Reading the Westmoreland Class of 1945 Yearbook with Shirley Dykstra

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Shirley (Schram) Dykstra, one of the founders of the Westmoreland Alumni Association, recently donated her files to the Westmoreland Historical Society. When my mom and I picked them up, she introduced us to her friend Robert Howlett who lives next door. They graduated together from Westmoreland High School seventy-five years ago.

“What do you remember the most about graduating in 1945?” I asked her.

“The war,” she answered. “All the guys going into the service.”

“I didn’t go to graduation because I was drafted,” Robert said. 

“We put his cap and gown on a chair,” Shirley recalls. “So, he was in our graduation like that.”

On the basketball team’s page in the 1945 yearbook, it says, “We would like to mention Bob Howlett, who left for the army early in February, had averaged 14 points a game until the time he left.”

“Oh, yes,” Shirley interjected. “He was a big deal in basketball!”

After he came back from the service, he played in an American Legion league in Rome.

The yearbook’s “Class of ’45 Review” page says, “Bob Howlett, an athletic young man, took his position with Uncle Sam.”

The Westmoreland Class of 1945 Senior Ball was held on June 23 with Roger Newman’s Orchestra performing. According to the yearbook, “The attractive decorations were the result of the work of the Junior Class with our compliments.”

Shirley (Schram) Dykstra remembers it well because of a freak weather event that preceded it.

“My mother took me down to Utica to get a gown; it started to snow,” she recalls. “This was June! By the time we got home, branches were bent down. That is something I’ll never forget. We don’t get snow like that anymore. “

She told me that she went to the dance with Don Dixon.

The “Class of ’45 Review” page lists Don’s favorite excuse as, “I missed the bus, to walk’s no use.” Shirley’s family farm was on South Street, and the Dixons lived out in Lairdsville. 

“My mother picked him up and drove us,” she laughed.

Having Don Dixon as your date to the senior dance must have been a real coup. The yearbook’s “Senior Class History” page describes him as a “cute country sheik with all the girlfriends,” and next to his picture, it says, “Donald, who is always late, Can never fail to get a date.” 

In the “Senior Class Will,” he left his “technique” to an underclassman named, Philip Krusos. Don was voted “Most Likely To Be First Boy Married.”

The “cute country sheik” was a basketball player and intramurals athlete who was also in Choir, Operetta, and the Future Farmers of America. 

The “Senior Class Prophecy” predicted that he would end up owning a pig farm in Lairdsville and being elected road commissioner “to ensure the opening of all roads connecting Lairdsville with Clark Mills and Westmoreland.” I guess he really didn't like to walk!

During our interview, I asked Shirley (Schram) Dykstra what her favorite class when she graduated from Westmoreland High School seventy-five years ago. It was Home Economics.

“The teacher let me teach the class since she didn’t know how to use a washing machine!” Shirley laughed. “As far as cooking…forget it. I don’t know where she was from. We had to wash different clothes. It was when they first came out with washing machines. She had no idea how to use it.”

Shirley’s father had bought a machine for her mother. So it was up to her to show the class how to use it.

“Of course, I pounced on that. It was a lot easier than scrubbing,” she remembers vividly. “We had a dryer with a fan that went around and around.”

Eileen Hall was the Home Economics teacher in 1945. There are only ten teachers listed all together in the yearbook for the entire school, 8th through 12th grade. Curiously there are two music teachers listed, Hilda Young and William Schuler, while Esther W. Bell had to teach Latin and Library, Mark Grant taught English and French, and Ward O. Chase doubled up with Mathematics and Science. 

In 1945, Westmoreland had an Agriculture teacher (Raymond Crumb), and a Commercial teacher (Mildred Miller.) The principal was Donald H. Crane, and Frederic C. Barns was the president of the Board of Education.

Elizabeth A. Storey wrote an “Ode To The Teachers” that’s on page 6 of the yearbook. It begins, “To Mr. Chase who teaches math, We’re sorry we ever aroused his wrath[!]” I liked the line, “To Miss Thompson and ‘good old chem,’ We loved the subject-Ahem-Ahem.”

Poor Mrs. Hall, who didn’t know how to run a washing machine, is thanked for “showing [them] how to use a broom.”

The ode ends with the lines, “To all our teachers, we’re sad to go, Really we know, we’ll miss you so.”

According to the “Senior Class History,” Bernard Dzwonkas, “better known as Ponz,” joined the class in their Junior year. Bernard, Helen Bradlinski, Pauline Kapsho, and Julian Geidris all represented the class in a “Truth and Consequences” assembly, and were chosen for the semi-finals.

In 1945, Lois Wood was the Class President, James McGinnis was the Vice-President, Joyce Marsh was the Secretary, and Helen Bradlinski was the Treasurer. They had “many class parties and dances.”

Two other class members were Elizabeth Storey, “who is nicknamed Liz, because when she’s around she makes things whiz!” and Mary Joyce Storey, “who never bosses. Her greatest interest is very good horses.” [That last one doesn’t exactly rhyme.] 

But, it was Judson Wood who had “such a physique [that] for him all the girls grow positively weak!” The yearbook’s “Senior Class Prophecy” predicted he would go to Mars “via a rocketship” [how else?] and “prove his theory that there is life on that planet.” Despite Judson’s apparent good looks, it was Walter Whittemore, who they all though would be the one to return from the Red Planet with “fair Martian” who would become his wife.

“Wednesday nights we’d go to Clark Mills to the movies,” Shirley Dykstra recalls. “Everybody headed there, rain, shine, snow, no matter what. They used to get good movies, a lot of time they’d come from [the theaters] in Utica. Everybody old young they’d go to the movies.”

I asked her if she listened to the radio. 

“It was on all the time,” she said. “WIBX. That’s the one I always listened to.”

She also recalls summer fun at Hecla Pond

“Hecla Pond that was quite the place!” She exclaimed. “They came from everywhere for picnics. We used swim under the bridge. There were families having picnics. They had a pavilion and picnic tables there at one time.”

Her aunt, Agnes Schram Root’s front porch was a hub for socializing in the community.

“It was across the Catholic Church,” she said. “Father McCormick used to come over and sit with us. He used to say, you guys go for a walkbut I want you back here by a certain time. Good old father, he’d tell us jokes. I’m not Catholic but I enjoyed Father McCormick and so did everybody else and he kept an eye on the kids around the neighborhood. No monkeying around.”

Clarks Mills had a mix to different ethnicities in the 1040’s

“There were Polish, then Syrians, everyone got together all the nationalities,” she particularly remembers the Acee family. “Marron Acee told me, ‘you got a mother who can milk a cow better than any man I know!’”

Shirley milked a lot of cows too and said she wasn’t in too many clubs at school because had to put in so much time on the farm, but that she “took care of the half of Westmoreland’s kids during the war,” when their mothers had to work. 

I wondered what it was like when World War II finally ended. 

“Everyone was out in the street celebrating,” she said.

Ron Klopfanstein is the president of the Westmoreland Historical Society which is online at Facebook/WestmorelandHistoricalSociety. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein

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