It was the thrill of living in the past for Ripon High grads of the 1930s when they got together Sunday afternoon in the Clarence Smit Memorial Museum on Main Street.
Museum volunteer Connie Jorgensen orchestrated the event as a time to remember for the seniors that worked their way to a table at the back of the building through the many artifacts of years past.
Most were in their mid-90s, as was retired Police Chief Harvey Douma who was an early arrival, greeting his classmates from some 70 years ago on the RHS campus. They talked about who played what sports and what guy dated all the girls in the class. Lester Newstrom’s name was first on everybody’s lips and they all agreed as the stories increased.
Sitting around the table were Douma, Max and Shirley Haller, John and Evelyn Bekedam, Russell and Martha Douma, John Sankey and Lester Newstrom.
Most had young family members with them Sunday who kept the conversations moving along and seeing that the yearbooks representing those early years were passed around the table.
They noted that every one of them still lives in Ripon and none of them are smokers, speaking for their longevity. All remembered their senior ditch days that were included in the yearbooks as was their playing football in the dirt. They called off the names of their teachers.
“Guess they are all gone now,” one quipped.
Catalina Island was where Harvey Douma had gone for basic training when he joined the Merchant Marines in World War II. He remembered his buddy Bernie Brink who was going to join up with him. Douma recalled the morning he was leaving home when Brink knocked on the window and said he had decided not to go – his dad had told him not to volunteer for anything. Too bad, Douma said, because he was later drafted into the Army infantry.
Douma shared his first duty station assignment to a troop transport on a ship that was in dry dock in San Pedro. He and a buddy went on board and knocked on the Captain’s door, saying they were reporting for duty. The officer’s gruff reply was that he didn’t need anybody – he didn’t need any help. So the two of them went home for a couple weeks until a warrant officer friend in Ripon, “Old Vander Kamp,” urged them to report back to duty before they were considered AWOL.
The group was quick to remember that Max Heller, sitting at the end of the table, had lost two younger brothers in the war.
Newstrom asked where were all the girls, not with them sitting around the table. Another responded, saying, they all got married and moved away. Newstrom added that he remembered how fun it always was to play “Kick the Can” in the neighborhoods.
The retired police chief said his father wouldn’t let him play high school football until he had milked the cows on the farm. The team had already left for a game in Sonora when he finished so he looked up the high school janitor Nick Turner to let him into the building to get his uniform.
They drove a break neck speed to the football field and he made it onto the field in time for the game. Turner was apparently scared by Douma’s driving and found another ride home, he remembers.
At the end of the session, Max Learner left the table and followed his wife, Shirley, toward the door. He looked over his shoulder to say goodbye to the group, “Don’t wait 30 years to do this again,” he said, “because I won’t be here.”