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John Waelti: The 'quiet decade' wasn't so silent
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The popular image of the decade of the 1950s is one of tranquility - an America of increasing affluence - "I like Ike," hula hoops, clean-cut kids with crew cuts, poodle skirts, Patti Page and that "Doggie in the Window," Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and "The Cleavers."

Rock n' roll is strongly associated with the fifties. But the decade of the fifties was half over and my class was out of high school before that revolutionary music exploded on the scene.

Though much was right with America during that era, descendants of American slaves could still be arrested and thrown in jail in parts of the country for failing to surrender their seat on the bus to a Caucasian.

Author David Halberstam in his book, "The Fifties," contends that, contrary to popular image - peace, tranquility, nothing much happening - the fifties was an era of monumental events, some not so obvious, that laid the groundwork for the explosive sixties, and would permanently change the politics, foreign policy, commerce, and culture of America.

Many readers of this column are members of the "sandwich generation," that small generation between "The Greatest Generation" and "the Baby Boom Generation." The people who lived through this era remember it well. This age group includes members of my own class, many of whom are readers, or are known by readers of this column.

In addition to that inimitable cast of characters cited in my previous column, we had a lot of great gals in our class. It started at the old North School with Joyce Babler, Sue Kingston, Diane Snyder, Lois Deemer, Patti Amos, and the late Marilyn Plate and Annette Stopka.

For our senior year, Letty Adams moved up from Dixon, Illinois. Letty married Freddie - Studer, that is, of "Super Service" fame. Still in this area are Rosemary Koch Showers, Mary Jane Hasse Robertson, Diana Elmer Prien, Gail Heitz Siebert, Marlene Keller Gobeli, Luann Reinmann Bowen, Shirley Mahle Goodman, Nancy Wolfley Flick, Mavis Riese Ingwell, Rita Mulligan Brunner, Kay Berndt Rufener, Phyllis Andrews Bauman, Mary Larson Erickson, Carol Zuhlke Blum, and Alice Clark.

The late Yvonne Lehr was raised on a neighboring farm north of us - the farm once owned by my uncle, Sam Waelti. The late Gertrude Messmer's father, Fritzi, owned the farm directly north of our home farm north of town.

I was lucky to sit beside Gail in geometry class. She never knew it, but I was infatuated with her - but no use trying to compete with Sheriff Chambers' kid, Victor, best half back off the split T in the Badger Conference - forget it.

I can't name 'em all, but some of the great girls from this extraordinary class occasionally returning to town include Susan Blumer, Karen Kindschi Waggoner, Colleen Seffrood Deininger, Gladys Due Bohren, Nellie Anderegg Gobeli, Marilyn Miller Kunde, Carol Canon Galli, Carol Falk Burgett, Sondra Schwulst Simpson, Loretta Mulligan Kiechle, Donna Ott Martin, Reva Neuenschwander Chambers, and Joe Donny's gorgeous sister, Ruth.

I especially note Elsa Schindler Ienatsch (daughter of a founder of Monroe Clinic) whose sister, Carol Schindler Brand assisted my Aunt Rosa Waelti Gruenewald write a history of the then state-of-the-art barn built by my grandfather around 1904.

What I'm driving at is that members of my class and anybody living through the decade of the fifties could not at the time begin to fathom the importance and significance of the events of that decade, and how people and events of that so-called "quiet decade" would shape the future of America.

Adlai Stephenson, who campaigned for President with a hole in his shoe, Harry Truman, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, Joseph McCarthy, Robert Oppenheimer, Earl Warren, Alger Hiss, Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King, James Dean, and Gary Powers are obvious and prominent names of the early fifties, and later, of course, Elvis, "the King."

There are lesser-known names - Sam Phillips, Kemmons Wilson, Bill Levitt, and Rosser Reeves - who would change America as dramatically and permanently as some of the more prominent names. And how could a couple of brothers running an unusually efficient hamburger joint in San Bernardino possibly change the face of America - and even the world - dramatically and permanently?

The Korean War and Sputnik were obviously dramatic events signifying change. Less obvious, but just as important in shaping the American future, was the great post WWII baby boom, the kids born between the years 1946 and 1964 - the generation produced by troops returning from WWII doing what troops returning from war usually do - and by the very members of that "quiet generation" of the 1950s of whom we are writing.

Nothing happening during the fifties? Halberstam is right. It was a pivotal decade. Though not obvious at the time, the people and events of the "tranquil fifties" laid the groundwork for the explosive sixties and would permanently change America. Let's take a closer look at some of them.

To be continued:

- Monroe resident John Waelti can be reached at