Those of us – and there are many all across the great state of Iowa – who were part of small high school graduating classes ought to understand how lucky we are.
The mere reality of numbers, plus inevitable daily contact with one another, means that we knew everyone in our graduating class. It wasn’t always that way, of course. For example, when I finished my seventh grade in school, there were even fewer classmates around. That was my last year in school before I became a part of an ever-booming reorganization of schools across Iowa.
That school year, 1955-56, was the year most in my generation became teenagers. We’d reached that age isolated from the rest of the world, so to speak, a small band of boys and girls sent off to a long-gone three-story brick building to be taught the three “R’s,” while we were expected to mind our “P’s” and “Q’s.”
There were 14 of us then and most of those lived on farms in the area. The few of us who actually lived in the tiny community of Alleman weren’t even enough to form a basketball team, let alone a baseball team which was far more important to all of us than finding summer jobs in one hay field or another. Shoot, I can still name just about all of those 14, even though some of them moved away from the area before we finally graduated from high school.
Things began to change by eighth grade, though. It’s easy to remember proudly wearing a maroon and gold hand-me-down basketball jersey with “Alleman” stitched across the front. We played a few teams from other area small schools. Sheldahl, for example, came to Alleman wearing their own hand-me-down basketball uniforms, the black and orange of that school. Another area town was Elkhart, wearing the green and white colors of that school.
We knew there were changes coming. It wasn’t a big secret. Alleman would unite with Sheldahl and Elkhart before school doors opened that fall of 1956. No longer would we be the Alleman Wildcats. Henceforth, we’d be North Polk. A year later, when I entered my first year of high school, the transition would be complete. Kids from Polk City would join us, forever shelving their blue and white colors.
For some reason, because we were freshmen that year and would be the first group of kids to go through all four years of high school as the “New North Polk,” we were given the opportunity to vote on school colors and the school nickname. The school colors had to be devoid of any recognition by one of the towns in the district. Black and Red became the choice. It was far more difficult coming up with a nickname that would be forever tied to athletic teams fielded by those kids from Alleman, Elkhart, Sheldahl and Polk City.
Somehow, we settled on “Comets.” At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of the name. Now, of course, it’s as much a part of North Polk as are the black and red athletic uniforms.
Suddenly, my small group of 14 classmates had ballooned to more than 40, still a small number, but quite large when comparing it with numbers of just one year earlier. While the Class of 1960 was the first to go all four years of high school at North Polk, the Class of 1961 was the first class to go all four years at the “new” North Polk, with kids from Polk City thrown in the mix.
Twice through our lives members of those two classes have joined together for class reunions. On one of those occasions, the Class of 1962 was also included. When we celebrated our 50th class reunion, it was actually in 2010, our 49th year after high school. We’ll do it again this September. We’ll mark our 55th graduation reunion 56 years after we left school.
A small group of us met for lunch recently to plan things. It wouldn’t be a “reunion,” but rather a simple “get-together.” Reunions take far too much planning.
So, the question was asked “who’s going to come?” I thought, “Well, we’re all here now, aren’t we?” That wasn’t quite true, but probably close. There were three of us from the Class of 1961 – all of us who lived in Alleman. There were two from the Class of 1960, both of whom lived in Elkhart.
We divided up names and began to contact classmates from long-ago. The list keeps growing. When we finally get together on a Saturday night in September, there will probably be 25 folks – classmates and wives – at the get-together.
That’s the easy part. There just aren’t that many to contact.
The list gets smaller every year. Almost 30 percent of the 1961 graduating class at North Polk have passed away. While those numbers, a dozen or so, are small, they represent a big number when it comes to our class.
That’s what makes it hard. You meet to divvy up names and that’s when you find out, “Oh, she died about four years ago,” or “Oh, he died a long time ago.”
Suddenly, memories of those classmates fill your mind and helping organize a class get-together isn’t as easy as it may seem.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Dallas County News and Boone News-Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.