Still daring to be different: Central class of 1952 celebrates 70th reunion

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Central’s Class of 1952 celebrated its 70th reunion Saturday. Attendees included (front) Ken Lemka, Bernadine Seifert Peterson, Eileen Seeland Smith, Ivadean Ahrens Doeppke, Betty Steen DeCook; (back) Glenda Landsgaard Timmer, Don Fenton, Greg Whittle and Norbert Whittle.

The class of 1952 scrapbooks contain pictures and personal histories, along with newspaper clippings documenting previous reunions and accomplishments.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The Central Class of 1952 recently celebrated its 70th reunion. Such occasions have been marked with more frequency as of late, given the members’ advanced ages. Of the 44 students who graduated, it’s believed only 14 remain, and this year, just 10 made the trip to Johnson’s Restaurant on a rainy Saturday to once again reminisce, laugh and re-tell stories some have long forgotten. 


This year’s reunion was organized by Norbert Whittle, who assumed the main duties around 12 years ago, upon the passing of his predecessor Patricia Matt. 


In her submission to the class memory book, she recalled the limited options for women back in 1952, and how many just hoped “some prince on a white horse would come and sweep the girl off her feet!” 


That didn’t happen for Matt, who seemed universally respected by the remaining classmates. Instead, she went into teaching, eventually settling down in the Central Community School System, back when there were schools in Elkader and Volga. Recollections even detailed how she used to ride the bus to school and home with the kids. It was a different time. 


Whittle now carries the class torch, complete with a pile of papers with typed and hand written notes and information, including names, addresses, emails and telephone numbers. A list notes those who have been lost and whether they went to the reunion or declined. Most contact is done by phone, as Whittle admitted email is less effective given their ages. 


The classmates’ ages also has Whittle doing something else: checking the local obituary pages for names. Over the last two years, he’s read the names of four classmates. All four were still alive when this reunion was previously scheduled last year, but COVID-19 ended all hopes of that happening. 


This year, two classmates were unable to attend due to medical issues, while another was unresponsive and his location is unknown. One graduate, Marvin Kahr, is the only classmate who has never attended a single reunion, though he does answer Whittle’s calls and contributes to the reunion books. He prefers to “remember the class as it was in 1952.” 


That 1952 class graduated with the motto “Dare to be Different,” and has certainly tried its best over the proceeding decades to leave a direct impact on the community. 


The class watched 19 of 22 boys go into branches in the military, all wanting to serve even as they grew up during World War II and the beginnings of the Cold War. 


This is the class that raised over $12,000 to help restore the Elkader Floral Hall in the early 2000s, as well as donated over $11,000 to help renovate the shelter house in Elkader City Park in the late 1990s. 


One of the graduates in attendance, Ken Lemka, served as city clerk for 27 years and is the nephew of Henry Lemka, who served in World War 1 and whose name graces the local American Legion. This year, Lemka came not just because he enjoys the time with old classmates and good friend Whittle, but because it could “be the last one.” 


This was a sentiment shared by many who showed up, including Betty Steen DeCook who spent decades working at Guttenberg Industries and volunteering at the Guttenberg Care Clinic prior to retiring in 1997. When asked why she came, Betty simply said, “It may be the last one.” 


During the lunch, the classmates talked about what they’ve been up to or what they’ve had to stop doing, like bowling or golf, because age simply won’t let them anymore. There seemed to be a near-universal love of card playing, whether it was spades or hearts or euchre, while drawing a firm line in the sand over card games like Phase 10 and dice games like Tenzi, which didn’t seem as beloved among the crowd. 


One thing that stuck out were the stories about keeping in touch and helping each other over the years. This class clearly demonstrated a love of community and giving back, and they helped each other without expecting anything in return. They did it because it was the right thing to do. 


Daring to be different seemed to come with a side of selflessness. 


After the lunch, each class member spoke a bit about what has transpired since the last time they met, with Norma Lantz going first. She talked about a love of bowling that her body simply won’t do anymore. 


Eileen Seeland Smith still lives in Elkader, spent 32 years at the telephone company and has 16 great grandkids. She joked about having a “bum knee” and not being able to “see no more.” 


Betty prompted a debate about who was older when she reminded everyone that she was born in 1933. The debate, as far as one could tell, remained unresolved. 


Betty also wanted everyone to know she can “still dance!” 


Bernadine Seifert Peterson lives in Wisconsin with her daughter and a dog she is very fond of. Bernadine was another telephone company employee, and while the men went into the military, five of the 22 girls in the class of 1952 went to work for the telephone company. She’s lived in Missouri, Michigan and California before settling back in St. Olaf. 


Ivadean Ahrens Doeppke is an Elkader lifer and cancer survivor, and talked about how much she enjoys doing stuff around the home and being a church volunteer. 


Don Fenton, who was involved in the jovial oldest class member debate, apparently drove from Denver, Colo., where he moved in 1968 with wife and high school sweetheart Helen Hickman. Fenton started his own remodeling business in the 1970s, before retiring in 1994. He shared his love of the mountains and joked this reunion was “his last one.” 


Greg Whittle was less talkative than cousin Norbert, speaking about his life doing farm work and his two great-grand kids. 


Norbert spoke about his three jackpot moments, which included marrying his wife Dorothy, becoming a CPA and landing a job working for Reimer Publications. 


Glenda Landsgaard Timmer read a poem she wrote for a previous reunion, which regaled the audience with memories of friendships, teachers, classwork and classmates. 


After the poem, Lemka said, “there’s so many memories, we could talk for years!” 


The class of 1952 will meet again in 2025, and though the group might be smaller, they have left a legacy that can’t be undone or forgotten. As Glenda’s poem said, “We have had our footsteps dimmed, but not erased, for we were here…once, a long time ago…”

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