Ninety is only a number but it is also the number of years I've had a birthday. I was born on June 16, 1925 in Milford. Many of us in those days were born in our own homes. The house I grew up in is still there and looks much the same, as does the whole neighborhood.
The only real change was across the street from our house was a vacant lot next to my best friends, Vaughn and Shirley Speer. This vacant lot was our playground for baseball, football, tag, racetrack and, in winter, fox and goose. North of their house lived Mr. & Mrs. John Bascon. John was a lawyer. On their property was a barn, chicken house and a huge empty area north of their property. Today it is occupied by the Lutheran Church and many houses but when I was a kid it was a wonderful place to play. Many times we would go over to the barn and watch Mr. Bascon milk his cows and we played in the loft time after time. I don't ever remember him telling us we were not welcome. Things and people were like that when I was a kid. He always left us his Prince Albert tobacco sacks, which we used to carry our marbles and money.
Milford was a great place to grow up in. The whole town was our playground including the lumber yards, railroad station, boxcars, stockyards, the abandoned cement factory and Mill Creek on the east side of Milford. In the winter, we would go over to Kessey's Hill on the east side of town and slide down the hill. Practically all the kids in Milford gathered there to go sledding without adult supervision. We had no "warming house" but just got wet and cold and kept going.
Another place we would go sledding was an abandoned basement hole. The dirt and sand provided a hill that was pulled up from the excavation and to the bottom of the hole made a slide. It wasn't very long but as a kid it seemed a long way.
The best part was that my LaFoy grandparents only lived one house to the east and we could go over there to dry out and warm up. We had many adventures in the sand pits south and west of town and playing and fishing in the Little Sioux River west of Milford. There were never adults around to tell you what to do and as I look back I still wonder why? We made our own "fun."
I attended school in Milford from first grade to graduation in 1943. Many of the kids I started with were also in my graduating class. Once in a while, students would leave and others moved in but we got to know each other really well. Growing up in a small town has many advantages as you get to participate in all the "extra" activities. A new band man came to town in the 1930 by the name of John Day. He and my parents became good friends and Mr. Day knew that in order to have a band he needed to start the kids early.
In a conversation with Dad, John said he was starting a beginner's band for third and fourth graders and indicated to Dad that I should be in that band. Dad asked John what kind of an instrument and the reply was, "just get one." In a conversation with a local grocer Dad mentioned that and the man told Dad he had an old baritone horn. "How much," Dad asked and he replied, "$3." Dad bought the big old brass baritone horn and that was what I learned on.
In high school, Milford had a wonderful marching band that did really well in district, state and national contests. The Milford marching band went to national contests three times in the Twin Cities. It was the first time I had ever been out of the state of Iowa. I also played football and basketball, sang in several choruses as well as several solos. I also sang in the church choir.
In those days there was no Little League but Dad and Roy DePue, local barber, formed and coached boys in junior high during the summer. Dad took the boys on the west side of Highway 71 and Roy took the boys on the east side of the highway. We played at least two times a week in the baseball field back of the Catholic Church. Several times we played at Sheldon and here. My Uncle Jake LaFoy was coaching in Sheldon at that time and operated the summer recreation program in Sheldon. Sunday afternoons the Milford baseball team played at the same diamond and it was always exciting.
In the fall of 1940 my Aunt Freda Nicol, society editor of the Milford Mail, called me one Saturday morning and asked me if I wanted a job. I went right to the Mail office because it was a job. Wow! In those days any job that paid you money was a gift. That job lasted for three years as a "printer's devil." My first paycheck was $3.50 a week. In those days the newspaper was published each week and printed much as it had for many years but we did have linotype and that is where I came in. Each Saturday morning I would go to the Mail office, gather up all the lead slugs and castings; melt them in a big kettle in the basement and pour melted lead into pigs to be fed into the linotype machine. I did learn how to set up ads, run the presses and cast lead. It was never boring.
I graduated from Milford High in the spring of 1943, turned 18 in June, registered for the draft, volunteered for induction and entered the military in July. My first assignment was the Aviation Engineers at March Field, California. Wow! California was a great contrast from Iowa. My military career lasted 30 months with a sea voyage clear around the world and two years in the CBI (China-Burma-India) in the Army Air Corps. While in India we drove the Ledo-Burma Road from India to China (1,500 miles in 10 days). Living in India and China gave me an understanding of how poor people could get and still survive. I could tell you a great deal about living conditions and being packed like minnows in troopships but those made me value life in the U.S.A.
I was discharged from the military in January 1946 and went to college at Iowa State Teachers College, Cedar Falls. When in college I met and married my wonderful wife, Connie. She lived only 22 miles straight east of Milford but we met at Cedar Falls. With a BA degree but no job we went to Greeley, Colorado where I received my MA degree. Connie and I both taught in Greeley but returned to Iowa and taught in Mason City for 25 years. I taught at Roosevelt Junior High, primarily American history and the last eight years taught in Estherville in the junior high. We have three boys, Randy, Ray and Carl, seven grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.
Okoboji has always held a place in my heart and some of my first recollections were swimming and playing on the beach at Jones Beach. My parents built a cottage there in 1925 and it was a wonderful place to play. Later on they built a stone cottage in Maywood and that too was a great playground.
Connie and I bought a lot at Terrace Park in 1955 built a cottage and always came here in the summers. In 1971, we sold that cottage and bought on Pocahontas Point. In the 1980s we tore the old cottage down and planned and built a wonderful cottage. We had many wonderful memories from that cottage on Pocahontas Point with our families, Okoboji Yacht Club, sailing, ice boating, snowmobiling and fishing. We sold that in 2000 and now live in a townhouse on Emerald Hills Golf Course.
We retired from teaching and sought a place to go in the winters. After viewing various locations we landed in Leisure World, Mesa, Arizona. We now stay in Iowa six months and six months in Arizona.
Ninety may be just a number but its my age now and has been a wonderful journey. Having my wonderful wife, Connie, at my side has made it great. One never knows when it will end but I have lots of research yet to do on the history of the Iowa Great Lakes and hopefully the Good Lord will grant the time and strength to accomplish those goals. How do you jam 90 years of memories in a limited article? Again, it has been great so God Bless America!