Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Book of '61

I’ve traversed another milestone of sorts. It’s been sixty years since I graduated from high school. That thought came to mind when I gathered this summer, along with former classmates, for our 60th class reunion. It was a quiet affair, almost an afterthought, in its brevity and lack of formal proceedings. Yet a glance at the list of those who had passed reminded all of us present that we did make it to another one of life’s benchmarks.

Twenty years earlier, our 40th class reunion was another quiet affair held in one of the classrooms back on campus. Only a few of our classmates had died and the rest of us were knee deep in work, raising kids, and just getting on with our lives.

The 50th class reunion was much better organized with an initial meeting at the school and then a gathering on the State Fairgrounds the next day. That second day included spouses and partners which always made the conversations more interesting.

Our 60th class reunion was held on a Saturday afternoon at a local ‘old school’ restaurant that was even older than my classmates. It was preceded by a golf outing the day before for those of us who can still drive a golf cart and swing hard at the little white ball. Even the invitation hinted at the fact that this might have been our last class gathering.

Down through the ages, say every ten years or so, I found it was fun to go back and peruse my  Class of ‘61 yearbook. Perhaps it was my growing maturity that made the journey back in time so reflective. Those sorties proved even more interesting for the budding writer in me. Oh, my, what a life it was back then.

There was a definite caste system in place at the school. We all knew who the elite were among us. Since we were part of the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) program on campus, those gifted students were naturally the officers in our military ranks.

A glance at the two page spread of ‘most likely to succeed’ revealed an insider’s guide to those in the know.  For the rest of us, perusing the yearbook proved a time capsule of moments and memories which some of us shared and which left others feeling clueless. I was probably wandering around in the middle of the pack.

Overall, the yearbook has proven an invaluable tool to reconstruct moments out of my past.

After our 60th class reunion, several of my old classmates decided we needed a physical memento of that milestone. They wanted to create a booklet entitled ‘Cretin Book of ’61.’ We all received a letter inviting us to write down our memories of life at Cretin in a sentence or two. Recording my memories of high school in a sentence or two seemed beyond impossible. So instead, I wrote the following comments:

1.     My best memories of Cretin have faded over time. They occurred in the classroom, hallways, dining hall and home room. To summarize what Cretin meant to me I can only say:

2.     Extreme introvert, raised in a single parent household, is given the chance of a lifetime to attend Cretin High School. Although not on the college track, he graduated, finished college, worked in television for many years before starting his own business in video production and distribution. 

3.     Finally retired about twelve years ago, he started a new career as a writer of novels, novellas, plays, screenplays, children’s books, and more than 600 blogs.

4.     Thank you, Cretin.

They probably won’t print my statement and that’s OK. It’s said and done and complete. I’ve had a great life and my experiences at Cretin High School played a large part of it.

Upon reflection and exchanging war stories with a few of my classmates, I came to realize that our class was really the end of an era for the school. Up until that point, previous classes had all come out of the great depression, World War Two, and the economic recovery of the fifties. But all of that was about to change.

In early 1957, more than six hundred eighth grade Catholic boys applied for only 325 spots in the 1957 freshman class of Cretin High School. As it turned out, the senior class of 1961 was the last to choose from that large pool of candidates

By the mid-to-late fifties, Archbishop Brady had decided to expand the presence of Catholic educational opportunities in the Twin Cities. This strategic decision, along with the growth of first and second tier suburbs, effectively meant the end to the availability of a large citywide pool of freshmen candidates for Cretin.

Up until that point, there were only a couple of Catholic High Schools in the Twin Cities. St. Agnes, Delasalle, Cretin and St. Thomas Academy. Delasalle was in Minneapolis. St. Agnes served the east side of town and was more conservative than the others. That left Cretin and St. Thomas to dip into a large pool of Catholic young men.

St. Thomas Academy was located on the campus of the College of St. Thomas and primarily served upper middle class and upper class families. Cretin drew from a large pool of middle class, upper middle class families and those who filled in the ranks of the non-college track as opposed to the college-bound track of studies.

Unlike a lot of my classmates, my school days were bookended by my twice-a-day paper route, which for the most part, eliminated any afterschool activities or sports. That didn’t mean I led a cloistered existence. I think I went through all and even more than the normal calendar of emotions that are a part of any high school experience.

Cretin was a military school and that played a big part in the overall tough discipline of the place. The fact that there were only male teachers and Christian Brothers helped solidify that attitude and atmosphere.

Two notable Christian Brothers highlighted the diversity on campus at that time. Brother Wilfred and Brother K. Mark were both unique in their own way.  Brother Wilfred, with his heavy German accent, related to the average student. He openly smoked (strictly forbidden on campus) in his uniform storage area and occasionally would let some errant student do the same. He was approachable and understanding.

Brother K. Mark, on the other hand, only associated with ‘the best and the brightest’. He made no bones about the fact that he was one of the elite and would only preen, prepared and indoctrinate those of his own social and intellectual class. Needless to say, I didn’t qualify to be a part of that peeking order, not even close.

At the time, there were only two all-girl Catholic High Schools we thought to mingle with; Our Lady of Peace and St. Joseph’s Academy. Both institutions produced smart attractive young women and the sometimes object of our immature lustful glances; at least from some of my classmates.

Coming from a very dysfunctional background and a family structure devoid of love and affection, I fell hard for my first girlfriend. Like so many high school romances, it was a roller coaster of emotions best summarized by her poignant comments in my yearbook just before the whole thing crashed and burned.

I find it remarkable (although my wife doesn’t) that I never felt left out or different even though I was never on the college-bound track of studies as opposed to my friends and girlfriend. In my mind, I was going to college just like all of my friends…and I did.

Fast forward and I can look at a long list of doctors, lawyers, business executives, military officers and industry leaders who were a part of the class of 1961.  Those were the elite chosen ones and then there was the rest of us like flotsam that followed in their wake. Most of us were also very successful but in our own unique ways. Together we all learned under the same tough discipline, structured routines, self-motivation, and pride of being a member of the Cretin High School class of 1961.


Unknown said...

Hi, Denis, I think we both worked at KTCA-TV many, many years ago. Are you that Denis LaComb? You probably don't remember me. It was so long ago. Lorrie Ball Holmgren

Author Denis J. LaComb said...

Hi. So nice to hear from you. We did work together at Channel Two about 53 years ago but who’s counting. If I remember correctly, you lived in an 8 or 10 unit apartment building just around the curve from a train crossing over the road that lead up to Dinky town. I hope you have been healthy, happy and Covid-free.

One of my more recent plays (a musical, if I am lucky) is entitled: PTV. The play covers that transitional period of time when KTCA was moving from educational television to public television. I haven’t produced it yet but I intend to approach the Minnesota History Theater to see if they might be interested in it.

Over time I’ve lost touch with the folks I used to work with at KTCA. It’s very nice to hear from someone from back in the analog age. Thanks for writing.

Denis (yep that one)

Post a Comment