This week we have a guest posting from Robert Prazak, who recalls fondly his childhood in Clarkson during the years 1945 – 1957. So fondly, in fact, that he considers these years to be Clarkson’s Golden Age. Because my own time overlaps considerably with his, he’ll get little argument from me. But others may have different opinions, and I hope they will share them, either with comments on this post or in an always-welcome guest post. Let’s see what he has to say…
It’s time for a little controversy here in this publication. Taking the 12 years it takes to get an education at the Clarkson area schools I am going to try to make a case for the years 1945 to 1957 being the “Golden Years” (which happen to be my years in the school system). There may be some negatives for that period as the swimming pool, senior citizen center, title nine and finishing the dike around town were still in the future.
Clarkson has always been about the land and the people. Nearly every section of land back in that period was the home to three or four farm families which contributed greatly to the economy and schools. Our war heroes were coming back from the war; some to go back to the farm, some to help out in the family businesses, others to start new businesses, and yet others went to make a life elsewhere. There was a need for homes, cars, and anything else necessary for starting life all over again. No one who I knew was rich, but everyone seemed to have a decent life. No one was a millionaire then; I suppose with farm land increasing tenfold or more that may have changed today, on paper anyway; but that too can change.
Making a case for 1945 to 1957
Clarkson’s population stayed fairly constant at around 800 except on weekends when it usually soared to over a thousand due to basketball games (more on that subject later), stores being open on Saturday night, and services at the Catholic and Presbyterian churches on Sunday.
Main Street was bustling, and as I remember walking up main to school there were very few buildings vacant. I remember three new car dealerships; Severa Ford, Vacin Pontiac, and Prazak Chevrolet; two or three grocery stores, two or three hardware stores, lumber yards, a couple cafes and plenty of bars. Service businesses were plentiful, professional areas such as lawyers, dentists, and even a family doctor was a constant for the area. There weren’t many things that were needed that couldn’t be found in Clarkson. The Opera House was an often-used facility for such things as dances, plays, meetings, and of course weekend movies. Business and service organizations thrived and kept the area entertained.
What was there for the young people to do other than school activities? Boy and Girl Scouts were active, ice skating–firemen would flood an area dug out next to the depot for winter skating, tent roller rink located on our property for a few years, and about every summer afternoon we would have a pick up baseball game except the years when polio was an ever present danger and we had to take it easy. As we grew older, organized Junior Legion baseball became part of our summer life. If nothing else, there was always the Maple Creek to waste away a summer afternoon trying to catch bullheads. Churches were also a big part of our life (I can speak for the Presbyterians, but I am sure my Catholic buddies had plenty to do also). At our church Monday night was for Junior Choir practice (I remember that becuase everyone would hurry home to watch “I love Lucy”), and Sunday night was for our youth fellowship group. Some of us also had part time jobs, but there was still time to just be a kid.
Business organizations thrived and did great things for our entertainment–some of which have already been noted such as All Star wrestling. The Harvest Festival, which turned into Czech Days, was always a big undertaking, Pancake Day, Christmas movies and Santa handing out treats, and the Christmas lights on main street. (personal note–I don’t know who was responsible, but the strings of red and green lights were amazing to view when you climbed the hill on the south end of main–just like a big blanket)
Probably the biggest achievement was to get Harlem Globe Trotters to entertain at our new gym. Marquis Haynes, and Goose Tatum and some of their stars took on our local All Stars–guess who won? Town team baseball was big in those days and as I remember sometimes we used a hired pitcher who was paid $25 to the amazement of some. My dad, Vince, was usually the traveling umpire so I got to go along as a bat boy. Baseball’s demise happened when softball became a popular sport, and many more became participants. All the bars, and many other businesses sponsored a team.
Education and high school sports: Clarkson has always had a first class school system, but the facilities were greatly improved once the new school was built in the early 50′s and the old white wooden grade school which was part of so many of our lives was torn down. Here our era may take a rap as title nine did not exist and women’s sports were almost non-existent. I can remember a girls’ softball team for a few years, but that is about it for the girls. Basketball was king during the 50′s with the Red Devils being Class C State runner-up three out of four years. One year under coach Milo Blecha and two under Bill Kropp. When state basketball was on Clarkson became a ghost town. During my senior year football was introduced as a school sport, but took a few years before we became a force to be reckoned with.
Transportation–One might have thought that with the closing down of the Chicago Northwestern rail line through town that we might become a ghost town, but not so as the mid 50′s saw the hard surfacing of the new highway 91 just south of town which meant that now we could travel on hard surface roads to any major area you wanted to travel.
I know I have just scratched the surface as to what I think made those 12 years the “Golden Years”, but I know it was a great time to be a kid in Clarkson. There is a saying that “you can take the kid out of Clarkson, Nebr., but you can’t take Clarkson out of the kid.”
Now surely some of you will want to defend your era; for some of the historians you may want to tell of Clarkson’s early days, and for some of you young bucks tell of the good things happening now.