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50 years later: The 'bit rebellious' class of 1972 share their memories of school life

The Wadena and Deer Creek classes of 1972 are celebrating their 50th reunion during the Wadena-Deer Creek All-School Reunion June 10-12.

Two rows of students smiling for a photo.
During the 1971-72 school year, Wadena seniors served on the student council with John Conzemius as the advisor.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook
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WADENA — Two lucky classes from Wadena and Deer Creek schools will be celebrating their 50th reunion during the Wadena-Deer Creek All-School Reunion .

The Wadena class of 1972, including Rocky Reese, Cindy Becker, Diane Rousslang and Dan Schiller, shared some of their memories in an interview with the Pioneer Journal. The class of about 160 students had a great team of wrestlers, four sets of twins and students from the families of the five car dealerships in town.

But the class was also known for being a “little bit rebellious.” They said you could see this even in their class colors of lime green and turquoise blue. Their shenanigans eventually canceled their junior/senior banquet during their senior year because of a food fight started with peas.

“It is our decision: We have the power to make this the best generation in the history of mankind, or to make it the last. I believe we have made our decision and made it known to the world,” read the 1972 class motto in the Wadena School yearbook.

Their class, and the ones following, grew in size after St. Ann’s stopped seventh and eighth grade classes, and the Bluffton school closed. Both Reese and Rousslang joined the Wadena class in seventh grade along with a new set of five to seven teachers.

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Students studying at a table.
Students work through their assignments, including German and French as foreign language class options during the 1971-72 school year at Wadena Senior High.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook

Over their school years, they noted Harold Willis (history), Owen Hall (math), Bill Burns (art) and Tony Plautz (accounting) as good teachers. Willis was the only teacher who gave verbal tests instead of printed tests, a perk that required less reading according to Reese.

“They actually gave you a chance to speak,” Reese said of their favorite teachers. “They related better. They were good with the students, they cared about what they were doing,” Becker added. “And some students might not do as well but they would help them out, and if you needed some extra help they … were more than willing to help.”

In the summers, the school offered free driver’s training with Bernie Pavek. He was also a history and business education teacher, and DECA and yearbook advisor.

“He was always very interested in everyone and very inclusive to all students. He impacted so many students because he took the time to know who you were, even if you were not a student of his. Students and staff were all made better by his example, a very kind and humble man,” shared teacher Robby Grendahl in a WDC Schools story after Pavek passed away in January 2021.

Two boys smiling for a photo.
Wadena students Steve Kramer and Ken Tabery competed in the 1972 Minnesota state wrestling tournament. Only 16 wrestlers in the state were offered the chance to compete.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook
A person wrestling.
Steve Kramer, a Wadena student, wrestles during one of his many matches in 1971-72.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook

The sports teams, from wrestling to cross country, sent strong competitors to the state tournaments. For the state wrestling meet, Becker noted only 16 wrestlers had the chance to showcase their skills. Wadena had seven region entries and two state wrestlers, Steve Kramer and Ken Tabery.

“Without having sports and that there wasn’t a lot. We were in things like Girl Scouts because the boys had the sports, and the girls didn’t unless they had some intramural stuff and that would have been through GRA (Girls Recreation Association),” Rousslang and Reese said.

As one of the sports available to girls, Sue McManigle soared as the best gymnast. They also had twirling, including fire batons. And in 1972, Becker was asked to play on the first girls basketball team. Reese said she got involved in many activities, from foreign exchange club to volleyball manager. The GRA offered volleyball.

A group of twirlers.
The 1971-72 Wadena twirlers performed with regular and fire batons.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook
A coach talks with a group of girls.
The girls basketball team was one of the first sports offered to girls outside of the Girls Recreation Association in 1972.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook

While cheering as the Wadena Indians at the time, students attended games for a flat $5 activity fee. The tickets were for seventh to 12th grade students. Many of their class homecoming games sparred against the Aitkin Gobblers, though the Staples Cardinals served as their consistent rival in football and basketball.

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The group said boys and girls often had different sets of rules applied to them, like allowing girls to listen to music in shop class. Reese and Schiller said shop class was only offered to boys and shorthand writing class was only offered to girls. All students could take either class their senior year. The shorthand class was geared towards girls heading to work in an office environment.

One snow day the students decided to stage a ‘sit-in’ in the cafeteria instead of going to their classes. Besides the fact that teachers wanted to go home, too, students who lived in town protested the fact that students who lived in the country were going to be allowed to go home early.

“Anybody who lived in the city limits had to walk to school,” Becker described about the ‘sit-in’ day. “I remember specifically one time Candace and I were in art class together, it was a morning class, and they announced that they were going to let all the bus country kids go home, which meant all of us city kids were going to be staying at school.”

The school day went from 8:30 to 3:30 with separate buildings for the elementary, junior high and senior high. The senior high building was 10-12th grade. The three grades had friends in every class.

Wadena 1972 GRA Seniors.JPG
The Girls Recreation Association offered specific intramural sports for girls. Pictured are the Wadena seniors of 1972 who were involved in the GRA.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook

While enjoying their friends, groups of students would also hang out at ‘The House.’ It started as a senior class project for the 1970 class, though it remained unfinished.

“That was a get together for everybody just to go there and just mingle. We’d play cards,” Schiller described of ‘The House,’ which was located by Mason Brothers and later demolished.

Roller skating and meeting at the bandstand to catch up on the happenings also served as regular activities, as did the fashion of hot pant suits and go-go boots.

“We used to drag main every Friday night and you turned around at the bandstand. You went down to about the courthouse or a little farther and then you turned around and came back,” Rousslang and Reese described.

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Students smile for a photo with a homecoming sign behind them.
The Wadena 1971 homecoming court celebrate with the newly crowned Queen Suzanne.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook
A girl smiling for a photo.
Queen Suzanne, a sophomore, won Wadena homecoming queen in 1971.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook

As one of the sets of twins, Reese said they didn’t play tricks on their teachers in high school. They did, however, kick off the first day of seventh grade by wearing the same outfit and confusing their English teacher.

“You really learned who your friends are and who weren’t,” Reese said about her mom passing away in January 1972.

One of the classmates the group remembers is Judy (Vierkant) Ament, who served as class treasurer and one of the twirlers. While Ament passed away in 2018, classmates say she was “so nice.” Rebecca Nau served as class president, Lana Hinman as vice president and Patricia Kallerman as secretary.

Who else is in the class of 1972? Longtime city of Wadena utilities department line foreman Rick Schwartz, Bluffton Braves coach and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Terry Geiser and Medtronic National Courage Award recipient Dr. James Krause are just a few of the other members.

MORE CLASS OF 1972 STORIES
A steady current in the Wadena utilities department, line foreman Rick Schwartz is retiring Thursday, April 30, after 43 and a half years.

“There is no way I would be where I am right now without everything they did, because it was inspiring to me,” Krause said in a 2011 interview with the Pioneer Journal. After an accident on Otter Tail Lake in summer 1971, he lives with a C4-5 spinal cord injury. He works as a spinal cord injury researcher and center director with the Medical University of South Carolina. “I always wanted the people in Wadena to look back and to see that what they did - what I did with my life - reflected what they did for me.”

The class of 1972 is hoping to plan a time to get together during the all-school reunion in June. A list of other class get togethers are available on the Wadena-Deer Creek All-School Reunion 2022 Facebook page .

A gymnast with a Wadena senior poster behind them.
A group of Wadena 1972 class members remember Sue McManigle, pictured above, as the best gymnast.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook
Boys playing basketball.
The Wadena boys basketball team in 1971-72.
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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