Television Arrives

President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration was my first television experience. School released early to allow students to go home and watch this important historical event. We did not yet have a television, so our neighbors, the Borhoffs, invited us over to their house to view it. I stood outside watching my first television screen through an open window, as the room was crowded with adults.

Sometime in the mid 50s, we got our first used television: a large wooden box with a small screen about 9”x9.” A little rabbit ear antenna had to be finely turned to get the best reception. A few months later we upgraded to a larger TV, with a huge 19” black and white screen. Now this is the good life! Soon Dad brought home an “instant color TV screen.” It was a plastic film that clung to the regular screen. It had a blue band across the top (for the sky), a green band across the bottom (for the grass), and a wide yellow band across the middle (use your imagination). It was good for a few laughs, then quickly disappeared. I am sure none have survived. Truth is, I still do not believe in color television! It is beyond a miracle – absolutely impossible.

Television broadcasting usually ended at midnight, with the playing of the national anthem. A screen pattern, featuring an Indian in a full headdress would appear, and stay on until the station signed on the morning at 7:00 AM. Most kids of that era recall staring at that universal Indian face, eagerly waiting for the station to sign on.

We gathered in front of our TV after dinner, watching the snowy black and white image from the one TV station we could receive: WIMA. Favorites of our family included “I Love Lucy,” “The Hit Parade,” “Jack Benny,” the “Red Skelton Show,” and the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Yes, we watched as Elvis made his first “outrageous” appearance.

We lived one block from the television station with its tall broadcasting tower. Often we would wander over, and the staff would let one or two of us into the studio. We got to know them on first-name basis. Sometimes we even sat in the audience during live studio broadcasts. On weekends, some of the crew would let us watch as they ran the various electronic gadgets that did their magic.

A special benefit was dumpster diving at the television station. Their huge trash bins were always loaded with discarded films, promotional photos, slides, and other unique collectibles. Weekends were best time to visit, as only a couple guys were on duty and we helped relieve their boredom, since most of the weekend programs were canned, or sent from the network. Great fun!

~ An Aside ~

Many years later, Jan and I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Columbus. It was an Ohio State football game weekend, so we weren’t surprised when a fire alarm went off at 2:00 AM. We were on about the 10th floor, so we called downstairs and were told it was not a false alarm, and we should walk down the stairs to the lobby. Do not use the elevator.

When we entered the lobby about 2:30, it was packed with people, some dressed in night clothes, others in tuxedos and gowns. We were told it was a minor kitchen fire and could definitely smell the smoke. The staff brought in beverages and we mingled.

About 3:00 AM, two stretch limos arrived at the front door, and bellmen began wheeling in huge carts, piled with large trunks – followed by Red Skelton [Google him if you were born after 1960] followed by his entourage. The entire crowd burst into enthusiastic applause. Skelton must have assumed he had an amazing PR man who could turn out this kind of crowd at 3:00 AM!

The next morning as we caught the elevator down to breakfast, the door opened and there stood Red Skelton! We entered and he looked me up and down, and quipped, “You’re big enough to become a state.”

High School Social Life

I had many friends at Kalida, both male and female. I have many fond memories of those three years and very few sour ones. I now fully appreciate how fortunate I was. Every single person in our class was friendly, accepting, supportive, and respectful. At no time in my life did I feel so nurtured. Of course, I spent more time with classmates who shared common interests. But there was not a single person I disliked or avoided.Dicks Restaurant 1964

In a rural area, much of the social life centers around school activities, especially sports, and hanging out at the local restaurants. In Kalida in the 60s, that meant Dick’s Restaurant. My mother even worked there as a cook for a couple years. After a basketball game, it was standing room only, with people of all ages jammed in with overflow spilling out onto the sidewalk.

At that time, fish on Fridays was pretty well mandatory for all my Catholic friends. After the basketball games, we’d head to Dick’s Restaurant. They ordered their fish sandwiches, and then I ordered my fish sandwich. Their initial response was, “We have to! Why are you eating fish?” I took joy in replying, “Cause I love it!” Still do!

Older folks, and those celebrating a special occasion, would wander over to The Black Angus Steakhouse in the village square. Teens typically only are there with their with families, as it was a bit expensive. It had an excellent reputation, and steak lovers would drive all the way from Toledo, Lima or Fort Wayne for dinner.

On summer evenings, we often congregated at the Kalida ballpark, as a baseball or softball game was scheduled almost every evening. Of course, there was beer for sale, or some men brought their own 12-packs.

We would walk or cruise the town, often ending up on some girls’ porch chatting about the latest movie or pop song. I vividly recall watching the Beatles for the very first time on the Ed Sullivan Show, with a group of friends in Rita Shumaker’s living room. It was so different from anything else we had ever seen. Everyone was mesmerized. The girls of television were screaming so wildly, I couldn’t image they heard the songs

I greatly admired Norbert Hoffman. He was honest, unpretentious, and genuine. I remember he insisted that our science teacher change his grade from an A to a B, claiming he had not earned it. He often said things I wish I had said. He had real character; certainly not obsessed with what others thought of him.

Denny Potts, the son of Evangeline Potts, our French and English teacher, was a very reliable friend. When I became a teacher, I often thought of Mrs. Potts as a decent role model. Denny’s uncle also taught at the high school. Denny seemed to excel at everything he did. He was an outstanding basketball and baseball player, a superb student, a very kind and supportive, friend, and funny in a unique way. He married another good friend Barbara Unverferth, and taught and coached at one of the other high schools in the county. They had eight children.

In my junior year, Bob Fortman appeared in our class. He had given the seminary a shot and decided it just wasn’t for him. Our gain! He was funny and always fun to be around. He worked in his Dad’s auto repair shop, so he always drove cool cars – Fords, as I recall. We cruised many miles on the county back roads, with sometimes deep philosophical explorations and more often just crazy hilarious bents.

Rachel Rampe was a cheerful, hilarious gal, genuinely supportive, and always fun to be around. I asked her to go to the junior prom – my first real date! At our 50th class reunion, I announced that my biggest regret in high school was not kissing Rachel on our junior prom date. I walked over and when she stood up we shared a big one right on the lips!

Ruth Wehri was my date for the senior prom. A unique tradition at the Kalida proms was inviting all the parents of the senior students to chaperone. Probably the only time my parents ever went to a dance together!

Obviously, our proms were pretty calm. No wild stuff. However, I did steal my first kiss with Ruth when I took her home. Yeah, I was a late bloomer, but made up for it later. Sadly, 15 months later, she was killed in a drunk driving auto accident, as was another classmate, Bill Nartker, a couple years after Ruth.

Pete Dauer moved to Kalida after I had. Like me, he was “from away.” We bonded. I recall one of his first cars was an old Willie, with the front floorboard completely rusted out. He had a wooden plank in its place where you had to put your feet. You could see the pavement as it rolled by below.

There were some very bright students in our class. One, Betty Wehri, who shocked me when she left for the convent after graduation. She spent many decades as a nun in Ecuador.

My lucky day!!
My lucky day!!

For our senior trip, we chartered a bus and went all the way to Detroit and Windsor! We snag and laughed all the way there and back. I recall riding part of the way sprawled in the luggage rack above the seats.

I have many special memories with all of my classmates. (I apologize to those I didn’t include by name. Maybe later.) We have had class reunions every five years since we graduated. I did not realize that the only real duty of the senior class president was to organize the class reunion every five years! Should have read that contract closer.

It is always fun to reminisce about our time together, an era of innocence and growth. When we had our 50th high school reunion, in 2014, 30 of the 32 original classmates were living; only Ruth & Bill, victims of those tragic drunk driving accidents, had passed.

 

 

Putnam County Culture

Kalida, and much of Putnam County, is predominately German Catholic. Each of the nine villages had large, ornate Catholic churches. During the summer months, every weekend a different Catholic church sponsored a beer festival. They would bring in a semi-truck full of beer. By midnight Saturday, it was gone, and their budgets were enriched by some $50,000.

The beer festivals were a major part of the social scene and the young folks rotated among the various festivals. At that time, Putnam County had the highest per capita beer consumption in the state. After every Friday game, someone would host a spoJim Burgeintaneous beer party. Most Friday nights, there were several parties happening around the rural community. Beer flowed freely at all parties, often from kegs. With all the alcohol consumption, I never saw anyone get nasty, though many got silly.

I attended many of the beer parties, but chose not dabble in the beer, for various reasons that I’ll share later. I never had a single beer until my freshman year of college.

Within the first six months at Kalida High School, I had learned the Rosary, forwards and backwards. The basketball team and cheer leaders recited it in the bus on the way to every away game! That was a bit of a shock at first. But I soon accepted it, and used it as a time of quiet reflection. This experience did shape my attitude decades later when I heard people demanding we return prayer to the schools. My response was, “Whose prayer?”

Each Wednesday, my classmates would go across the street to their church for religion classes. I sat by myself in study hall. I used the time wisely, so it was no big deal. After a while, my best friends would tell me some of what happened in those sessions. One reported the priest once chided an errant lad, “Ron Partin sitting over in study hall is better that you are, kid!” That’s only hearsay, but I found it amusing.

In reality, it was somewhat of a public-financed parochial school system. Before we moved there, a new elementary school was needed, so the church volunteered to build one and leased it to the school board. Part of the deal included nuns who taught the classes. I called it the “Rent a Nun Program.” Far as I know, they were good teachers, and it worked okay.

There was on interesting incident in the early 60s, when someone notified the state education office that crucifixes hung on the walls of the Kalida Elementary School. In their wisdom, the state officials called the superintendant and reported they were coming next week to investigate this claim. When the investigators showed up, there were indeed no crucifixes anywhere, but there were large white cross marks on the walls where they had hung for years.

A few years later, the old German priest decided the church needed a heated entrance plaza to melt the winter ice. My understanding was the leaders and treasurer calculated it would cost some $50,000 and assessed each family as to what they should contribute and billed them. Can’t imagine that going over real well with the Unitarians!

A big issue at the time was whether French kissing was a mortal or a venial sin. Apparently various priests in the county interpreted it differently and doled out different penance. So the offenders would shop their sins to get off a bit lighter. Of course, all of my research on this is purely secondary. Truth is, I probably didn’t even know what French kissing was at that time. If I did it was all hearsay evidence.

There was one practice for which I envied my Catholic classmates. They almost all attended mass at 5:00 pm Saturday evening. They got to sleep in every Sunday morning (unless they had to get up early to feed livestock or milk cows).

Kalida High School: A Life-changing Experience

At the 50th reunion of the Kalida High School Class reunion, I told my classmates who had all grown up in the area, “Kalida shaped your lives; it significantly changed my life.” The unexpected summer move was not a traumatic event at all for me. It was a blessing, a re-orientation, and was one of the best things that happened in my formative years.

I went from being a small fish in a big pond to a big fish in a small pond. After several dates with my wife-to-be, Jan, in her freshman year at BGSU, I showed her my high school annual. She read that I was on the varsity basketball and baseball teams, was senior class president, president of the student council, had lead roles in two plays . . . . Wow! She was impressed. Then she counted. “There were only thirty-two in your class!” Maybe not quite as impressed then.

It’s true it was a very small school, with many fewer options than I would have had in Lima. All the classes were small, many with fewer than 15 students. I pretty well knew everyone in the high school. I felt my teachers genuinely cared for me, and I I never saw a single paddle.

From the very first day, my classmates welcomed me. I think they saw me as the “big city kid.” I actually only lived in the Kalida community for three years before leaving for college, but they were the most formative ones of my youth. The supportive environment of teachers, peers, friends, and family allowed me to blossom, take risks, develop some social skills, and feel accepted.

The first day I tried to register for nine classes, though we only had an eight-period schedule (Two were semester classes). Wisely the principal wouldn’t let me. I truly loved going to school every day.

Welcome to the Farm!

In the summer of 1962, the Partin family moved to a farm three miles north of the village of Kalida in Putnam County Ohio. Kalida was a small farm community of about 1,000 people in northwest Ohio. It had a few stores, a bank, post office, two grain mills, a school, and a beautiful Catholic Church with a massive spire that could be seen from miles.

The farm of 40 acres included about seven acres of woods and a winding creek. In addition of an old farm house, a small barn and a half dozen, fairly primitive sheds served various purposes. The previous owner persistently used baling wire for most outdoor repairs. It soon became a family joke. “Hmm, loose door? Grab the baling wire.” Of course, that was long before duct tape, which a couple decades later became our go-to solution for most repairs.

Dad’s half sister Lorene (Extine) Bishop lived a mile to our north on the Blanchard River. When we lived in Lima, Don & I, along with Mike, Bud, and other friends, would camp next to the river on the Bishops small farm. We would cut small branches, strip the bark, and lash them to tress, making a frame to hold our large tarp. We had a cooler for food. We’d spend the days wading in the river – it usually wasn’t deep enough for swimming.

The idea of moving to a farm was intriguing. It was an adventure, at just the right time. The family raised hogs, chickens and a few steers and had the crops planted and harvested by a neighbor who split the profits. Dad kept working at what had become Clark Equipment in Lima. The farm was a great learning experience, though it never turned much of a profit. Seems like we always bought pigs at the top of the market and sold them at bottom.

We ordered chickens through mail order, and several dozen tiny chicks arrived in cardboard boxes, delivered by the postman. Most of them survived. We had Chester White pigs. They are pretty smart animals. If they escaped, we would just yell and they’d wander back. Cows were not nearly as cooperative. It was work getting them back in the pen.

Mom & Dad bought our first calf at a livestock auction. The vendor told them to pull around back, and he’d help them load it. He was quite amused when they rolled up in our tiny Renault Dauphine. The little calf had a comfortable ride home in the back seat.

One chilly winter night, I returned home from a basketball game. Mom told me to check on a pregnant sow before going to bed. I did and found pigs were already arriving. I ran to the house, and my parents quickly bundled up and started assisting the sow.

It set a record cold of -17 degrees that night. By morning 16 little pigs had been born. As they came out my parents put them into a large barrel, with heat lamps to keep them warm and alive. One small runt was pretty frail and appeared not likely to make it. When I entered the kitchen the next morning, I was stunned see that runt wrapped in a blanket in the middle of a warm kitchen oven (with the door open, of course). No fancy incubators on our farm. As usual my parents were resourceful and came up with another creative solution. The runt survived and became our pet pig.

We lived in an old farm house, that was poorly insulated, minimally heated, and chilly in the winter. Don and I had separate bedrooms upstairs. That was a luxury after years of sharing bunk beds in one tiny room. This great space seemed luxurious that summer! That would soon change.

Only the downstairs had any heat at all. Some winter mornings, I could easily see every breath roll up to the ceiling. Fortunately, the chimney from the space heater downstairs ran through the wall. I drove a nail in that wall, and put my clothes, including socks, on a hanger in front of the chimney. I had nice toasty warm clothes awaiting me in the morning. I could dress in less than five seconds. Understandably, Don felt cheated, as there was no chimney in his room. But often he did have the sense to just sleep downstairs on the couch, in a totally warm room!

On those cold winter nights, Mom would place several bricks on top of our living room stove that burned wood or coal. She would then wrap them in towels and Don and I would carry them upstairs and place them in our beds. I helped a little for a few minutes.

A few years later, electric blankets hit the market and we each got one. That made a big difference. Don would usually crank his up to maximum heat and leave his windows open at night!

Watering the livestock was a challenge in the winter. The primitive plumbing in the barn quickly froze, requiring us to carry 5-gallon buckets of water form the house to the barn. About half way there, a snow drift usually formed if we had enough snow. We always had enough wind in Northwest Ohio! As soon as we hit that drift, the water would slosh onto our overalls (yes, we had bibbed ones) freezing instantly. Some days, they were frozen so solid they could have stood by themselves.

A Hellish Experience

One skill we acquired fairly quickly was learning how to plow a straight row. I’d have never learned that skill in Lima! Long before either of us qualified for a driver’s license, we were driving the tractor, even towing grain wagons to the mill.

One day Don was plowing in the field on our little Case tractor when he plowed up a hornets’ nest. They came charging after him. He looked back and saw a black cloud chasing him. As he neared, the house his adrenaline kicked in, and he leapt from the seat racing to the back door.

He was safe, after a very close call. Except in his haste, he had not taken the tractor out of gear, and it was rolling past the house and out into the field. It slowly made its way across the entire field, only coming to a halt when it rammed a fence on the far side.

When Dad got home, he asked where the tractor was, and Don pointed across the field. Dad observed, “You could never have plowed such a straight row on your own!”

The Last Crank Telephones

Kalida Telephone Company was the last phone company in Ohio to use crank telephones – well into the early 60s. To get the operator’s attention, we cranked the phone. We would tell her who you wanted to call – often just by name. But we each had a number. Ours was “13 on 1” — the 13th phone on line one. Each phone had its distinctive ring. Ours was “two long and one short” rings. Of course when anyone on the line received a call, all the other phones also rang.

Obviously, you didn’t want to say anything on those phones you didn’t want everyone else in the community to know. It was amusing to say “goodbye,” then pause to hear “click, click, click…” as the nosier neighbors hung up their phones. It was a hobby for some lonely souls.

On nasty winter days, our Kalida school superintendant would check in with our neighbor, Ed Reiman, who was superintendent of the Miller City School District. Then they would decide whether school was to be cancelled. On those mornings, we’d listen in if we heard the Reiman’s phone ringing. That gave us a head start over everyone else, as we didn’t have to wait for it to be announced on the radio.