefully around the homes of our town. We didn’t complain, we just did it. It was the right thing to do and the only thing to do.
I remember we all had to line up and get our typhoid shots. I also remember it made many of us sick and left us with really sore arms. I think that someone told us that the exercise of the work at hand would help remove the pain. We were dealing with a much greater pain, that of the looks on the homeowners’ faces whose homes we worked to help save from the flood waters.
The people of Camanche fed us and the food was pretty darn good. Lots of great cooks in Camanche then, and I am sure that still stands true. I know this was their way of thanking us. A simple thank-you would have been enough, but we sure were not going to turn down the food.
We would work in shifts and then fall into a pile at whatever home was safe from the rage of the Mississippi. Ours was one of those homes. We were never in danger of having the waters seep into our home. Our home had doors that were always open, so during that crunch time, if you could find a place to lay your head for a while, you were welcome.
There were 17 highways closed in our area due to local flooding. I remember my dad, at the time, worked at JI Case Company in Bettendorf, a half-hour drive down the Great River Road. Because he wasn’t able to get through the flood waters anymore, he borrowed a boat from my uncle Chuck Iliff, who was a fisherman. They drove a car and placed it safely on the other side of the flood waters, and then Dad would pilot the small boat to the car, tie up the boat and drive to his job. He would repeat this routine every day until the flood waters receded.
On April 28, 1965, the Mississippi crested at 24.65 feet, almost eight feet above flood stage. Now it would slowly work its way back to where it should be.
The river was at bay, we were thanked and rested and back to class. The countdown began until graduation. My good friend, now Dr. Steve Horn, and I walked down the aisle together at commencement, received our diplomas and stood a little taller side-by-side. Now it was our turn to be ushered out the front door of CHS.
The flood work we did that year often comes up in conversation. The Mississippi River was a vital part of our lives growing up. We fished it, we boated it, we slept on its banks. We always felt safe — we respected Old Man River.
Old Man River didn’t win in 1965; we helped score the victory for our hometown.
And we would do it again in a heartbeat.
Lynn Marr-Moore is a contributing writer for the Tri-County Times.