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A Perspective from the
RHS Class of 1961
Contributors: Dr. Bruce Beckord, Julie Bielefeldt Cunningham, Linda Hughes Kemry, Judy Jordan Marnin, Rose McIntire Sheehy, Dennis Mehaffey, Karolyn Mumford Wiseman
Rolfe High School Class of 1961

"Tell me the landscape in which you live, and I will tell you who you are. . . . "
Jose Ortega y Gassett

The Rolfe High School class of 1961 has elected to collectively respond to the Rolfe website. We held a reunion in Rolfe in June of 1998 in a random act of togetherness. We used the quotation from Jose Ortega y Gassett as basis of discussion of how our lives had been impacted by growing up in Rolfe,

Words such as connected, nurturing, family, safe, comfortable, stable, predictable, boring, conforming, and caring could describe growing up in Rolfe. In a way that is rarely seen in today's global interconnected world, we shared a common set of values.

The word that best describes Rolfe is interconnected. To this day, I can recall every street and the occupant of every home. Nothing happened without virtually everyone in the community knowing all the details.

An event that characterizes the sense of community was the tragic death of Jimmy Schultz. Jimmy was playing on the ice at Pilot Creek one winter day, when it gave way and he fell into the stream. Harold Calligan plunged into the cold waters in an attempt to rescue Jimmy, but his body was already washed away. The entire community organized to build a temporary dam on Pilot Creek and searched the stream in a failed effort to locate his body. Like a Greek tragedy, it was left to his mother to find the body a few weeks later.

There was a dark side to growing up in Rolfe in the 60's, a very dark side. Agriculture was in a major restructuring. Commodity prices were so low that farmers were left with very small margins. Many farmers were forced to leave their farms. There was never much of what we today call disposable income.

Our senior class trip consisted of a one-day journey to tour the Ford assembly plant in Minneapolis, and I remember being quite excited about this "adventure."

We began with a class of 42 in 1958 and graduated with a class of 21. Eleven of the original kindergarten class were together the entire 13 years. Our class of 21 has produced one college president, two lawyers, one doctor, four teachers, two consultants, one engineer, and three farmers. Some day we will count the advanced degrees held among us!

I was born in Rolfe in a house on Elm Street two days before Christmas. For this reason alone, Rolfe has special significance to me. But the memories of lazy days fishing in Pilot Creek, swimming in Thompson's pond, and always, always, always playing ball with my brothers and sister are some of my most cherished moments. We created a track around the chicken houses and used sawhorses for hurdles. The farm became the site for the rivalry between the Jets and the Sneakiní Indians. I was fortunate to be raised in a family with lots of love, lots of chicken, and lots of deviled eggs. We were the Waltons! And I had great friends and was delighted to be able to literally pick up where we left off 38 years ago at a our class reunion.

I have always felt Rolfe and Webb's Drugstore are special places and should be designated national historic sites. Rolfe is the home of the nation's first "Webb-site" where VIRTUALLY no one ever paid to read the comics.

Here are our stories.

The Landscape in the Country

Growing up on a farm near Rolfe meant . . .

  • walking the beans, spending the long rows planning what we would wear at the summer band concerts. Everyone in town came while we band members batted at June bugs attracted by the lights.
  • long bus rides with the neighbor kids, whom we got to know in ways that few others do, not always to our benefit.
  • 4-H meetings and county fairs, at which we were the insiders and the town kids were the onlookers for once.
  • driving earlier than the town kids with a beat-up family car, which we propelled along the gravel roads with a frequency and speed unknown to our parents, We agreed to haul younger brothers and sisters along in return for their silence as to what we were actually doing after choir practice.
  • swimming lessons in the summer, seeing our town friends and learning to sidestroke. Few country kids are real swimmers today - the Red Cross just couldn't do it in two weeks.
  • long summer days reading in the timber or the loft when I could escape my mother's call.
  • hard, sweaty, dirty, gritty work loading bales, weeding beans, feeding chickens and gathering eggs, scooping manure and other unpleasant chores which made many of us realize we wanted to go to college to get different kinds of jobs!
  • and the result that many of us knew (and know) how to work hard, efficiently and effectively.

It was a great way to grow up!

The Landscape in Town

Since most of us didn't have our own cars, we had to rely on the family car. When, and if, we could get it, we seemed to make our own entertainment. When we did get the car, we would ride from the elevator up to Beckord's hill and back again - over and over. Or for a change, from the elevator to the now Foodland corner and back to the elevator.

On Thursday night we had church choir practice and then would meet at someone's home to make pizza. My mother would come home many nights from Rebecca Lodge to find her kitchen full of pizza makers. Rachel and Raymond Heald's home was another favorite place to make pizza. One time while we were making pizza from scratch, the dough got caught on the ceiling. We just took the broom, got the dough down, cooked and ate it anyway.

Sundays were always church with Youth Fellowship in the evening. Afterward we would pile into a car and go to Poky to the show. We even had a theater in Rolfe for a time during high school. The neat thing I remember is that it didn't really matter which church you attended because we all shared each other's activities, like Christmas Midnight Services, Candlelight Service at the Lutheran Church, Easter Sunrise Service and Breakfast at the Lutheran Church.

Monk Taylor's patio at the station was a favorite spot for sitting around and talking, The chocolate/fudge bars out of the machine weren't bad either.

School activities were important to all of us. We remember participating in sports for the Rolfe Rams and Ramettes as the highlight of our school careers. Being recognized and rewarded for putting forth full effort was as important as winning. Remember when the new gym was built?

There was a card club that some of us belonged to for a while, and we took turns having it at each other's house. Just sitting at someone's house and talking seemed to be a pastime. Since the country kids were more likely to have access to a car, they would join us. It seems we were all home at a reasonable time. We didn't worry about drive-by shootings or gangs. We didn't have to be in at a certain time, except for the deadlines that our parents set.

Rolfe Thoughts on Government/Politics

My interest in politics was initiated by my father's involvement in the Democratic Party. He graduated from high school during the Depression and idolized President Roosevelt for his initiatives to revitalize America. When I was ten years old, Dad put coonskin hats on my brother and me and took us to Fort Dodge to greet Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver (a coonskin hat was Adlaiís symbol). The crowds were sparse, but our enthusiasm was expansive. Eisenhower won in a landslide, and proceeded to balance the budget and throw the country into a recession.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy became the youngest man ever elected president of the United States. It was one of the closest elections in the nation's history, and Kennedy won by fewer than 100,000 votes. During the primary, my father received a personal letter from then Senator Kennedy asking for his support (Dad was asked to be a delegate to the Democratic convention), and we were invited to have breakfast with Kennedy in Fort Dodge. Initially, Superintendent R.O. Mortensen refused to let anyone miss school for the big rally or to allow the band to perform, but after some friendly persuasion, Mr. Mortensen relented and allowed us to be a part of history. The rally in Fort Dodge was loud and boisterous. I had organized a group in Pocahontas County called the 'teen Dems,' which was highly motivated to change what we regarded as the establishment, the Republican Party. We made thousands of posters, organized chants, ran up and down the streets, and did everything possible to create mayhem. Fort Dodge had never experienced such energy and excitement. When the 42-year-old senator from Massachusetts appeared in the convertible with his dark tan, those glowing white teeth, and that infectious smile, the crowd went wild. That was it! We knew right then we would win the election and a new day was at hand. Camelot was born in Fort Dodge.

John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States, and I got the pleasure of observing classmate Norris Aubrey Wilson II (an ardent Republican) watch the entire event on a television provided in the auditorium. The Republicans charged that we stole the election, and they were right.

The Ruskies had been the first to launch a man into space in 1961, and Kennedy moved quickly to close the gap. The Peace Corp was formed with much fanfare, and when the Ruskies sent missiles to Cuba, Kennedy stood firm. He warned that any attack by Cuba would be regarded as an attack by the Soviet Union, and the United States would attack Russia. The Ruskies withdrew their missiles, but only after the military went on full alert to prepare for war.

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Camelot was over! Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, the country plunged into a divisive war in Viet Nam, and nothing ever came of our dreams to change the world. The letters from Jack Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, and Lyndon Johnson remain on my office wall, a reminder about how fragile our dreams and lives can be.

Harold Hughes was a friend of my father's, and he used to come and tour the farm and eat dinner at our home. A populist, he was perhaps one of the most interesting characters in Iowa politics. Governor Hughes was an ex-alcoholic truck driver who was elected on a platform that proposed Iowa introduce liquor by the drink. What a character!!

Rolfe Today - The Current Landscape

I am enjoying the landscape where I live. The Rolfe swimming pool is in the block north of my apartment. To the west is Sunset Ridge Park, which has a pond with a nice walkway around it. There is also a stone shelter house and playground with trees. To the south are Highway 15 and the railroad to the grain elevator. East of my place is the Rolfe Care Center, The Inn restaurant & lounge, vet clinic, Shared Ministry and St. Margaret Catholic churches. The ball field, the school and residences, which cover the whole west side of Garfield (main street) are also to the east of me. The landscape is mostly level and full of different kinds of trees.

It is great that Rolfe has all the businesses. It also has St. Paul Lutheran Church, a park with an old one-room school building and golf course and cemetery. A creek at the north and east edge of town adds to the landscape of Rolfe today.

Rolfe - Our Landscape


A small dot on the map of the state of Iowa.

A destination as you turn north from Highway 3
at the "6 mile corner'
and follow Highway 15 into town.

A small town some pass through
on their way to the Grotto at West Bend.

A small town most people probably do not even notice.

A small town that is special to each of us.

What we are today is the product of
that landscape:
its culture,
its nurturing,
its wisdom.

For our families who shaped beliefs and values-
For the churches that trained us-
For the school system that played a part in molding us-
For our classmates and life-long friends-
For all our interconnections
We say Thank You!

We cannot imagine a better landscape.


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