By Jen Bakken
“The force of our own merit makes our way” was the class motto for 34 seniors who graduated from Delano High School in 1951.
Navy blue and white were their class colors, the yellow carnation was their class flower, and they were proud of their football team which had a winning streak of 11 games.
For the past 12 years, some of these classmates have enjoyed lunch together every three months to reminisce about their good ol’ days.
Kathryn (Jacobs) Smith started the gatherings, and she would be proud to know that even after she passed away in 2001, they have continued.
The classmates’ most recent gathering was Tuesday at the Delano Senior Center, where they passed around a yearbook and shared many memories.
When they were students, a typical school day began at 8:30 a.m., with an hour lunch, and ended at 3:30 p.m.
It was during their junior year that a school lunch program began, but many students still went home for lunch.
“I still went home for lunch,” said Jean (Yaeger) Motzko. “The kids from in town went home, and the country kids brought lunch or had school lunch.”
The Delano class of 1951 also has a reunion every five years, and nearly made it to their 50th class reunion with all 34 graduates.
Unfortunately, Curtis Honebrink was the first classmate to pass away, in 2000.
Since then, Thomas Condon, Dorothy Muckenhirn, Ralph Speckal, and Kathryn (Jacobs) Smith have also passed away.
Wayne Keplinger remembers his best friend, Richard Dunn; what a great athlete Richard Ditty was; and their football team’s winning streak before being defeated by Hopkins.
He was also on the basketball team, and played in the school band for many years.
“Back then, you could be in anything and everything,” Wayne Keplinger laughed, adding, “I played in band 11 years, but I didn’t get any better after sixth grade.”
He admits not purchasing a class ring, to save money, and fellow classmate Charles Rieland admits to no longer having his class ring.
“It’s in Japan,” he smiled. “But that’s a whole different story.”
As you drive by Delano High School as it is today, cars belonging to students fill the parking lot, but in 1951, very few drove to school.
Frank Schwerin was one of those who drove, but it was only because he had many chores to do on the farm.
“I’d haul milk to the creamery each morning,” Schwerin remembered. “The 25-mile bus route took a long time, so if I drove, I was able to get home and do my chores earlier.”
As a class, they remember their instructors. Rosanne (Jaunich) Eppel laughed while talking about a particular situation with teacher Harold Peterson.
“He was a tough one,” Eppel said, shaking her head. “Once, I had to walk all the way home to get my outlines.”
Their English teacher, Patricia Wikel, lives in California now, but has kept in touch with some students over the years.
This past fall, she even visited with the class of 1951 and the class of 1952 at B’s on the River.
Homecoming celebrations are fond memories for these Delano graduates.
The celebration included bonfires where the city hall sits today, and snake dances.
“During the fire, we’d have a snake dance,” explained Rieland. “About 50 to 60 people would hold hands and we’d go through town. We’d go through the show house (movie theater) and lose half of the people in there.”
He laughed at the thought of all the free movies the snake dances created, and remembered they stopped allowing them to go through the movie theater because of it.
Out of the 34 graduates from the Delano class of 1951, eight went on to college, two marriages were formed between classmates, 11 entered the service during what was the beginning of World War II, and five live in Delano today.