Winnebago County, Illinois
The Class of 1940 35-year Class Reunion
[Source: Rockford Morning Star, September 28, 1975]
BOBBY SOX, COKES AT HICKEY'S AND A WAR THAT COULDN'T BE--THE CLASS OF '40 COMES HOME
BY LEONA CARLSON
They were born in a period of unprecedented prosperity and optimism, and spent their teen years immersed in the worst depression in the history of this country. But they had survived the economic roller coaster, World War II was impossible. The year was 1940, and life was good. Bobby sox, saddle shoes, Sloppy Joe sweaters, the jitterbug, Glenn MIller, gardenias, Lake Geneva, cokes at Hickey's, sloe gin fizzes at the Jade Room.
East and West High Schools were being built to flank the city. The class of 1940 would be the last produced by old Rockford High Scool on South Madison Street, and that gave them a sort of distinction. One of a kind. Unique. The school was composed of a half dozen buildings, some red brick, some gray. One had started life as a watch factory. Two had ornamental owls perched on the peaks of their front gables. The component buildings were all different ages, all different styles of architecture, and all different floor levels. The floor levels were strung together by enclosed ramps, one of which led to an area known for obvious reason as Rat Alley. It was a sort of distinction to have your locker there.
The student body had long since outgrown the auditorium and the cafeteria and the gym.
They went to Rockford Theater of Lincoln Junior High School to see their class plays. At lunchtime the overflow ambled up Madison Street to a couple of handy restaraunts on East State Street. They played baseball in the National Guard Armory.
They didn't complain about the inconvenience of it all. They didn't break windows or engage in protest demostrations or gang fights. Painting the sky-high owls was a perennial prank, viewed with glee by the students and head-shakings by their elders.
It was a funny old school--ugly and unhandy and hopelessly irrelevant to the needs of the day. But it had atmosphere, and the kids looked upon it with affection and sort of a defiant pride.
"Three Cheers for Rockford High School."
They sang it again Saturday night, that class of 1940. Older and grayer and thicker through the middle at age 53. But still Rockford High School's last (forever) and the city's biggest. It was their 35-year reunion, and there was a lot to talk about. Careers, kids, grandchildren, gray hair, no hair, the state of the world, the state of the economny, the state of mind, the good old days. And retirement looming ever closer in the distance. Half the class still lives in Rockford--461 of them. Another hundred live in other communities in Illinois. But they flocked in from near and far for the 35-year reunion Saturday night in the Ramada Inn. Of the original 641, California claims the next largest number (75), second only to Illinois, followed by Wisconsin (34), Florida (21), Arizona, (15), Texas (13), Colorado and Ohio (12 apiece) and Minnesota (10). One lives in Canada, one in England and one in Japan. (?)one in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, or West Virginia.
Seventy-eight are deceased, representing slightly over eight per cent of the class. Shades of the impossible war they fought: 53 of the dead are men, 25 women.
There were 29 intra-class marriages. Contrary to the going divorce rate, 23 have survived.
Many are VIPs in business, industry and the professions. One out of the almost-1,000 is a movie star--Barbara Hale, class of 1940 May Queen, who won an Emmy playing Delta to Raymond Burr's Perry Mason on television.
Marion Johnson Carter lives in Crestwood and is vice president-cashier of a bank.
Paul Downing of Glenview is senior vice president of the Uptown Federal Savings and Loan Association of Chicago.
Burdette Person lives in Nagoya, Japan, and is engineering manager of Japan operations, MB-3 Engine, of the Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell International, involving development of a space booster system capable of placing satellites into earth orbit.
Richard Campobello lives in London and is a senior partner of an international accounting firm. Don Christopher lives in Malibu, operates his own investment company and is vice president of Vocations for International Students Agency.
Lyle Peterson is quality assurance engineer for nuclear power components with Union Carbide Nuclear Division in Tennessee.
Bebe Wing Matthews lives in Sikeston, Mo., but has spent most of the past few years traveling around the world studying and collection art and artifacts.
Fred Veach lives in Lake Forest and is executive vice president of corporate development of Montgomery Ward and Co.--and a brother of Democratic State Sen. Vivian Veach Hickey of Rockford.
On the local scene: Among many local leaders, Donald Lindvall is a division director of community relations for Commonwealth Edison; Campbell Perks, chairman of the board of Esclipse Fuel Engineering; Richard Reece, president of Alga Reece Sheet Metal Co.; Harry Ritter, vice president--operations, Greenlee Bros.; Roger Storm, Nelson and Storm Tool Supply; Robert Stringer, division vice president of Northern Illinois Gas Co.
The list continues. J. Mac Beattie is president of Camlin Insurance. He and his wife, the former Helen Wolfensperger, won an award Saturday night and the undying gratitude of their 1940 classmates, for their efforts in obtaining addresses of all but 14 of the 941 class members.
The class of 1940 also boasts liberated woman in the ranks: Bergie Smith Shuey of Rockford, who gave up part-time working for the real thing when her husband retired. Now she works, and he does the homemaking--and "he is truly liberated," says Bergie.
But of all the class of '40, of all 941, perhaps the most envied is Jack Dunstan of Oroville, Calif., who is neither a corporate executive nor a nuclear engineer. Dunstan is the vanguard of the next wave of class trends. He's retired.
ONE IN A THOUSAND
Barbara Hale Williams, movie and television actress, had this written under her picture in the 1940 Rockford High School year book: "Drawing is the hobby of Barb, who had very high aspirations of becoming a successful commercial artist." Barbara started toward her goal by attending the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, but got sidetracked when the owner of a model bureau offered her a job. Modeling led to acting and she became the first girl to kiss Frank Sinatra on the screen, the co-star and supporting actress with Hollywood's leading actors, and an Emmy winner for her role as Della Street in television's "Perry Mason"
WHAT THEY THINK NOW
Rosalie Ogren Slinger, class of '40, director of flight nurses for Emery Airborne Intensive Care, transporting patients throughout the western hemisphere: "Nursing was a lifelong ambition of mine, and it has never disappointed me. I was out of it for 10 or 12 years while our three children were young. But this is my best job ever--by far the most interesting. When I graduated from Rockford High School, I never though I would be living in Rockford 35 years later. But we haven't been here all the time. I met my husband when I was in nurses; training in Dayton, Ohio, we lived in Stockholm for a year, and we spent two years in Brazil while he was in the Peace Corps. All the time I was in nurses' training, my ambition was to travel, and it has been a very interesting and fulfilling career, all made possible because of a wonderful and patient husband who had been very helpful to me...
Larry Ferolie, class of '40, Rockford lawyer: "Rockford High School? There was no east side, no west side. We were all together. Parking was never a problem because nobody had cars. If you had English class on the first floor, you'd have to stop when the trains went by because the tracks were right outside the window. But we had the best class you could ever have--the best basketball team, the best football team, the best band, the best debate team, the best-looking girls..." "Another thing--there were no really rich kids or poor kids in those days, or it didn't seem like it. We were glad to exist. And then the war--that brought us even closer together. Comparing our world with the world our children faced today: We had by far a more precarious world. We had just come off a depression, virtually going to school with one pair of slacks...nobody had a car, we took buses or walked. World War II was there--most of us realized it was going to involve all of us. Today's world is troubled, but it's a different type of world. The opportunities today are great, for young people just getting started, just as they were 35 years ago. And there are more opportunities in Rockford than any place I can think of. There's only one thing not good about this town. The weather. Two hundred overcast days a year..."
MARGARET CAMPBELL FRIDLEY
Margaret Campbell Fridley, class of '40, chief deputy Ogle County clerk and Rockvale Township auditor: "Back in Rockford High School days there was no way I though I would end up in this job. I took a secretarial course there and was on every team in G.A.A. But my father was on the police force, and I always did think I would stay in the Rockford area. I'm glad I did. This job I have now--it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. About the 35- year renunion: no, I don't think it's depressing at all. Getting older is a natural thing. I don't dye my hair or anything. It's just gray..."
Phil Weingartner, class of '40, owner of Weingartner and Son, Realtors: "Bank in 1940 I really didn't give a though as to whether I would be in Rockford 35 years later. I went to college and then the Navy and then my dad suggested if I liked I could come home and help him out. So I did, and I stayed..."
Jay Hart, class of '40, owner of Jay Hart Realtors, deputy director of Winnebago County Civil Defense, named in Marquis "Who's Who in the Midwest" for his achievements in art: "I lived in Fort Lauderdale from 1952 to 1958 but came back to Rockford to live after that. I think I always felt this was my home. The developments in the world in the past 35 years don't surprise me too much--I was always an avid reader of science fiction since grade school and maybe that prepared me for it. I look forward to seeing my high school friends again--but I don't think any of us feel any older than we did back in 1949.."
George Champion, class of '40, retired career Army officer, now director of Winnebago County Housing Authority: "I got drafted by the Army in July of 1944 and went in thinking I would serve my two years and get out. But when the two years were up there were no jobs available and he Army was the best security I could offer my wife and two children. So I went back in. Before I was through in 1965, I had served in the South Pacific in World War II, in Korea and Japan, and 17 months in Vietnam. I came out of Vietnam in 1962. I still say the Army is no place for a man with a family--you've got to have a wife that doesn't mind moving all the time. I do regret I didn't finish college before I went back in. But I'm not sorry I stayed with the Army, especially every month when I get that nice little old check..."
[--Rockford Morning Star, September 28, 1975]
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