The following is a
reminiscence by Tom H. Smith, as prelude to his Chesterton High School Class
of 1961 50th reunion, to be held August 13, 2011, at the Waterbird Banquet
Hall, in Chesterton.
By TOM H. SMITH
My earliest recollections go back to 1949 when our class entered 1st grade
at Thomas School. The class was so big it was split up between Miss Margaret
Larson and Mrs. Marshall. The two classes were held on the 1st floor across
the hall from each other. The rest of our class started at Hageman School in
Porter, or at St. Patrickís School, then in downtown Chesterton.
Recess was on the east side playground and lunch was served in the basement
or you could go home or walk downtown to Eschenback's Restaurant at 2nd and
Broadway or Bonni Baur Rice's parents' State Park Drugs. Sometimes I would
walk to my grandparents home at 2nd St. and Morgan Ave., one block from
In those days, the big treat was going to the movies, a double feature on
Friday night at the Aron Theatre with a group of friends. Mr. Cooper always
insisted everyone be quiet and watch. Typical films were, Ma & Pa Kettle and
The Durango Kid.
In the 3rd grade, we had Miss Elsie Nickel. She was a good friend of Laura
Ingalls Wilder, the author of the "Little House on the Prairie" series,
which she read to us. As a group, we wrote a letter to Wilder in Iowa and
she wrote back to us during the year. Mrs. Wilder lived to be 90 and passed
away February 10, 1957, about the same time as Miss Nickel. Elsie also wrote
a book about her life in Chesterton, titled " A Nickels' Worth.Ē My father,
Dick Smith, also had Miss Nickel for 3rd grade at Thomas School.
For 2nd grade I had Mrs. Crawford; 4th grade Mrs. Emma Crowell; 5th grade
Miss Mabel Sparling; and 6th grade Mr. Don Hume. Our principal was Cecil
In 1955, I was a patrol boy who watched after the kids crossing the street
to school. To honor the patrol boys that year, Mr. Foster announced we would
go to the Sectional Basketball games in Valparaiso at Boucher Gym. Most of
the basketball we played was outside on our west playground. The only gym I
had seen was the little one at the old CHS behind the auditorium. When we
walked into Boucher Gym I couldn't believe the size of the place. It was
huge. And of course, Chesterton won all their games and the Sectional
Championship. We eventually were beaten at the Regional in East Chicago.
1955 turned out to be one of the best basketball seasons ever for CHS.
One year the circus came to town. As they were arriving from the east on
U.S. 20, one of the circus trucks had a problem and broke down at Obrechtís
Truck Stop near Hadenfeldt Road. As the story goes, Shirley Meneilly
Babcock, who lived in the area, was in charge of feeding the elephants until
the truck was repaired.
Also, the big doings of the summer of 1952 was the Chesterton Centennial and
in 1958, the Porter Centennial. In Chesterton, the parade was the largest
and longest in recent memory, with bands and marching units from all over
The men belonged to the Brothers of the Brush; beards were the norm and the
women wore clothes of the 1850's era.
Mox Ruge, local attorney, dressed just like Abe Lincoln, with a tall stove
My father rode his favorite white Albino horse, Duke, in the parade with
other horse owners of the day.
In the spring of 1957, Boy Scout Troop 8, led by Arthur Griswold, camped out
at the new Camp Topeneebee east of Otis in LaPorte County.
In the fall of 1960, Ray Banary started Chestertonís 11-man football program
with the help of Jerry Wenzel and others.
Tim Bagby was tearing up cross-country and track courses around the state,
winning the State Cross Country Individual Championship as well as the State
The CHS class of 1961 was the first class to graduate from the new
A few other bits of memorabilia from 1961:
Hamburger, fries, and large coke at the Nibble Nook: 50 cents. A gallon of
Ethyl gasoline: 26 cents. A movie ticket at the Aron Theatre: 50 cents.
Monthly phone bill: $4.95. All day rides at Riverview Amusement Park: $5.00
Copy of Chesterton Tribune: 5 cents. The Chesterton Tribune became a
A cherry Coke at State Park Drugs, Hewards, or Nickels Drug Store: 5 cents.
A half gallon of milk at Brunkís or Thompsonís Dairy: 25 cents.
The 1961 Pontiac Tempest is Motor Trendís Car of the Year and is priced at
$1,995 at Smith Motors, Chesterton.
WLS Radio had become the rock station of the midwest. Wally Phillips hosted
Bandstand Matinee on Channel 9.
Guy Lombardo Band played at Goldsborough Gym, November 1961.
Chesterton had a
population of 4,300, Porter 2,300 according to the 1960 Census.