Reunion filled with 70 year-old memoriesPublished 12:44pm Thursday, September 3, 2009
By MARCIA STEFFENS
Niles Daily Star
NILES – Graduation day was a long time ago for these members of the Niles High School Class of 1939. Nine members of the 210 who were in the class met Saturday for their 70th reunion at the Prime Table in Niles.
Many of their memories were still sharp of that time when the country was experiencing the Depression and many of those graduating would soon find themselves going off to war.
Catherine (Giddings) Villeneuve of Niles took it upon herself to continue a longstanding tradition of reunions every five years.
A former court reporter for 25 years, she has kept up correspondence with class members, even after another graduate, Dale Starke, who helped organize the 65th, died.
The class has made an effort to donate a book to the library after a class member dies. They have lost six members since the last reunion.
The class found itself at the time of the 65th reunion with a treasury of $1,100, which was used by the class members to buy a flag pole at Riverfront Park.
The rest of the money was donated to the Nile District Library’s children’s department.
The library was also the recipient of a watercolor of Niles done by Dick Felden, a commercial artist, now deceased, who was also a member of the class.
“I don’t know of another class which has left such a legacy,” Catherine said.
She praised fellow graduate Howard Clark, who came to the lunch from Jackson, remembering he received the highest grade of anyone testing for the Naval Air Force. “I knew he was smart,” Cathy said. “I could have told you that in third grade.
Peggy Visser, who married graduate Art Visser in 1940, recalled bread was 11 cents a loaf back then.
Art went to work at Kawneer out of school, getting the job in part to his pitching ability for the businesses baseball team. He also worked for Bendix, and has been retired for 20 years from Niles Metalcraft.
They still live in the same house he built on Third Street.
Grace Warberton Phillips said she “can’t quit working.”
She still runs Phillips Place, Gift Shop & More, on U.S.12, across from the Catholic Church, in Edwardsburg, since 1949. Co-owner, her husband Stan, formerly of Galien died about 20 years ago.
They came from Chicago and her father was a skilled color pressman for Simplicity Patterns.
She is also known for Grace’s Place, a restaurant in Elkhart, Ind., she had a gas station in Sister Lakes and a grocery store in the 60s at Garver Lake.
She was full of tales and stories, including one of when her parents had a restaurant at the corner of Barron Lake Road and US-60, where Stop Inn restaurant now sits, but further back from the road.
“Al Capone stopped in to get gas,” Grace remembered, “and my mother went in to the kitchen and told my father to make 12 hamburgers – quick.” They came in two cars, probably going north to where he had a farm, she said.
Ray Kurtis of Niles, like many others in the class of ’39, spent four years in the service (Army). Retired from Niles Precision, he said he now “does as little as possible.”
Annabelle Marlin of Niles also served her country, in the Marine Corps. She also worked for her dad at Kewpee on South 11th Street, selling hamburgers.
Walt Morris came from Vicksburg, where he was a sexton of the cemetery, after retiring from Upjohns. Two of his children came down with him. His wife had died about 10 years ago. Walt delivered the Niles Daily Star by bicycle on brick roads.
Joan Forbes McMenamin came from Port Richey, Fla. to attend the reunion, coming with her niece, a’67 Niles graduate, Nan (Curtis) Olney. Joan’s husband George had also worked for the Star, in circulation, taking the boys to see the Cubs play.
Mavis Wages, who lives at the Four Flags Plaza, recalled working after graduation at Blackman’s jewelry store and at a dime store, selling candy and records. Her daughter, Deb Hoese, who brought her to the lunch, does facials at The Shoppe, a salon also downtown in Niles, co- owned by her daughter-in-law. Hoese was excited to see a photo of her mother and also her aunt, in The Tattler, the yearbook for 1939.