Fifty-five years is a long time.
When you look at what’s happened during that time period, spanning more than half a century, it’s astonishing. Golly, that’s five years longer than when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the Moon in 1968. Cell phones, computers — even word processors — were still far away in the future. So many other things that are commonplace in today’s ever-shrinking world were unheard-of in those early days of the tumultuous 1960s.
But, that was exactly the span that had passed when a handful of old friends gathered Friday night in northern Iowa.
In the fall of 1962, a small band of young folks ended up, for one reason or another, at Waldorf College in Forest City. Most of the 400 students who enrolled that September came from small towns in Iowa and Minnesota, with others arriving from scattered spots around the United States and a few foreign countries.
I was one of the less than 200 of those students beginning my sophomore year of college, joined by what then was the largest class of incoming freshmen in Waldorf’s history. At that time, Waldorf was a junior college — it didn’t become a four-year college until about 20 years ago. For most of us, attending Waldorf College marked the first time any of us had been away from home for any period of time.
It was a different era. At that time, dancing was forbidden at Waldorf and drinking of alcoholic beverages of any kind was cause for immediate expulsion. Although male students were allowed to smoke, that practice was strictly forbidden among female students.
With the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake only a half-hour’s drive away, the “no dancing” rule was often broken. Some students (and I won’t confess to anything) even gathered in groups of six or more and drove out on dark country roads, dancing to the latest rock ‘n roll hits of the day.
It was, by today’s mores, an innocent breakage of college rules.
When Americans invaded Cuba in an ill-fated invasion that became known as the “Bay of Pigs” invasion in 1961, the so-called Cold War had created heated tensions between Cuba and America. Of course, Russia became involved and the threat of war made military conscription a realistic fear of young men across the nation. It was certainly a topic of discussion among the young men at Waldorf, as it was among young men in colleges and universities around the nation.
When a new group of freshmen arrived on campus in August of 1962, military fears were pushed aside as new friendships were made. There was, naturally, freshman indoctrination, social “mixers” as new students met those of us returning.
And, there was football.
The 1961 Waldorf football team finished its season with a respectable 4-2-2 record. Seven letter winners returned from that team and were joined by a whole host of incoming freshmen. That small, but solid group of veterans, soon discovered that quite a number of freshmen would fit in quite well, even though of the 30-or-so members of the team there were perhaps a third of those who came from small schools without football programs.
But, the team began winning. Waldorf beat Virginia (Minn.) 13-0 in its first game. I learned much later that those two touchdowns were the only ones scored against Virginia the entire season. Wins began piling up and after eight weeks of play, Waldorf had finished the season with an 8-0 record and was ranked No. 6 nationally among junior colleges. In fact, Waldorf was considered as the “eastern” team to play in the Junior Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., that year. In the end, Waldorf wasn’t chosen.
But, quarterback Tom Urevig from Truman, Minn., was named junior college “Back of the Year” for 1962 and the late Harold “Gabby” Pierce, a three-sport standout at Waldorf, was also named to the Juco All-American team.
Waldorf College began its Athletic Hall of Fame 20 years ago. Pierce was in the first class of Hall of Famers and Urevig was in the second class. In the 18 years that followed, four other athletes of the era were inducted into the Hall of Fame. I am honored to be one of those.
Saturday night, however, the entire football team was honored, the first football team to be inducted into the Waldorf Hall of Fame. I was a manager of that team and have kept my game statistics of the season for the past 55 years. I presented those to the athletic department in a Friday night ceremony, but quickly asked for them back to make copies for several players who requested them.
Our numbers are dwindling as a number of players from that 1962 Waldorf team have passed away. Several of those remaining gathered once again in Forest City Friday night to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
We shared memories of those times, told stories about one another and rekindled old friendships. Political differences were put aside as a small group of about a dozen or so sat around a long table after the induction ceremonies, sipping a brew.
We’re older, much older, now but the bond created more than half-a-century ago is stronger now than ever.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at email@example.com.