It also provides a nice window into what high school was like in the 1950s in Lorain. There's plenty of nostalgic references to the Lorain we all remember, too.
Lorain High Graduates Recall The 50's An Age of Innocence
By MICHELE RICE
|NORMA VOLAK with the Class of 1957 B's yearbook.|
Hanging out at Sutter's to watch the girls go by, going to beach parties, dancing at Vermie's, necking at Lakeview Park and going to Club.
That's what the old gang from the Lorain High School Class of 1957B will be remembering at their class reunion next year. They'll laugh about the styles back then – long skirts, dirty saddle shoes and bobby socks for girls and baggy suits with (always) white shirts and skinny ties for the guys. Ivy League sweaters matched Princeton haircuts.
The 50's – that innocent naive time of life when everything was looking up – is being immortalized by a new generation. The generation of the '70s, through the weekly exploits of "The Fonz" on TV, and watching movies with a '50s theme like American Grafitti and The Lords of Flatbush, trying to capture some of the nostalgia that class of '57 enjoys.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the Korean War was over and nobody paid too much attention to a little county called Vietnam.
FALLOUT SHELTERS were the neighborhood status symbol, and the teenagers could recall the McCarthy hearings on television just a few years earlier.
A mushroom cloud covers an entire page in the 1957 Scimitar, the school yearbook.
"This is a symbol of our age – the age of the atom," the caption read. American technology was booming and the future looked good. Then the Russians, in 1957, started the space race with their successful launching of Sputnik, a shock to the world. And, the Edsel failed.
Teenagers (an age classification that just started in that decade) listened to songs like "Splish, Splash, I was taking a Bath" on their transistor radios, Elvis appeared (from the waist up) on the Ed Sullivan Show, James Dean, Kim Novak, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando drew crowds at the movies.
"It was a good time to grow up," reminisced Jim Watling, "because there were no world problems. You didn't have assassinations. You didn't have the economy blowing out of proportion."
WATLING, who now works in the warehouse at Lake Erie Electric, remembers, "I graduated one day and punched the clock the next." He later enlisted in a peacetime Navy.
Back in the 1950s, Lorain High graduated two classes a year. The January class was the "A" class and the June graduates were the "B" class.
"When we were in high school, those were the good times," said his wife, the former Gerry Karney. There were no wars, jobs were plentiful, girls graduated from high school, got a job and then married. They weren't encouraged to go to college, she said.
Jim and Gerry, although both graduates of the same 1957B class at Lorain High (the only public high school in town then) didn't date in high school. They married 10 years after graduation.
She went to college, but remembers her father getting flack from the family for sending a girl to college. Now, she is a home economics teacher at Masson Junion High School.
Their high school lives were similar.
"AT THAT TIME, we had Crystal Beach (in Vermilion) on a Sunday night," Watling said. Acts like the Four Lads or Jimmy Dulio would play there. (Crystal Beach was an amusement park that was torn down.)
"Not too many kids had cars and downtown was a thriving center," he added. Movies were well attended. 'Rebel Without a Cause', 'Oklahoma', and the 'Wild Hunter' would pack them in.
Shopping in downtown Lorain was a big pastime.
"The stores used to be open on Friday until 9," said Mrs. Watling… "The thing was to go past Firestone's or Sutter's to see what fellas were there, and they would stand outside and watch the girls go by."
School functions – either those sponsored by the school or sponsored by a variety of social clubs – were held often," he said.
THERE WAS LOTS of double dating, dances, and hayrides. And necking at Lakeview, Little Lakeview or Oakwood.
"Oakwood Park, wow, that was really the place," remembered Watling.
He remembers being more naive than boys his age are now. Movies were more censored.
"You'd go to the Roxy in Cleveland then and you didn't even see complete nudity. Now the shows are more risqué," he said. "I think Brigette Bardot was in a movie and you saw her backside and you REALLY had to see that."
There was a strong drive to conform in those days, they both agreed.
"IF YOU WERE your own person you were socially flakey, you know," said Watling."
"There was a very strong tendency to conform to the group," she recalled. "We were more conscious of group pressure and group acceptance."
The Watlings live at 3840 N. Hogan Sr., and have two children Jimmy, 8 and Steve, 5. They've noticed a difference already in the education their children are getting – as compared to the education they received in the late '40s and '50s. Jimmy, for example, is already getting career education – something that wasn't promoted even when Jim and Gerry were in high school.
|NORMA CARUSO VOLAK in her |
Mrs. Volak doesn't see the nostalgia surrounding the '50s as a new phenomena. She was interested in her mother's high school years. Were the '50s as innocent as portrayed through television and movies now?
"AS COMPARED to the troubles of the '60s and the disillusionment of the 70s, then the 50s was a time of innocence," said Norma, who is currently a fulltime history major at Oberlin College.
The problems of growing up as a teenager in the '50s were "petty trivial things," she explained.
"There was a lot of pressure to be feminine, a lot of pressure to be married young," she said, adding that the '50s was "a step back for women in that sense."
"I'm glad my daughters (Andrea, 9, and Renee, 13) are being formed and growing up in the '70s," she said. "Young girls make statements now that were unheard of in the '50s, such as then a girl would say "When I get married" and now she can say "If I get married."
"There's much much confidence in young girls today," she said. "My children are much more aware of what's going on in this county and around the world. Well, it's forced on them. It's right in the living room…
"SOME of the optimism about the future is gone from some," she added.
Mrs. Volak, who comes in contact with today's student everyday at college, said her ideas in high school were "very unpolitical" as compared to today's teen and young adult.
"The closest we got to politics was being forced to take part in a debate between Stevenson and Eisenhower as a social studies assignment in junior high."
"You couldn't teach economics and mention Marx in the '50s," she added later. "You couldn't teach government and mention Lenin in the '50s."
She remembers the social life in the '50s more than the academic side of high school. Clubs took a big part of the social calendar. She was in the Echos.
"WE'D RENT a college every summer in Vermilion for a week. And we'd have some dances, raise money for things," she said.
Her group was competitive with the other girls' groups – Y-Hi Jackets, Y-Hi Sweaters, Jr. Gems – but the girls were also friendly with the other groups. The guys belonged to the Whistlers, Dukes, Barons, Cavaliers and the Southerners.
"Every Thursday night we had club meetings at someone's home. "It was like a status symbol to be in one of the clubs.."
"Young people now are much more receptive and open to people whose lifestyle is different than theirs," she said.
"If you were a homely girl in the 50s, you were lonely," she recalled. The '50s, she said, were "very cliquish, very exclusive.
"IT DID TEND to be a little cruel. I'm sure a lot of people were hurt by that."
To get into a club, you had to be asked.
"You went to a Coke party on a Sunday afternoon and then you'd go home and wait to get a phone call," she explained. At the Coke parties, the club members would decide whether a girl was good enough to join the club.
"You'd be on display, on trial," she said.
After a girl would leave the Coke party, the club members would discuss her and vote on letting the girl in. There was a lot of politics in the voting.
"IT WAS A LOT of fun to be in a club. "If I had to do it all over again, I don't know what I'd do. I had a lot of fun. But I'm ashamed of the cruelty – the fact that I blackballed girls."
Norma and her husband, a Lorain Fire Department lieutenant, live at 3346 E. Erie, Lorain. Besides, the two girls, they have a son, 15-year old Christopher.
|SHAROL KNIEPPER who remembers the '50s |
as a fun time. (Journal Photos by Kurt E. Smith)
She's active in planning the big reunion, and got a taste of nostalgia last fall when she and her husband John (class of 1956A) went to a '50s party, dressed in the styles of back then.
"Of course, when we were in school, we thought that we looked so cool. When we got dressed up (for the party) we had a good time just laughing at ourselves," she said.
"I HAD A D.A. (duck 'tail' hairdo) in high school, she added.
The typical style for girls at school was a baggy sweater, a long skirt, bobby socks, and saddle shoes, "but they had to be dirty." Only about one inch of the leg showed, she said, chuckling.
"In the summer, the girls would wear full skirts, with several crinolines to make it stand out," she said. After school, blue jeans and a baggy sweatshirt would be stylish.
Class rings would hang on chains around a girl's neck. Engraved ankle bracelets would be worn on dressy occasions.
"There were about three big formals a year, Sharol remembers. The dresses would be "always strapless, fitted and real full."
THE JITTERBUG was the dance to do. Rock 'n Roll was just born.
Sharol and John have two daughters, Kyle, 7, and Karyl, 6. Another child is expected in October. The family lives at 364 Hafely Drive.
The '50s were more simple times. Parents were more strict, she said.
Not too many kids had cars. If they did have them, they would be old junkers, or a guy would borrow a car from his folks to go out on a date – mostly a double date, she explained.
"There was not much drinking and of course, there was no such thing as drugs," she said.
"We had a lot of good, clean fun."