A Rite of Passage
Updated: May 20
If nothing interferes with my plans—at my age, any number of things can interfere with plans—I will make an appearance at my 50+2 (twice delayed by COVID) high school reunion in September. I’ve sent in my registration form and check, and I’ve booked a room at a local hotel. I don’t know if this will be our last reunion. I’ll certainly understand if the committee wants to call it quits after this one. It’s easier to stay in touch with classmates now, and in fact, a group of eight or ten of us have met on Zoom three times so far this year. We all seem to remember different moments of the lives we shared so many years ago. I hope we can keep it up, since not all of them are able to travel to Iowa for the reunion.
My high school commencement ceremony took place on Monday, June 1st, 1970, in the gymnasium at Evans Junior High School in Ottumwa. It was held at Evans because it was the largest indoor venue that could accommodate the expected crowd. Our class, decked in red and white caps and red gowns, was big—542, I think. The high school building (above) opened in August 1923, and after almost 100 years, it’s still the high school! They added a “Vo-Tech” building in the 1970s. The performing arts classes—bands, orchestras, choral groups—also meet there. I’ll bet the entire campus is air conditioned now. It wasn’t back in my day.
My friend Mary hosted a party after our ceremony, out on the farm, in the barn, with cows (maybe steers is more accurate) watching over us while we celebrated our departure from OHS. We had a blast!
The next day, after little or no sleep, I started my first real job at Ware’s Dairy Freeze on Vine Street. I was paid 75 cents an hour, and after a month or so, I got a nickel raise. Woo hoo! I earned enough money that summer to purchase a fringed leather jacket which was sort of the rage back then. I loved it. I still have it, although I haven’t worn it for decades.
I was pretty busy in high school. When I look at this list from the back of our senior yearbook, The Argus, I am amazed. I did all that (I have absolutely no recollection of being the Pep Club’s treasurer), plus a bunch of stuff not connected to high school, like church and sorority activities, and just regular teenage life. Mostly, I wanted to graduate and move to Iowa City. And so, I did.
I did not attend my University of Iowa commencement ceremony in May 1983 (nine years “late”) as we’d just moved to Norman, Oklahoma from Kingsville, Texas earlier that month. But in August 1987, I did attend the graduation ceremony at Condie Junior College in Campbell, California, where I had just completed a twelve month “Travel and Leisure” program. One really fun class I took was “Cruise Experience.” We (the class plus two faculty members) flew to Los Angeles, boarded a ship, and sailed down to Ensenada, Mexico. I took my mom along on the four-night cruise because Joe couldn’t go. She was seasick much of the time, bless her heart, but still enjoyed the experience (especially the casino!). My dad had a big bouquet of flowers—I promise they weren’t funeral flowers—delivered to our cabin the day we boarded. We both cried.
So, I thought I wanted to be a travel agent. As it turned out, I really didn’t. That career lasted for about nine months. During that time, I started a part-time position at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Library. After I quit working as a travel agent, I was hired full-time at Stanford. Much better. Until the earthquake. (See my June 16, 2021 blog “Nimitiz: The Man and the Freeway.”)
In my novel, My Mother’s Friend, my protagonist Phee Swensson graduates from Algona High School in May 1945. The AHS building opened in 1931 and was eventually converted to a middle school after the new high school opened in 1970 several blocks east and south of the original building. During a four-year renovation in the 2010s, the O. B. Laing Middle School and its annex across the street were transformed into forty unique apartment units. The gymnasium and 700-seat auditorium (where Phee’s ceremony was held) remain available for community use. During the renovation, they retained many of the original historical elements. The “library apartment” comes with ample built-in bookcases, and some of the lockers were retained for storage.
Algona’s oldest wooden school (dating back to 1867) is now the Kossuth County Historical Museum. It is full of really interesting stuff (I’ve been there) including documents and photos from World War II and the Camp Algona POW Camp.
I’ll close with the opening paragraph from Chapter 34 of My Mother's Friend. It’s Sunday, May 27, 1945.
Phee was in a fine mood this afternoon as she drove out to the camp for her three o’clock meeting with Horst. On the way, her thoughts turned to last Thursday night’s graduation ceremony and Mayor Ralph Kimball’s address to the seventy-six members of the Algona High School Class of 1945. He told them that graduating from high school was a rite of passage, and he paid tribute to all the men and women who had served or were serving their country, including many AHS alumni. The band played for the processional and recessional, and the mixed chorus sang a stirring rendition of “God Bless America.” Under her black graduation gown, Phee wore her new yellow and white polka-dot dress, a gift from her dad. “I’m tired of seein’ you wear those old dresses,” Frank said as he handed her two crisp five dollar bills a couple of weeks ago. The next day, she and Mollie went shopping at Crystal’s. When Phee walked out from the dressing room, Mollie exclaimed, “You look like sunshine!”
On my first visit to Algona in April 2016, I discovered the Algona High School mascot is the Bulldog. The Ottumwa High School mascot is the Bulldog. I really love that connection.
Blessings to all.
Today’s blog is my 50th. I need to take a break once again so I can focus on other things for a few weeks. I hope to return in late June with Part One (of three) about The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” which celebrates 100 years of excellence in 2022. Thanks for your patience.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her (as yet unpublished) debut novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.