In the midst of things left behind by the late Hugo Hagen, a former mayor of Nevada, was a packet of information, three-hole punched with bright gold card stock as the cover and back cover and purple yarn tied in the holes to hold it together.
This little booklet contained information about the Nevada Class of 1938, which had been compiled for the class’s 45th reunion in 1983. Also, slipped into the booklet was a newspaper clipping from 1983 that pictured the 20 class members who attended that 45th reunion.
This year, that same class celebrated its 75th reunion, but the number in attendance at the Nevada Alumni Banquet this summer was much different from the 1983 turnout. This time, only two class members were there – Phyllis McBride Foster, of Nevada, and Virgil Melohn of Jackson, Miss.
I sat down recently with Phyllis to talk about that reunion, the special booklet from years ago and her memories.
First of all, I wondered, why did Hugo have a packet of the class information? Was he a member of the class? No, Hugo wasn’t a class member, but he was a very special friend to the class, Phyllis told me. "We always invited Hugo to our reunions," she said.
And Hugo wasn’t the only regular at reunions who was unable to attend the 75th reunion of the class this summer. Of the "38 in 38," as the class of 38 members came to be known, Phyllis said only five are still living. But with all five now in their 90s, it wasn’t surprising that only two of them were able to attend the recent banquet.
Phyllis, who is 92, said she was one of the youngest in the class, because she hadn’t attended kindergarten. Most of the class members still living are 93 or 94 now.
Virgil had help coming to the reunion thanks to his son, Jimmy, from New Orleans, who drove him to Iowa and attended the reunion with him. Phyllis and Virgil, longtime friends from their school days and on through the years, had a great time visiting during the reunion weekend. Virgil also enjoyed seeing a couple nephews that still live in the area.
She said Virgil’s son, a school superintendent just like Virgil had been, probably had the most fun listening to the two share all their memories and hearing their stories in person.
Phyllis, the daughter of a beloved school teacher – Vera Stratton McBride – and Leslie McBride, started school at Shipley and attended there for five years, and then came to town, where both sets of her grandparents lived, to attend school. With all four grandparents living in Nevada, she had somewhere to go until her mother was done with teaching and could pick her up.
She told me, quite interestingly, that her one set of grandparents had an acreage on the land where I presently live, and that their house was kitty-cornered from where Gates Hall stands now. "There were lots of trees and big gardens," she said, and she remembers running down the gravel road that led from the school to her grandparents’ acreage.
At that time, Nevada Schools were all located where Central Elementary School now sits. Phyllis and Virgil attended high school in the three-story brick building that was taken down to expand the present elementary school.
Phyllis let me look over some keepsakes she had from her high school years.
A newspaper clipping told of the "last class party" for Phyllis and her classmates during their senior year. It was a Halloween Party, held from 7:30-11 p.m. at the school. First place for best costume went to class member Jane Fay. It didn’t say what Jane wore.
Another keepsake is the three-fold blue paper with her classmates’ names and other information that was handed out at the commencement ceremony.
Phyllis had a copy of the class song. It was written by Stella Ambrose and at the top it said, "sung to the tune of ‘Ten Pretty Girls.’" Phyllis sang a few lines of it to help me see how it went.
Of her years in high school, Phyllis remembers several administrators, like T.B. Warren, the school superintendent, whose son Ben was in her class. And she remembers Mr. Englebrecht, the principal and a teacher, who was "all business. Just one of his looks was all it took," she said.
For the Class of 38’s male members, graduation generally sent them to college or the military right away. Virgil got a little time at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon before he was called into the service.
One of the most important things for Virgil, who had been a school superintendent, was the educational foundation he received at Nevada. "He always said he thought Nevada had one of the best schools ever," Phyllis said.
Phyllis did what most of the female graduates of that time did; she started college, but didn’t finish because she fell in love and married Robert Foster, an Ames boy. They had two boys and she stayed home to care for them during their formative years.
The most important message I took away from my time with Phyllis was how she remembers her class. When I asked her who she hung out with and what they did for fun, she told me that the entire class hung out together and they had fun doing that – just being together.
"We were all friends." There were no little cliques, no bullying like you hear about today. "We didn’t have a lot of things to fear. We all got along and we were all friends," she said.