History is full of coincidences and odd turns and happenstance. Just ask Mary Wohlford, Therese Reicher and Ruth Wessels, all members of the Xavier High School Class of 1944, the centennial class of the school and part of a golden anniversary celebration during their year there before graduating 76 years ago.
“What’s odd is that my mother was a member of the first class at Xavier and I was in the 50th-anniversary class,” said Wohlford. “Then all three of us had daughters in Beckman’s very first class, 1967.”
That, along with several memories of their years in high school, were part of a wide-ranging conversation the three had during dinner at The Ritz, Sept. 29.
Their class was comprised of 24, nine of them boys. “But we didn’t go to dances or have cheerleaders or even play any sports,” said Wohlford. “That was not what you did in those days. You were in school to study and to learn.”
Wessels cut in. “But I think there was basketball for the boys. Their games were in the old Memorial Building basement.”
Most of their memories revolved around the sisters and their studies. “I was there just that one year,” said Reicher. “My brother and I transferred from public school in Dundee and boarded with my uncle here. Sister Patrice was the language arts and English teacher and I didn’t know anything about the Dewey Decimal System. She was trying to help me and I was so overwhelmed that, when she turned around to ask me something, I had tears running down my cheeks.
“On top of that, she really wanted me to catch up to what the others were doing, so I had to write two essays or poems or assignments every time the rest of the class was assigned. I had to do the junior year of work along with the senior year.”
That’s when Wohlford chimed in, “but she was the smartest one in our class. She was valedictorian.” Reicher didn’t agree, “I don’t think we actually had one of those.”
Wohlford added that Sister Giovanni was the chemistry teacher, “and she didn’t like me too well. The last day of classes, she announced that we were all supposed to clean our drawers (in the chem lab). The whole class tittered and I was the last one to join in. She said, “Beckman, you have a dirty mind.”
The students who lived in town walked to and from classes each day, including two and from lunch breaks. “I lived all the way by the park, so it was about four miles in a day,” said Wohlford. “The country kids could bring their own lunches and stay in school.”
The three described the uniforms worn by the girls in high school. “They were navy blue gabardine dresses and we wore white collars and white cuffs on the long sleeves. Each class had a different color ribbon at the collar. But you can imagine how those dresses wore throughout a year. Gabardine was not readily washable and the collars were at first white cotton that you had to starch and iron, but later were a stiff white almost-plastic, like the nuns’ collars. We all had lots of spots.”
Wessels added, “You always had to roll the sleeves all the way down and wear the cuffs over the ends of them.”
The three were in school during the war years and that affected their Home Ec classes. “There was never enough food to go around to prepare the dishes for class, because of rationing, so we had to be grouped together to make one dish,” said Wessels. “Sister Giovanni also taught that class and once in a while, we could see a little strand of her red hair sticking out of her habit, which of course as kids we thought was funny. But we did learn something about cooking.”
And those dances they weren’t supposed to go to? Reicher said, “I lived in fear all year that someone would catch me. We went to dances all the time when I was at home and in Dundee school, so nothing much changed, except now there was a severe punishment if we got caught. Being expelled was like the end of everything especially since my folks had sacrificed to send us to Dyersville to school.”
Wessels said, “By senior year, anybody caught and expelled was reinstated if they went to Father Herbers (pastor of the parish) and apologized.”
Wohlford had a part-time job at Link’s Restaurant and really liked it when the dance intermissions came around. “Then we would be busy. I was working because both of my parents had died and I really needed the money.”
That money problem worked into their job choices after graduation, which all three said was “probably just a Mass, and maybe a banquet. There were no ceremonies like there are now. “ Reicher and Wessels both went to the University of Dubuque for their Normal training to be teachers. It comprised basically a summer course and they began teaching in country schools that fall. “I was not paid though until January, because I was still 17 and you weren’t supposed to teach until you were 18, but they needed a teacher, so they held my wages until I was legal,” said Reicher. Wessels said, “I was old enough but I really wanted to be a nurse and my mother said no, so I taught until I got married.” Wohlford did get to go to nurse’s training because of a government program, the Cadet Nurse Corps. She went to Freeport, Ill., for three years. “My brother and sister were both working in defense plants so that allowed me to get into nursing through the Cadet Corps.”
The three were all married within pretty much a year, Wohlford in March of 47, Wessels in November of 47 and Reicher in May of 48. “And that ended our working days, because you didn’t work when you were married,” added Wessels. Their oldest children, Connie (Wohlford) Holmes, Anne (Wessels) Goedken and Bec (Reicher) Willenborg, all became members of the first graduating class of Beckman, and were part of the golden anniversary celebration of that school, continuing a circle that began with Wohlford’s mother all those many years ago.