Model A’s & Sock Hops
McHenry County residents share what life was like as teenagers in the simpler times of the ’30s-’50s.
“Old age is not for sissies,” said Jean Reeb as she helps set up tables and chairs for the monthly Memory Makers meeting at Richmond’s Nippersink Library. The topic of discussion is “High School Memories.” Reeb, who devoted 35 years of her life as a secretary of Marian Central Catholic High School, is herself a Woodstock native. She completed high school at “little old St. Mary’s” in 1942 – 17 years before Marian first opened its doors.
“There were 22 students in my graduating class,” Reeb recalled. “Eleven boys and 11 girls. And those are just idle rumors about the nuns – no ruler to the knuckles. The sisters were very nice to us. I still feel a loyalty to Marian. All seven of my children went there, too. It’s still fun to go to homecoming and have people recognize and old girl like me.”
So, what was it like attending high school in McHenry County in the old days?
1930s – Model A Adventures and “No Whistling”
Robert Rich grew up on a dairy farm just outside Big Foot. “That’s when Big Foot had seven gas stations and no cars,” he said. “Now you can’t walk across Route 14 – and not a single gas station in town.”
Bob, as his friends call him, graduated from Harvard High School in 1935. “There was no school bus for us farm kids those days, so I drove a Model A [and] hauled four or five other kids with me every day,” Rich remembered. “Not all farm kids were lucky enough to go to high school like us. There were only four cars in the school’s lot: mine, another Ford, a Chevy, and something [that looked] like they just pieced it together from a bunch of different car parts. One dollar from the Texaco kept that Model A going all week.”
And getting to school could be an adventure. “One day on our way to school, a wheel rolled past us down the road,” Rich recalled. “It looked like the wheel of a Model A! And yep, our back end was dragging. There were six of us in the car. We had exams that day. We had to hurry to make exams, so we retrieved the tire and found just two of the four or five lug bolts that held it on. But we fixed it, and we made exams on time.”
Rich, whose favorite part of the day was “always playing ball at noon,” got along well with his teachers … mostly. “There was only one teacher who kicked me out of class,” he recalled. “My English teacher. I walked into the room and sat way in the back end. She grabbed my collar and said, ‘Go out and come in the right way, Robert.’ I guess I had come in whistling. “Nobody whistles in my classroom,’ she said.
Guess where Rich sat after that incident? “A permanent seat right beside her desk,”
1940s – Walking Sundaes and High School Jitters
Clarice Miller, Kathryn Bolger and Rosalie Doherty – the Girls of ’46 – all graduated together that year from McHenry High School, now McHenry East. “We went to K-12 together,” Bolger nodded to Doherty. “And then we got to watch our daughters, Colleen and Cindy, do the same thing – watch them grow up in our footsteps.”
“Mostly we chased boys, played tennis and ate ice cream,” Bolger recalled. “We did not have a lot of homework those days. We paid attention in class!
“After school, we’d go to Tucker’s Ice Cream and get a 10-cent ‘walking sundae’ (a pint of ice cream split in half, each half generously topped with chocolate) and walk along Riverside Drive.
“Everybody walked to school and back those days, except for the farm kids who got bussed in,” Doherty added. “So there was always a friend along to split a sundae with. I don’t know if anybody today has even heard of a walking sundae.”
And how did they pay for all those 10-cent sundaes? “We worked,” Bolger answered. “I earned all my spending money. I used to babysit for 50 cents per night.”
Dorothy Slaughter Otis entered Marengo High School in 1948 and graduated in 1951. “As a student entering high school from one of the many country schools,” she said, “the old feeling of familiarity was replaced with apprehension.”
It was an experience shared many local kids making the transition from small country school to the big, new high school in town.
“So many new faces, new names, multiple new classrooms, new ways of doing things,” Slaughter Otis recalled. “I remember dreaming that I couldn’t find my classrooms in time! But the music program became the heart of my high school years. The band program brought with it a whole bunch of new friends, fun, and new challenges. To this day, those memories evolving around the band program remain very special.”
Band, that is, and ball games: “The prospect of engaging, once again, in some hard-fought baseball games was especially anticipated!” Slaughter Otis added.
1950s – Homecoming Floats and Sock Hops
Shirley Kitchen graduated in 1954 from Marengo Community High School. She recalls the anticipation of going back to school that she’d feel in the final days of summer.
“Some of my favorite high school memories are about looking forward to the activities associated with homecoming in the fall,” Kitchen said, still full of school spirit these many years later. “In the ’50s we spent about four or five nights a week for three weeks building and decorating floats in some big building away from the high school. The floats were not supposed to be seen by any of the other classes, but of course we drove around trying to ‘spy’ on the others. This always led to a confrontation.”
It was hard work, too, and well worth the payoff. “Many hours were spent pulling napkins through chicken wire and the floats were beautiful when finished,” Kitchen said. “On Thursday night, we had a ‘snake dance’ through the streets of Marengo, followed by a huge bon fire at the high school. Friday was the parade and the football game. On Saturday, we got dressed up for the dance that was held at the high school’s decorated gym. The climax of the evening was the crowning of the king and queen.
“If I remember correctly,” Kitchen laughs. “My curfew was midnight. How times change!”
Bill Oeffling, a 1960 graduate of McHenry High School, also remembers the excitement surrounding his high school days of the ‘50s.
“I was fortunate enough to play lots of athletics,” the former baseball, basketball, and football varsity standout recalls. “Basketball was my favorite. McHenry was part of the North Suburban Conference back then – we played much bigger schools like Zion-Benton. My junior year, which would be 1959, we won conference in basketball. Just to show you how good we were, we won our first 17 games that year and ranked in the top 20 in the state. We did not have a big field house back then, just a gymnasium. Everybody came out to the games. People got there early to get a good seat, and seating was real tight.”
After the games was when the real fun started. “We had sock-hops,” Oeffling recalls. “Lots of dancing. Some of the students had little four- or five-piece bands. They’d be the entertainment. Between bands, we’d spin records – you know, those old 45s. Different clubs would sponsor dances. Elvis was real big back then, of course, and a lot of that rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wop music.”
Today you might find Oeffling – nicknamed “Dr. Glove” owing to his business of repairing baseball gloves – still in attendance, cheering on the local baseball, football and basketball teams.
Our high school days are full of memories that last a lifetime. They certainly date us – Model As and sock hops having long disappeared from the scene. But they also remind us of much has stayed the same, as expressed so well by Harry Wolf, Marengo Community High School Class of ’55.
“My memories are all associated with being with my classmates, and my expectations of belonging to something very special,” Wolf said. “Yes, this is what was most important to me … nothing special … just everything. And what a loss it was when the school years ran out!”