Not even a towering inferno which destroyed their high school could deplete the resiliency of the CHS students of 1968.
This is the story of the sophomore English class of Mrs. Jaeger on May 29, 1968. They had just endured living through a horrible experience of devastation and going to classes from 7 a.m. until noon each day at Washington Junior High School. On a spring day, their thoughts were starting to drift to summer vacation, their first jobs, driver’s licenses and carnivals.
Eighteen sophomore English class students were asked to write a letter to a CHS student 20 years later. They were to describe their lives. Most of them wrote about how it was for all teenagers then, while a few focused on their individual life. For one thing, they didn’t dwell upon the past and the fire.
Edna Dohse was a high school bookkeeper, and in 1988, she found a big envelope in an old safe in Franklin Elementary School. In the envelope, Edna found 18 letters of students from 1968; 65 cents for postage; 20 envelopes with 6 cent stamps on them; and various small items. She gave them to sophomore English teacher Joyce King.
King assigned her students to respond, but for many reasons, they were never delivered.
One student recognized that it would be hard connecting with past students, because they moved. This article may facilitate the transmission after all these years. One thing is for certain, the students from both groups were serious about their efforts. They wrote very neat letters and their grammar, spelling and construction were very good. The letters weren’t very deep as they fantasized about their lives and the future, but nonetheless, it was a good exercise, jammed with implications about the years that have passed.
The students are now 41 and 61 years old and King is about 80. Jaeger was young then, but she may be approaching 90 or is gone.
The only difference in the letters is that the 1968 ones were hand written in very pleasant penmanship and the 1988 versions were typed via computers. Those with penmanship were surprisingly prolific writers and half of the class finished three pages.
The students from the past described their music, games and their boredom with a little town, and that their parents didn’t understand them. The “past” thought that the “future” would laugh at their slang, clothes and hairdos, and they did, as they looked them up in the old annuals. However, there was no laughing about the many sobering thoughts about poverty, overpopulation, the Vietnam War, and approaching adulthood. The students went to church, worried about offending their parents or getting in “hot water” with them.
The girls wrote of music, skirts above the knees, and that many of the girls had boyfriends, while one said that she “wanted to have a boyfriend.” David Winn conjectured that “I am getting out of class at 12:10 and then I’ll go to the carnival and watch the ‘weirdo’s’ and then I’ll go to Marcucci’s and bother Bob Johnson and Jim Pitts with my friends, Schroeder and Forney. It’s spring, so tonight we’ll go down to Riverfront and do some ‘bushwhacking’ and then on Sunday I’ll go to church like the ‘little angel’ that I am.”
Nancy Leu said, “I know we look primitive to you as we get spiffed up to go to Y-Teens, Pep Club, Nee-Hi’s, or listen to music.” Marsha Knutsen dreamed of “going to the island, water-skiing, learning to golf with my father, and then going to Riverboat Days.”
Mike Donehy was a real political guy, as he reflected on “racial hate riots and materialism,” but then thought of escape from boredom by driving cars up Second Street, as it was the “only thing to do.”
Gus Jakubsen spoke of the fire, and Larry Mercer couldn’t decide whether to write about positive or negative things, but said, “I’m just an average guy.” Michelle Townsend mused, “I hope to get an answer from you and you can contact me through my father, John. Also, we have a staggering number of juvenile delinquents and a mixed-up world what with the War and bombing.”
Kathy Hollister said, “You don’t know me, but after you read my letter, I hope that we can be friends.” “It’s so small here in Clinton with only 36,000 people,” said Maryellen Crowley; and John Vogel must have just come from Social Studies class, because he mentioned nuclear war, communists and Sputnik. “The country which reaches the moon will rule the world, but ours is the safest country in a dangerous world.”
The class of 1988 really enjoyed the “past’s” letters and added things like pollution, computers and girls’ sports. Danyale Temple was a friend of business teacher Linda Beauchamp and was in the Secretaries Club and had perfect typing. She told a story about Johnny Carson passing through Clinton and calling it “the armpit of America” due to the Clinton Foods smoke and smell.” (Some love it!)
Heather Griffin thought “the bike trail, the dike, and that the Showboat ‘makes’ Clinton.” Mike Sexton “loved his sports, because that’s all you can do, but the new Burger King’s great.” Sara Fullerton loved her youth: “I am a cheerleader, and CHS has a good music department, and the best popular group is now ‘New Kids on the Block.’”
Coeann Asmus was in Students Against Drunk Driving and Correan Jackson “wanted to grow up to be a lawyer, typist, or (my friends say I should be) a singer, but I am too shy to stand up and perform.”
Kevin Mantsch finished by writing some “fillers:” “We have a man on the moon; disco people; Star wars; E.T.; Elvis is dead; and the Cubs haven’t won yet.” Jennifer Gertson mentioned her typing and that she loves A-Cappella Choir, while Traci Nash mentions that she “would like to get a boyfriend.”
I hope that she did.
These were good kids who tried very hard on this year-end assignment and dreamed big dreams for their nice teachers.
Gary Herrity is a historical columnist for the Clinton Herald. His column appears on Fridays in the Clinton Herald.
Resources Joyce King; student letters of 1968 and 1988. (These letters can be seen today at the Clinton County Historical Society Museum.)