It’s been 50 years since graduation day for the Elbow Lake/Wendell High School Class of 1966; in many ways it seems like we only blinked and those years have flown by. As we make plans for our half-century reunion, it gives cause to reflect on school memories.
Many of us had known one another all 12 of our years in school. Our lives together, and the close connections which we had taken for granted and had never been without, were about to end following graduation. We had no clue as to where the journey of our lives would take us. Appropriately, our class motto for graduation was “We Tramp a Perpetual Journey”.
Before receiving our diplomas and saying our good-byes though, our class was to embark on a highly anticipated journey; we were all going to Chicago! A trip to Chicago had become a traditional last hurrah for the EL/WHS graduating classes for several years. Now it was our turn. This trip was the culmination of a huge effort and involvement of the entire class. Class members had been working diligently for the previous two years to defray the costs of the trip so that everyone had the opportunity to participate. Money was raised from two class plays, car washes, bake sales, magazine sales, and our grandest fundraising event of all; an entertainment production held in the school’s gym entitled “Senior Follies”.
Every senior participated in one way or another in this most entertaining performance, and at some point each student enjoyed an on-stage appearance. There was music, dancing, skits, and multiple comedy acts. The performances lasted for two hours for two consecutive nights. The community was overwhelmingly supportive, and filled the gym to capacity each evening. They were seated at tables covered with tablecloths, including a centerpiece consisting of a yellow rose, our class color and flower. Throughout the performances, the students not on stage served lemonade, coffee, cakes, and bars to the appreciative audience. At the time, this event was the grandest show in town!
The day of our departure for our class trip was beyond exciting. We began by gathering at the school cafeteria at 2:30 a.m. where we were served breakfast. We were then bused to the train station in Alexandria. In Alex we joined the seniors from Barrett High School. We transferred to another train in St. Paul which eventually transported us into the heart of Chicago. Many of us had never traveled by train or even been east of the Mississippi River.
Our accommodations in Chicago were at the Sherman House; this hotel was actually a household name as we’d all grown up listening to the national morning radio show “Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club” which was broadcast from there. This hotel was, for sure, the tallest building any of us had ever stayed in. Four students shared a room. The old hotel had windows which opened fully with no screens, and in a moment of silliness, I actually almost bounced out of the eighth-floor window. Fortunately, I did not or someone else would have to be telling this story!
The late spring weather in northeastern Illinois could not have been more inviting so we were able to enjoy walks around the various museums and shopping districts. There were bus tours around the city, including a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo. We were thrilled to ride an elevator to the top of the Prudential building, which at that time was the tallest building in Chicago, and to be awed at the breathtaking view of the Windy City.
One day we were given a choice to participate in either attending a dinner theatre, a premier movie opening, or the thrill of rides at Riverside Amusement Park. It was the best of times!
All too soon, we found ourselves boarding the train at Union Station for the ride back home. Many of us used the time on the train to write in one another’s yearbooks; those are priceless and precious messages, for sure.
A few days after our return, we marched into the old high school gym on our graduation day. Our journey together had ended.
It is 50 years later and our class motto still rings true: “We Tramp a Perpetual Journey”. We’re still experiencing this journey and we have never forgotten one another. Many of us have kept in touch through the years and recently modern technology has made it even easier to stay connected via social media. When we gather at our reunions there is no awkwardness in our meeting; we still know one another so well.
The Class of ’66 would like to wish the WCA Class of 2016 the best of life and love. You will experience journeys beyond your wildest dreams, but you will never forget the friends you grew up with in your own special wonder years.