In the fall of 1958, when I was five years old, my family moved to Ames, Iowa. My family consisted of my parents, George and Bert Seifert, and my older brother, Curt. From that time until I graduated from Iowa State University (ISU) in 1975, I lived in Ames. After 1975, I returned to Ames on numerous occasions to visit my parents. These include the many times I visited them before I became a parent along with the even more numerous times we visited them after their grandchildren entered the world. My parents lived in Ames until they passed away (Mom in 2004 and Dad in 2015). Although I haven’t lived in Ames for a long time now, Ames has been a part of my life for almost 60 years. And because of that, I have lots of memories and emotional “baggage” that are associated with Ames. Recently, I decided that I needed to try to record my memories of Ames to help me come to a better understanding of my emotional “baggage” affiliated with this town.
My father took a job as a Math professor at ISU in 1956, but when my parents moved to Iowa from Nebraska, they initially located to north Des Moines and my dad commuted to Ames. My family moved to Ames when my parents bought a new house at 2213 Ferndale Ave. in 1958. At that time, this new development of housing was being constructed by Hunziker Construction Co. and was on the very northern edge of Ames. Just north of our house, Ferndale Ave. ended at 24th street. North of 24th street were corn fields. 24th street was gravel. To the east a few blocks was the Ames Fruit and Grocery store at the corner of Grand Ave. and 24th St. The building is still used today as a hardware store, but in 1958, it sat by itself at that corner. One fall evening, my dad and I took a walk to the grocery store after dinner. It was dark and the stars were bright – we probably talked about a variety of things, but especially about the stars.
Some of my earliest memories from Ames involve going to kindergarten at Meeker Elementary School located on 20th St. near Kellogg Ave. When we first moved to Ames, I had already started kindergarten at a school in Des Moines and attended that school with friends. I didn’t know anyone in Ames and so was terrified being sent to Meeker. The first few days, I would simply spend most of the time crying. The situation was so serious that for a short period of time, my mom would come and stay with me at school. Eventually I calmed down and was able to attend by myself.
We lived close enough to Meeker that I could walk to school. One day, while walking to school with the neighborhood kids I had become acquainted with, we came to a house that had a retaining wall next to the sidewalk. We decided to walk on the top of the wall and at about that time, the principal of Meeker was driving by. He stopped his car and got out to tell us to get off the wall and to give us a lecture.
During an early winter in Ames, my dad took me over to Meeker with a sled to sled down a small slope on the school grounds. It really wasn’t a hill, but it was thrilling enough for five-year-old.
The house we lived in on Ferndale had three bedrooms and one bathroom. The basement was initially unfinished but there was a toilet, sink, and shower downstairs. Eventually, the basement was partially finished and Curt moved down there to live. My dad also had an office in the basement. The living room had a vaulted ceiling and a large picture window looking out to the backyard. There was a small dining area adjacent to the kitchen.
Not long after we moved into the new house, my parents installed a wood plank fence around the back yard. One aspect of having the fence was that it became common in the winter that a large snowdrift would form in the backyard adjacent to the fence. I enjoyed building snow tunnels in those drifts. Another aspect of having the fence that I didn’t enjoy later was that I was assigned the chore of clipping the grass around the fence in the summer. That was a job I always hated. Spiders enjoyed building nests in the tall grass growing near the fence and clipping the grass required dealing with the spiders.
During the early years in Ames, my mom was a stay-at-home mother. So, when I returned home from school, she would be at home. She enjoyed hobbies like painting and sewing. She was also the primary meal preparer and cleaner of the house in those days. My father would always help with clean-up after dinner – it was a time when my folks had the opportunity to talk about what they had done that day.
In the fall, my dad would buy apples at an apple orchard over on the west side of Ames on Ontario Ave. He would buy a bushel of apples (probably Jonathans, his favorite variety). When he returned, he would recruit me to help him with the task of wrapping the apples in newspaper. We would take a sheet of paper and individually wrap each apple and then place them in the bushel basket. He stored the apples in the garage (where it was cool in the fall) and by wrapping each apple, it would help prevent spoilage.
My dad also used to go to a farm located just north of Ames to buy eggs. The farm was on W. Riverside Rd, just east of the large quarry lake north of town (now Hayden Park), and just east of the Skunk River. I’m not sure what motivated him to drive up to this farm for eggs since the Ames Fruit and Grocery store was nearer to our house than was the farm. Perhaps it was price. Or, perhaps he just liked having very fresh eggs.
Although my parents shopped at Ames Fruit and Groceries for some of their groceries, I think their favorite grocery store in Ames was Fareway. When we first lived in Ames, Fareway was located downtown near the corner of Kellogg and 5th St. At some time in later 1960’s, they build a new store at Burnett and 6th St. where it still is today. Fareway had the best prices in Ames for groceries. It always seemed like an “old-fashioned” grocery store. They had a butcher counter with the various cuts of meats displayed and butchers at your service. At check out, they had employees who bagged your purchases and then took them out to the car for you and helped you load them into your car. I think the store is operated in the same manner today.
An occasional local excursion that our family would take was to Ledges State Park (or as the locals would call it, “the Ledges”) over near Boone. This beautiful park is located near the Des Moines River and encompasses a hilly area that encloses a sandstone canyon through which a narrow creek flows (Peas Creek). There are numerous trails that wind through the hills. A paved road leads down into the canyon and crosses through the creek at several spots. This park was a favorite location for our family to go, especially when we had family visiting from out of town. I have recollections of going to the park once with my Uncle Buddy and at another time with my Uncle Kurt and Aunt Friedel and cousin Ingrid. Although I don’t have a personal recollection of my first visit to the park, I have seen photos of me and my mom at the park probably taken around the time when we moved to Iowa in 1956 when my dad started working at ISU.
Before starting his job at ISU, my dad had been a Math professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (I was born in Lincoln). While living in Lincoln, my parents became good friends with the families of two other math faculty, Bill Leavitt and Lloyd Jackson. My dad and Lloyd Jackson shared interest in the same type of mathematics. The Leavitts had several children – two girls were a few years older than Curt and a son, Bob, was about Curt’s age. The Jacksons had one daughter who was also a few years older than Curt. During the late 1950’s, all of our families would vacation together in the summer in Colorado. We would all rent cabins at the Meeker Park Lodge in Allenspark near Estes Park. Dad would go hiking with Lloyd Jackson and Bill Leavitt while Mom and stay with Janice Jackson and Janie Leavitt around the cabins with the kids. After we moved to Iowa, their friendship remained strong. Several times a year, we would drive to Lincoln for a weekend visit or they would drive to Ames. Because all their daughters were older than Curt and I, we really didn’t see much of them when we went to Lincoln – and, I don’t think the daughters came to Ames with their parents. But, when they came to Ames, my parents would prepare a good meal for the adults and socialize. For the kids, my dad would take us down to Charco’s, a fast-food burger place on South Duff (at the current location of a Panera’s) for burgers, fries, and a soft-drink. This was a treat. When we returned, the adults would be enjoying cocktails and then steaks. Later in the evening, they would enjoy playing penny-ante poker. The kids would get to stay up late watching TV. Curt and I would usually hang out with Bob Leavitt.
Although as a family we didn’t go out to eat much in the early days in Ames, there were a few restaurants we would occasionally go to as a family, or that my parents would go to with friends. In the 1960’s, Ames didn’t have a diverse collection of ethnic restaurants from which to choose that Ames has now in 2017. There were no Asian restaurants of any kind. There were chain restaurants as could be found almost anywhere in America at the time. About the only “ethnic” restaurant in town at the time was Tony’s Little Italy, an Italian restaurant owned by Tony Gaetano (who was of Italian heritage). In the late 1950’s, the restaurant was located on the north side of Ames on Top-o-Hollow Rd. Later, the restaurant would move to a location on the south side of town on S. Duff (at the current location of the Hickory Park Restaurant – when this restaurant located there, the old Tony’s building was torn down). Our family didn’t go out to eat at Tony’s in the 1960’s (probably because my at that time I didn’t like Italian food, and so my parents would not have taken the family there), but I think my parents would go there with friends. I would later have a job as a cook and dishwasher at Tony’s during my college years. Although the job was hard work, I enjoyed the variety of cooking tasks I was given while working there.
There was another restaurant in Ames that we would go to as a family, usually for special occasions. The Broiler was located on Lincoln Way on the west side of town. It was a “fancy” restaurant that served American fare (steak, chicken, pork chops, etc.). They also always served homemade biscuits that were really quite delectable. They also specialized in a variety of desserts that were very good (i.e., various kinds of pies, delicious cakes, etc.)
In 1959, my family moved to Towson, Maryland for one year when my dad got a research fellowship in Baltimore. When we returned to Ames in 1960, I returned to Meeker for second grade. Early in my second grade school year, our teacher gave us an assignment to write about something we had done in the previous year. I wrote about living in Towson. When I received my graded paper from the teacher, she had “corrected” my “misspelling” of the word Tucson (i.e., that is the city that she had assumed I was referring to when I wrote Towson).
In the fall of 1961, my school assignment changed again. A new Ames Senior High School had been constructed on the north side of Ames, not far from where we lived. Apparently there was a shortage of space at Meeker and so one class each of several elementary grades of kids were assigned to attend school at the new high school. So, I was in the third grade class that was assigned to the high school.
While living in Towson, I started taking piano lessons at the Peabody Institute. When we returned to Ames, I continued taking lessons. My teacher was Mrs. Schiller who lived in a house near Carr’s Pool. The lessons as well as the recitals were at her house. I didn’t really enjoy the recitals much – they were too stressful for me. At one point, she acquired a harpsichord. She let me play it once and I thought it was really cool. It seemed so delicate and had such a quaint sound. I had other piano teachers over the next several years. Mr. Chilton was a music professor at ISU who gave private lessons on the side. The music department at ISU was not that large at the time (ISU was an engineering and agriculture school – UI had more of an arts focus). He was quite a character and I enjoyed having him as my teacher. The Music Department at that time was in a small old building not far from Beardshear Hall. (It was later torn down when Carver Hall was constructed.) In the winter, huge icicles would form on the roof of this building. His office had a door that led outside and in the winter he told me I couldn’t leave after my lesson through that door because there were trolls and ogres who were waiting to knock down one of the icicles on me. The last piano teacher I had was a woman who lived in a house not far from our Ferndale house. She was a nice and a patient teacher. But, when I reached junior high school age, I lost interest in playing the piano. I didn’t want to put in time practicing and would rather be out with my friends. So, I told my mom that I wanted to stop taking piano lessons and she replied with a challenge to me – I could quit but the lessons, but I would have to tell my teacher that I was quitting (she thought I wouldn’t have the courage to do this.) At my next lesson, I told my teacher I was quitting. She was surprised, as was my mom. My mom was surprised that I actually took her offer. And, that was the end of my piano lesson days.
I became friends with some boys who lived in the neighborhood who also went to second grade at the high school. My best friend, Rod Bogenrief, lived south a few blocks on Ferndale. His family lived in a smaller house than ours – for one thing, it didn’t have a basement. He also had a larger family – when I first got to know him, he had one older brother (who was the same age as Curt) and two younger brothers. Later, his parents had another son. He father worked at an electric supply store in Ames and his mom was a stay-at-home mother. Their house had only three bedrooms and so it was fairly crowded.
Rod and I had similar interests. We enjoyed playing sports games like baseball and football, and with his younger brothers along with some other neighborhood kids, we usually had enough kids to play whatever game we wanted to play. We both had bikes and enjoyed riding around our end of town. We enjoyed making model cars. Rod was talkative when around me but he was shy around my parents. In the summer, we would occasionally set up tents in his backyard and “camp-out” for the evening.
Summertime was fun living in Ames as a kid. We were basically free to go around the north side of town on our bikes doing about any fun stuff we could imagine. One activity we enjoyed was going down to Squaw Creek and swimming in the creek. Depending on the flow of the creek, this was usually not that dangerous. But, if the flow was high, this was probably not the safest activity since there were some deep spots in the creek.
One summer, while visiting Woolworths on Main St. in downtown Ames, I acquired a “pet” – a small turtle. At this time, these small turtle “pets” were very popular all around the country. Woolworths was a store that offered a wide variety of products – from shampoo to parakeets. I purchased the turtle and small plastic turtle “habitat” in which the turtle could live a “happy” life. It was a circular tray about a foot in diameter that simulated a tropical beach. It held a small amount of water and had an “island” on which there were some plastic palm trees. At first, the turtle lived in his/her habitat in my bedroom. One sunny summer day, I decided to take the turtle out to “enjoy” the summer weather and positioned him/her on a picnic table in the backyard. Then, I took off on my bike to do fun stuff with my friends. Several hours later, I returned and much to my dismay, the turtle had expired. The conditions in the direct summer sun, trapped in its turtle habitat were too stressful. I felt sorry for the turtle, but I didn’t rush down to Woolworths to buy a replacement.
When going for bike rides, we would at times use playing cards and clothespins to make our bikes sound like motorcycles. The trick was to attach a few cards with the clothespins to the front fork or rear stem bars with the cards extending into the spoke area. When you started riding, the spokes hitting the cards created a roar that sounded similar to a motorcycle engine (or so we thought).
Once we were playing with model cars in the detached garage next to Rod’s house. We decided to create a fire to “simulate” a car crash with some model cars. So, we poured some gas on the model car and lit a match. The fire became a bit more intense than we had planned and so Rod ran into his house. His mom was doing dishes in the kitchen. Rod grabbed some container and scooped some sudsy water and started running out of the house. When his mother asked what he was doing, he replied that I was thirsty. We did put the fire out without getting burned or setting the garage on fire.
We would also often go swimming in a public pool in the summer. Ames had only one public swimming pool in the 1960’s – Carr’s Pool. It was located near the Skunk River at the bottom of the hill down Carr Dr. The pool was originally built back in the 1920’s and was privately owned until the mid-1970’s when the Carr family sold it to the city. The pool was fairly large. In the shallow end there was a big slide for kids to ride into the water. There was also a decorative fountain and in slightly deeper water, there was a spinning top on which kids could climb and make it rotate. The top was actually not very safe. Curt once fell off the top and broke his collarbone. In the deep end, there were several diving boards. There was also a large A-shaped tower that had several diving platforms, including the highest one at the apex of the tower. To one side of the pool, there was a large bleacher where swimmers could take a break and bask in the sun. There was a large dressing/shower room on the east side of the pool. When arriving at the pool, after paying your entry fee, you would get a basket at the service desk and then go into the room to change. The room was really just a walled in outdoor area with benches and some showers. You would put your clothes in the basket and take off a numbered pin to put on your swimming trunks. Then you would leave the basket at the service desk when you headed out to the pool. In the 1960’s, we went swimming there often in the summer. My mom bought a family pass. She also hired someone to give me swimming lessons. The rule at Carr’s Pool was that you needed to pass a swimming test to be allowed to swim in the deep end. The test consisted of being able to swim across the pool and back without stopping. After I learned to swim, I was eager to take the test so that I could play in the deep end of the pool. After that accomplishment, I enjoyed trying out the various diving boards. I especially enjoyed the diving platforms on the A-shaped tower, although I never actually dived off of those – I would simply jump in, feet-first. The top platform was the scariest, however, since it was the highest. In 2016, I discovered that Carr’s Pool is now gone. A new public swimming pool was built elsewhere in Ames in the early 2010’s and after that, the city closed Carr’s Pool. They also demolished the pool and filled in the location where it used to be.
In the summer, I would ride my bike all around town. One longer ride that was fun was to ride west on 24th St. (just north of where our house was) along the gravel road to a water tower about a mile away. For some reason, my friends and I enjoyed playing around on the grounds of the water tower. And then, we would occasionally ride further west on 24th St. past some railroad tracks to Stange Rd. There, we would head south and into the ISU campus. Stange Rd. was also gravel at that time. After it crossed Squaw Creek, it intersected 13th St. and from there it was paved into the campus. After another block or so, it went under some railroad tracks through a one-lane underpass. There was a stoplight at the underpass to regulate the two-way flow of travel through the underpass. At some time in the 1960’s, the underpass was replaced with a wider underpass to allow for an easier flow of traffic. Once in the 1960’s during a visit of Uncle Kurt, Aunt Friedel, and Ingrid, I made the bike ride over to Stange Rd. on bikes with Ingrid. During the 1960’s all of the land adjacent to 24th St. and Stange Rd. was undeveloped farm land. Now, in 2017, that land is covered with housing developments.
In the winter, Rod and I enjoyed going sledding. One of our favorite sledding hills was a long broad slope behind the high school. The walk to the slope was probably about a mile, but the hill did provide for fun sledding. If the snow was deep, we would first kick out a sledding path. We usually made curvy paths for more thrilling runs down the hill. After several hours of sledding, we would head home when we were started to freeze, our blue jeans’ pant legs stiff with ice.
Another sledding adventure occurred at a classmate’s house on the north side of town. Neil Calhoun’s family lived in a house on a bluff above the Skunk River. The backyard of the house included a long broad slope leading down into the river valley. Once Neil invited me over to his house to do some sledding in his backyard. We spent a few hours on that long hill and it was lots of fun. That particular winter was a Winter Olympics year and there had been coverage of the Olympics broadcast on TV. While sledding with Neil, I imagined that I was doing bobsled or luge racing, as I’d seen watching the Olympics.
I also attended the high school for 5th, and 6th grades. For some reason, for 4th grade we were sent to the old Roosevelt School that was south of where we lived on 9th St., closer to downtown Ames. The walk to this school was a bit further than to the high school. But, during the winter, the walk offered more opportunities for play in the snow. I would walk with friends to school, and one morning we had played in the snowbanks that paralleled the sidewalk along the way. By the time we arrived at school, our blue jeans were soaking wet. Our teacher sent us downstairs with the janitor to the furnace room where we removed our jeans and placed them on some hot steam pipes to dry out.
While attending grade school at the high school, several of the NASA Mercury manned satellites went into orbit. These missions were big news in the 1960’s and so our teacher would wheel in a TV on a big cart so that we could watch the news coverage of these historic events.
I was only ten years old and attending 5th grade at the high school when the assassination of President Kennedy occurred on November 22, 1963. That day was a Friday and I was at school when the story broke. The first news we heard came from a secretary who told my teacher that the governor of Texas had been shot. Soon afterward, the news came in that Kennedy had been shot and then it was announced that he had died. I was amazed and found it hard to understand how it could have happened. In retrospect, I now consider that a milestone point in my life, a transition from a juvenile world perspective in which the “good guys” never lose, that good always triumphs over evil, to a more mature realization that bad things do and will always happen in the world, that evil does and will always be able to triumph over good. Classes were canceled that afternoon and for the following Monday. Although I was shocked that someone had killed the president, I was pleased that I got to go home early and would have a day off from school on Monday (I looked forward to playing with my friends). My mom had been a strong admirer of Kennedy and she was quite upset about the killing. My dad’s parents were visiting us in Ames that weekend. Oma and Opa had come to be with us on Thanksgiving, which was the following week. We were all watching news coverage of the assassination on Sunday when Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald live on TV (the first live national television broadcast of a murder). And, we also watched the television coverage of the funeral in Washington, DC on Monday. At the time, the Kennedy children were quite young. I felt sorry for John Kennedy Jr. He was only 3 years old when his father was killed. At that age, he certainly did not completely understand what had just happened.
Since there were several grade school level classes meeting at the high school, a grassy area behind the high school to the west was mowed and a swing set was installed for the grade school recess times. Once or twice each day, we would go out there during recess and in addition to enjoying the swing set, we would play kick-ball with bright spongy red balls. Occasionally we would be drawn to the grassy regions further west of the mowed areas for a little exploration, although the teachers preferred we not do so. This area had some small trees and shrubbery. One day when I was running around this area with some other kids, one of my other good friends, Jim Hogrefe, tripped and fell on a fallen branch of a tree that grew long sharp thorns on its branches. One of the thorns was jammed into his right knee near the knee cap. The accident was serious enough that Jim was taken to the McFarland Clinic for treatment. This injury became even more serious later when Jim developed an infection around his knee and that required some rather extensive surgery. This all negatively affected Jim’s health for months. The experience tampered down my attraction to playing in that area.
During the grade school years, a regular event I enjoyed with Rod and Jim was gathering at Jim’s house on Friday evenings and making pizzas. We each had one of the boxed Chef Boyardee pizza “kits” which consisted of a bag of flour, a can of sauce, and a small bag of Parmesan cheese. The kits were really rather pathetic. The quantity of flour was minimal and so it was always a challenge spreading the mixed-up dough on a pizza pan without tearing holes in it. And the Parmesan cheese just didn’t really provide much topping. When I got older, I figured out how to make my own pizza dough, but this was about the best a bunch of grade schoolers could do at that time.
Another weekend regular event, probably when I was in 5th or 6th grade, involved Rod and I staying up late and tuning in an AM radio to the clear-channel radio station from Little Rock, Arkansas. Clear-channel AM stations were stations with a special license that allowed them to increase their broadcast power after sunset. AM radio frequencies are such that at night, the range of their signal is larger and so with the increased power, one could pick up the stations at a greater distance. It wasn’t possible to pick up an AM station from Little Rock in Ames during the day. But, at night, it came in quite clearly. The station was KAAY and we enjoyed tuning in at 11pm on Saturdays. At that time, there was a special show that played the rock music that we enjoyed at that time. The show was called Beaker Street and it didn’t play the standard Top 40 line-up but instead focused on playing “underground” music. At 11pm, we would tune in and hear the show’s “theme song”, Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man”.
When birthdays would come around during my grade school years, I would often have a celebratory gathering with Rod and Jim at the Pizza Hut in Ames on South Duff Ave. At the time, there was a miniature golf course right next to the Pizza Hut. My mom would drive us down and we would start with a game of golf. Then afterwards, we would enjoy a pizza along with a pitcher of pop.
Rod had a paper route when he was a kid. The Des Moines Register printed a morning and afternoon edition of their paper in the 1960’s. He had a morning route. I felt envious of him since it provided him with a “regular” income. I would often go along with him when he went out to “collect”. At that time, people could subscribe to the paper and not pay in advance for their subscriptions. The paperboy would walk around their delivery route on a weekly basis, knock on doors and ask to collect the subscription fee. In the 1960’s, a weekly subscription to the Des Moines Register probably cost something like $1.50. So, once a week, Rod would walk his route in the evening and collect these fees. As his friend, I would go along. One of the couples on his route was a deaf couple. On several successive weeks, we would go up to their door and press the doorbell. There was no response. So, we would leave. After several weeks of this, there came a week when the couple finally did appear at the door. Once Rod communicated to them that they owed him something like $20, they were in a state of shock. Back then, $20 was a lot of money. They paid him and after that, they managed to respond when Rod came each week to collect.
I once substituted for Rod on his paper route when his family went out of town for a week on vacation. I had to get up very early that week. It was in the summer and so it was light out when I went to the drop-off location to get the papers. Rod gave me his large newspaper bag, a canvas bag with a shoulder strap that I loaded with papers. I then proceeded around the neighborhood with his list of subscriber addresses on his route. Paperboys really didn’t make much money at that time. I don’t remember how much Rod made now, but I cannot imagine that he made more than $5 per week. So, I’m sure I didn’t earn much that week. At the time, I had an interest in trying to get a paper route of my own. But, Mom wasn’t that wild about the idea. I think she thought that the newspaper company was taking advantage of the kids who took the jobs since they didn’t pay them much.
Halloween was one of my favorite holidays of the year when I was young. I never had a very elaborate costume. Usually, I would wear an inexpensive mask or simply dress like a cowboy or a bum or something similar. But, I would try to cover the largest region I possibly could so as to increase the quantity of sweets that I collected. One house that was in the neighborhood of our house would always ask you to come in and do a “trick” before they would give you any candy. There were usually a few adults at the house to watch and they were probably having fun imbibing a few cocktails to enhance their enjoyment. I had a small plastic trick device that I carried just to satisfy the performance requirement at this house. It consisted of a small banded stand on which a cap covered a small ball. The trick involved removing the cap to show the ball. I would then remove the ball and replace the cap. After saying some magical words, I would remove a false cap that was just above the cap which revealed what looked like the ball. Wow – what a show.
There was another house in our neighborhood that would give you popcorn for the Halloween treat. The residents would simply take a large bag of popcorn and scoop some of it into your trick-or-treat bag. And then, there was yet another house in the neighborhood where some super-religious folks lived. They would give you religious literature for your treat.
When I was in 5th or 6th grade, a friend who was in Boy Scouts asked me if I would like to join. He told me that scouts did lots of fun things like going camping. So, I decided to give it a try. The local scout troop he was in met in the basement of a church on the north side of town. I went to a few meetings but my membership did not last long. At one meeting, during a free-time period, I got into a dispute with another kid which resulted in me pulling and tearing off the “fruit loop” on the back of his button-down shirt. He retaliated by tearing an army patch that my mom had sewn on the arm of my jean jacket off. The adult troop supervisor stopped our dispute and gave us a stern lecture for fighting. He then punished us by having us stand at the wall for the rest of the troop meeting, “holding up the wall”. At a subsequent scout meeting, another dispute developed, this time with an older kid in the troop. After the meeting ended and we were leaving the building, this kid threatened to “de-pants” us unless we did whatever he wanted. We left quickly and went home. I told my mom about this incident and she decided that I shouldn’t go to any more of the scout meetings. And so, my short time as a Boy Scout came to an end.
During this same time period, we would periodically drive down to Des Moines for shopping or to visit the Des Moines Art Center. I always enjoyed visiting the museum. At some point, my mom decided to sign me up for art lessons there. She would take me down once a week on the weekend for my lessons. The lessons were varied and interesting. I was in a class with about a dozen other kids. Each class would last about several hours. One project we worked on was making paper mache puppet heads. The class was going to create the characters for putting on a puppet show performance of “Jack and the Beanstalk”. I was assigned to make the farmer in the story (the farmer who grew the beanstalk). We started by blowing up an oval-shaped balloon and tying the end in a knot. Next, we applied paper mache around the balloon forming the head. We also formed eyes and ears by making ridges of paper mache in appropriate locations. The heads were then left to dry. The following week, we popped the balloons and removed them through a neck hole we had left at the base of the head. Next, we painted the skull and the heads began to come to life. Since we were making puppets for a performance, our instructor told us to choose bold colors so that the audience would be able to clearly see features of the puppet faces from a distance. My mom helped me with the project as well since she made a puppet costume that would be attached to my puppet’s neck (other students’ mom’s helped them in a similar fashion). When all the puppets were completed, we then went to a small theater in the museum where we rehearsed our play. After just a few rehearsals, we put on the show – it was probably attended only by parents and family. The entire project was very entertaining. After the puppet project, we next learned how to create sculptures using clay. I decided to make a sculpture of a large squirrel. Working with clay was messy and fun. I created a large, fat squirrel with a bushy tail and large ears. I placed pieces of broken colored marbles in his head to represent his eyes. When the class was done with their sculptures, the teacher took all of them to be fired. When I returned the following week, my squirrel was now rock hard, but the marble pieces had melted during the firing. My squirrel was crying. We took the squirrel home and my mom proudly displayed it on the coffee table in our living room for years. Eventually, I stopped taking the art lessons. Probably that happened as I got older and decided that doing this activity was no longer “cool”.
While I was taking the art classes, my mom probably went shopping in Des Moines. There were times when we would all go shopping together in Des Moines. In downtown Des Moines, the Younkers Department store was one of my mom’s favorite shopping destinations. It was located in a multi-story old building in the heart of downtown. Going to Younkers as a young child was most likely the first time I experienced escalators. A visit to this large department store with many floors seemed quite exotic. In later years, when our family would make a shopping excursion to Des Moines, we would go to Merle Hay Mall. At the time, Ames did not have the North Grand Mall – most businesses in Ames were either on Main Street or over in campus town near the university. Merle Hay had lots of different stores – I believe a branch of Younkers was also located there.
Part of the reason that my mom signed me up to take art lessons was that she had an interest in painting during my childhood years. My mom took painting classes in Ames, but I’m not sure where. She produced a number of paintings, several of which are on walls of my house today. She did both oil-based paintings and watercolors. I think she used one of the spare bedrooms in our house on Ferndale Ave. as her “studio” for this hobby. She had an easel and a large array of different types of paints, brushes, paper, and canvases. She painted still lifes, portraits, and landscapes. One of her landscape scenes was a watercolor reproduction of a photograph of the house that her mother lived in on Fingerboard Road in Staten Island with my mother’s grandfather and great-grandmother in the early 1900’s. This house was next to the house that my mother grew up in.
In the mid-1960’s, my dad was the chair of the Math Department at ISU for a few years. During that time period, I once went in with him early in the morning just as the fall quarter was beginning to “help” him post classroom schedules on bulletin boards in Beardshear Hall. This was long before personal computers, the Internet, and smartphones, and even before classroom schedules would be distributed in paper form to students. The students would come to see where their math classes were going to meet. Beardshear Hall is a large majestic building in the center of the beautiful campus of ISU that had been built in 1906. In the mid-1960’s, the Math Department offices were located in this building. The building is several stories high and has wide stairways leading to the different floors. Although I went with my dad to help with the postings, I had spare time to roam the building and run up and down those stairs. I enjoyed the attention given to me by the Math Department secretaries who were also helping with the task. Since I was in school at that time, we must have gone in quite early to do the job, before my school day began. In 1969, Carver Hall was built not far from Beardshear Hall and the Math Department moved into that building.
A favorite annual event in Ames that I always looked forward to in the spring was VEISHEA. This was a week-long celebration at ISU every spring during which the various departments had open houses. There were are special shows and a parade through campus. The reason I enjoyed this event was because the Ames public schools closed on one day of VEISHEA so that school kids could go to the ISU campus and see the open house displays. I would go with my friends and we would have an enjoyable day. The open house displays that I enjoyed the most were the WOI-TV station and the Horticulture department. At WOI, you could view the TV studios and watch some shows in progress. The Horticulture department display would always include a sale of spring flowers. Since VEISHEA always took place in early May, I would buy some flowers to give my mom for Mother’s Day. Often, when my friends and I would go to VEISHEA, we would also simply enjoy wandering around campus and messing around. One year, we took squirt guns and then see who could get the other guys the wettest. That year, a campus policeman saw us playing with our squirt guns and stopped his car where we were playing. He chastised us for our actions and confiscated our squirt guns. I suspect that he did this because there were other kids who had been squirting random people with squirt guns and so he was going around campus collecting all of them. This annual ISU celebration was canceled permanently in 2014 after some drunken students rioted near campus during VEISHEA. But, I enjoyed many happy times of wandering the ISU campus with my friends on our springtime day off from school.
In 1965, when I turned 12, I finished grade school and entered junior high. In Ames, junior high encompassed grades 7-9. At that time, there were two junior high schools – Central Jr. High and Welch Jr. High. Central was for kids who lived on the eastern side of Ames while Welch was for kids who lived on the western side of town. Central was located in downtown Ames in two buildings that used to both be the Ames Senior High school. Welch was located in the west side of town (near ISU). The two buildings that made up Central consisted of an older three story-building and a larger two-story building located just west of the older building across Clark Ave. between 5th and 6th Streets. The older building was built in 1912 and served as the high school until the new high school building across the street was built in 1937. When I entered junior high, the older building was used for 7th grade classes and the new building was for 8th and 9th grade classes.
Junior high was the first time that I had school with “periods” and different classes. This was a transition, but I handled it well. One aspect of my entering junior high was that due to some assessment testing I had had (probably in 6th grade), I was placed into an “advanced” math class. When I was in the later stages of grade school, there was an educational “innovation" regarding the teaching of mathematics commonly referred to as “new math”. I think it involved including more introductory set theory in the curriculum (i.e., Venn diagrams, etc.) For whatever reason, I found this material easy to understand – so I did well and that resulted in being placed into the advanced math class. What that meant was that I was introduced to algebra in 7th grade – most other students didn’t see that until 8th or 9th grades. But, the class also included extra “advanced” topics. One of those was an introduction to the usage of a slide rule. One evening, I told my dad that I needed to obtain a slide rule for this class. My dad had an old slide rule (it was made of wood) which he produced for me to use. I also remember that my dad offered the opinion that he thought this training was ridiculous – he foresaw that slide rules would become obsolete in the future with the advent of newer computers and electronic calculators. Anyway, I did learn how to use a slide rule in 7th grade. (This served me well when I went to college since they were needed for my college physics classes – inexpensive calculators did not become available until after I’d graduated from college.)
Across the street from Central Jr. High to the south was a building that used to house a dairy business. When I was younger, my dad and I once stopped at this dairy so that he could purchase some milk. It must have been late in the afternoon after school had let out – the dairy, which also sold ice cream cones, was crowded with junior high kids. Being only a grade schooler at the time, the kids seemed much older and sophisticated to me. By the time I entered Central, this dairy had closed.
During 7th grade, I took an English class that focused on developing better reading skills. The Ames school district had adopted a system that consisted of boxes of color-coded reading materials that were graded for different reading levels – the SRA Reading Lab kit. You would select stories to read at a given color level, read the story through some electronic reading device that could control your reading speed, and then take an exam on what you read. The goal was to increase from the slower levels (perhaps colors green or yellow) to the faster levels (probably gold or purple). You were then graded on your overall reading speed and comprehension gain in the reading materials. I found the color-coding aspect of these materials quite motivating and so enjoyed this class.
Junior high was also the first time I experienced attending physical education classes. East of the older building for 7th graders was a large fenced in field that we would go out to for PE class in the fall and spring. The newer building included a gymnasium where the classes met during the colder months of the year. The PE teacher at Central was Mr. Kosbau and he was a sweet, caring man. Back in the 1960’s, a physical fitness challenge was in vogue, the “President's Challenge Youth Physical Fitness Awards Program”. So, during PE class we all took the challenge. There was the 50-yard dash, the 600-yard dash, doing sit-ups, doing pull-ups, and doing the standing broad-jump. I was mediocre at most of these activities. But, my most embarrassing deficiency was that I could not do a single pull-up.
Actually, back in 4th grade when I attended the old Roosevelt school, we did engage in some organized physical fitness activities at various times during the week. During the warmer times of the year, we would have recess outside during which we would either play in a large playground on monkey bars, swing-sets, or jungle gyms or play organized games of kick-ball in the large field that was adjacent to the playground. But, once during the winter, when we would have recess indoors in a large room in the building’s basement, a teacher thought we should all engage in jump-roping. And, this was not solo jump-roping – pairs of students would swing long ropes and each student would take turns jumping. Since I had never jumped rope before, I was terrified at the prospect of doing this (i.e., I was afraid of the potential embarrassment I would suffer). At that time, social mores were such that jump roping was considered a “girls activity” and so consequently, I’d never tried it. So, during the jump-roping session at school, the girls demonstrated great skill at the activity compared to the boys. I think I managed to do the more basic jumps, but did not attempt the more challenging jumps like the “egg-beater”.
When 8th grade began, my classes moved across the street to the newer building that made up Central Jr. High (this building is now the location of the Ames City Hall). The newer building was a larger two-story building that included not only a gymnasium (as mentioned before), but an auditorium. When I was in 8th grade, one of the classes I was required to take was a music appreciation class. It was during this class that I think I heard Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” for the first time, which I really enjoyed. After that I had a positive recollection of Copland and would listen to other compositions that he composed. Another class I had to take in 8th grade that I dreaded going was speech class. Public speaking terrified me. One of the speeches I gave for this class was on the Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” album that came out during that school year. I received a good grade on my speech because my instructor was curious about that album.
During junior high, I also made a short-lived attempt at learning how to play the violin. One of my friends was interested in playing in the school orchestra and so I signed up with him. My father had an old violin from his younger days. I think he learned to play it a bit when he first was in college. The violin was not in the best condition, but it was sufficient for my purposes. My recollection is that I would have a short individual “lesson” with the orchestra music teacher once per week and also attend one orchestra practice each week. I really didn’t practice playing the violin much. Since nobody in the orchestra could play very well, we typically sounded fairly horrible. I suspect that collectively, there was not much practicing going on. Soon, we started to lose interest in participating in this activity. But, we probably were committed to being in the orchestra for the remainder of the school year. Since the orchestra practices had become fairly unbearable, we discovered a tactic to shorten the orchestra practice time a bit. The music teacher who coordinated and conducted the orchestra would begin each practice session by having each student come up to him so that he could tune the instrument correctly. After a few practices, we realized that we could go up to the teacher more than one time to have him tune our instruments (apparently, because of the number of students in the orchestra, he would not remember if you had come up before). At the end of the school year, I quit the orchestra and so came the end to my violin playing “career”.
When Curt was in junior high, he went through a fashion phase where he would wear nice clothes to school. Button-down pressed shirts, nice slacks, penny loafers were all the fashion at that time. My mom would take his shirts to a cleaner so that they were always neatly finished. When I started junior high, Curt started going to high school. But, I followed my big brother’s lead and also got into the fashion phase. I, too, wore button-down pressed shirts, which
certainly must have enlarged the budget my mother devoted to the cleaners. At that time, I even owned a pair of wing tips. In the warmer months, I wore short-sleeve madras shirts. But, I think my mom enjoyed this phase. She enjoyed having her sons looking dressed in nice clothes. I would go shopping with my mom at the various clothing stores located on Main St. at that time. There was Emerhoff’s Shoes that was the store where I probably acquired my wing tips. For clothes, we might have gone to Berck’s Clothing or others located downtown. One of the largest clothing stores downtown was J.C. Penney. Our taste in clothing changed as Curt and I moved into our high school years. In the late 1960’s, as the counterculture emerged in protest of the Vietnam War, it was no longer cool to dress up. Bell-bottom pants and flannel shirts complemented our longer hair. But, before all of that arrived, Curt and I enjoyed a short-lived phase of “looking good”.
During my junior high years, I was also required to take three shop classes. First was wood shop. For that class I made a pig-shaped cutting board which I gave to my parents. Later, I made a mahogany model car display stand. Next came electric shop. That class was mostly a waste of time. One of the projects for that class was to make a heavy-duty extension cord. And finally, there was metal shop. Two projects I worked on in this class was making a sheet metal toolbox for my dad (it turned out to be a complete piece of junk) and a casted lead metal ball for use in the track and field sport of shot put. I thought that the process involved in making a cast object was very interesting.
Central Junior High school also had organized athletic programs. My friend Rod was interested in trying out for the football team. At first, due to his enthusiasm, I had an interest, too. When I told my mom about this, she put a damper on my plans. In her opinion, football was an activity too dangerous for either of her sons. So, that put the kibosh on those plans.
At that time, I was also interested in playing basketball. At one point, probably when I was in 8th grade, I tried out for the varsity Central Jr. High basketball team. After performing the standard warm-up shooting practice, lay-up practice, and practice scrimmages, the coach of the team pulled me aside and asked me to practice shooting exclusively with one or two other players. The next day, I learned that I had not made the varsity team. Later, I learned that the coach had used me as a negative threshold to determine which of the other players he compared me against would make the team. That was a depressing revelation for a teenager.
My dad was always interested in sports. During the 1960’s, he would buy season tickets to the ISU football and basketball games. Dad and I would attend football games at the old Clyde Williams Field (which was razed in 1978 after the current ISU football stadium was built). In the winter months, we went to ISU basketball games at the ISU Armory. I enjoyed the basketball games more than the football games since I liked playing basketball. The Armory was relatively small but consequently was also intimate. That contributed to making attending the games fun and exciting. In 1971, when the Hilton Coliseum was built, the ISU basketball team moved there.
My dad also enjoyed playing sports. He enjoyed playing tennis for as long as I can remember. But, in the 1960’s, he also took up golf. My mom played some golf at that time, too. And, I had an interest and so they bought me some kids’ golf clubs and I took up the sport. We played at the Homewood Municipal Golf Course which was not far from the house on Ferndale (and is very close to the second house on Kellogg). My dad was quite competitive and so he at times was quite frustrated when he didn’t play as well as he would have liked. One day when we were out for a round of golf, he hit his ball in near some trees. When he went in among the trees to attempt to chip the ball back out onto the fairway, he instead mishit and just moved the ball a few feet. He was so frustrated that he swung his nine iron at the tree, effectively “wrapping” the iron around the tree trunk. Eventually, he gave up playing golf as did my mom and I. His sports passion was playing tennis.
I took up tennis probably when I was in junior high. At first, my dad wouldn’t play much with me since I was just a beginner. He encouraged me to find other kids to play with. This I did by joining city tennis leagues. Eventually my game improved enough that my dad and I would play, too. But, back in those days, his game was vastly superior to mine and our matches were not very competitive.
Dad had lots of tennis-playing friends in Ames: Charlie Hammer, Al Pier, Paul Barcus, and Erling Jensen were some of the friends he played with regularly. They would usually play on the tennis courts located near Beyer Hall on campus. Dad also enjoyed playing in tennis tournaments. Two annual Ames tournaments that he would always play in were the Ames City tournament and the Esquire tournament. The Esquire was a tournament for players 35 years old and older. After my game had improved sufficiently (when I was in high school), we would play together in the Ames City tournament in the father-son bracket. There usually weren’t that many teams in that bracket since there weren’t that many families in Ames with a father/son pair who played tennis. The bracket usually had four teams in competition: Paul and Peter Barcus, Charlie and Dave Hammer, Al Pier and his son, and us. The Hammers were usually the favorites because Dave had a strong game. One year, we managed to take them in the finals and that was very satisfying.
One summer, ISU organized a “grab bag” doubles tournament that I signed up for. The way the tournament worked was that you would sign up individually and then the folks running the tournament would pair players for the tournament – they would pair the strongest players with the weakest players and mediocre players with mediocre players. I was a mediocre player and was paired with Paul Barcus. Paul was an ISU professor and a charming guy. He was also a serious smoker and at times he would actually play tennis with a cigarette clenched between his lips. Anyway, the way the pairings were created favored mediocre player teams and we ended up winning the tournament. I won a tennis bag for my efforts.
My dad and I continued to play tennis until he was in his 80’s. I eventually gave up the game because I wasn’t playing enough and so the game became extra frustrating. Dad played until his balance became a problem and playing the game was dangerous for him.