Parkview Elementary, Fridley, Anoka County, Minnesota
In August 1958, we moved from Anoka to Fridley into a tiny little house on NE 2nd Street. At the time the address was 5853, however, sometime during the ensuing years, the address has changed to 5881. Zillow says that the house was built in 1948 and is a 480-square-foot one bedroom home. My grandmother and my mother had the bedroom. I had the bedroom closet as my bedroom. It was a large closet for such a small house but was really small as a bedroom. As I recall, it was only inches longer than my bed. My clothes dresser blocked the side of my bed by my feet. Boxes under the bed contained most of my clothes and my boy things. I had model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. The Fridley house is the first house I lived in that is still standing. There are still houses that I lived in that were built before the Fridley House, but none of the places I lived before I lived in Fridley are still standing.
My mother was still working at Anoka State Hospital when we were living there. I have a photo of her in her nurse’s uniform on the steps to the house.
My grandmother’s ledger (From the Donna Darling Digital Collection) says we paid $55/month in rent. I remember life in Fridley as idyllic. A short block away was a huge open field that I played in. Later that field was where I trapped gophers (See “My First ‘Job’ – Trapper.” Down the street was “Melody Manor,” a new development. There was a park where I joined “Little League” and learned to play baseball. I was pretty much a bench warmer and only remember batting once or twice when our team was many runs ahead.
My best friend was a girl, Patty Hopkins, who lived on Main street. (I wonder what ever happened to her.) Her house was across a vacant lot (now Skyline Park) to a house no longer there. A few houses down 2nd Street was where Mark and Rodney Sabo(?) lived. If I was going to get into trouble, it would be with them. There were a couple derelict houses between where we lived that were a source of fun – mostly things like knocking down hornet’s nests and yellow-jacket nests. The derelicts are long gone and a 2-1/2 story apartment is there today. Also, about a half a mile away was the Mississippi River and Chase Island. There was usually a tree down bridging the distance from shore to the island. Lots of fun playing there. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to go there to play – it was across both a busy highway (without any lights) and across multiple railroad tracks. Sometimes, I’m amazed that I lived through my youth.
We lived in the Fridley house for two and a half years, by far the longest I had lived anywhere up to that point in my life. As I recall, we painted that house, fenced it, put on awnings, put up a flagpole, and did many other improvements to the house, yard, and property even though we were renters. My grandmother planted moss roses along the side by the side door – they are still one of my favorite flowers. I love how they open-up to full bloom every morning and close every night.
Parkview Elementary was about six long-blocks away (nine long-blocks in a mile) and I walked. I don’t remember much about third grade. I know the school was new. In fourth grade, I had Mrs. Peterson as my teacher. She, as I recall, was older and she saw something in me that she encouraged. Fourth grade was the year I shifted from “getting by” to one of the smart kids. She became an “Ancestor of Spirit” for me that year. She helped make me the person I am, today. Maybe it was also because it was the first school I attended two years in a row. In any event, I excelled that year and carried on into the following year.
Fifth grade was really good for me. We had lived in our tiny house on Second Street in Fridley, Minnesota. I had attended Parkview Elementary School throughout my third and fourth grades. At that point, we, my mother, my grandmother, and I, had lived on Second Street longer than we had ever lived anywhere else. I was glad to have stayed put. I had many friends and I did extremely well in school. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson, was the most influential teacher I ever had. She got me excited about science, mathematics,
and learning in general. In her class, I studied and passed my Junior Fridley Fire Department examination with the best grade in the school. Because I was the only student to “ace” the test, I received a gold colored badge with the title “Chief” at the top. The other kids all had silver badges. Hmmm – I wonder what ever happened to that gold Chief badge.
I also didn’t miss a single day of school during my fourth-grade year, so I received an attendance award for that. So, going into fifth grade was exciting, I was sure it was going to be another great year, but first, summer vacation.
Mark and Rodney Sabo (?) were my closest friends. They lived six or so houses down from me on Second Street. One summer day Mark, Rodney, and I were “messing around” in an old abandoned house on the block. We knocked down a hornet’s nest and ran as the hornets chased us. (I don’t know, they may have been yellow jackets.) Anyway, Rodney fell as we were running and hornets were all over him. They stung Rodney a couple dozen times and he was swelling up like a balloon. Mark and I got him home and his mom took him to the hospital. He was all right, but we all got into trouble for “messing around” in that old house. I’m pretty sure I heard my grandmother tell me to “wait until my mother gets home. My mother was the disciplinarian in our household and she knew how to use the hairbrush….
Another really good friend in the fifth grade was, Patty Hopkins. She lived on Main Street. Her back door was across a vacant lot from the front door of my house. She and I were kind of nerdy/smart, we just didn’t know it was “nerdy” at the time. We’d studied together, played with the telescope I had gotten, played with a chemistry set, practiced magic tricks, and did other nerdy/geeky things together.
I was also in Little League during the summer between fourth and fifth grades. A teammate, Wally Gregorson (I think), was hit in the face by a baseball. It broke his glasses, which cut his face pretty badly. Glasses were actually made of glass in those days and they weren’t shatterproof. Anyway, blood was everywhere. The next day, his eye was badly bruised, all black and blue, and he had a couple ugly black stitches below his eyebrow and a couple more on his cheekbone, but, he didn’t permanently injure anything. That was my last year in Little League for a number of reasons, but I think Wally’s injury and potential to have lost an eye affected me more than I care to admit. I never did play baseball again. I did play softball years later, when I was in the service (and that’s another story).
Fall arrived and I entered the fifth grade at Parkview Elementary. Mrs. Anderson was my teacher. As I recall, she was young, tall, blond, pretty, and very nice. I think I had a crush on her. She saw a lot of potential in me and encouraged me to excel in school. I received great grades in both academics and citizenship from her. As an example, most of the school patrols were sixth graders, but Mrs. Anderson nominated me to be one of a handful of fifth graders to be on the school patrol. I’d leave class fifteen minutes early, put on my school patrol belt, pick up a stop flag, and hurry off to my designated intersection with another kid. We’d help the younger kids cross the streets safely on their walk home. After the school rush, we’d return our stop flags back to the school, leave our school patrol belts in a locker, and head home.
Don wearing School Patrol Belt
Source: Personal PhotosIn the mornings, I’d usually get to school early, pick up both mine and my compadre’s patrol belts and our stop flags, go back to our designated intersection a good half an hour before school started, and have everything ready when my partner arrived. We’d flag the traffic as the other kids walked to school. It was a great responsibility. I am saddened that today we have adults doing school guard duties and we don’t foster that type of responsibility in our youth as we did in the 1950s and 60s. As I think about it, being a school patrol may have been the start to my being an early morning person. I became used to getting ready for school, leaving early, and always being where I needed to be long before I needed to be.
Our house was about ¾ of a mile from school. I had to cross the very busy University Avenue on my way. I had to walk an extra block to cross at 61st Avenue in order to cross at a signal. Other than waiting for the light to cross University, it was always a nice walk. Of course, the dead of winter was an exception. As I recall, 61st Avenue was one of the few places that had sidewalks in those days, but many folks didn’t shovel them shoveled before we walked to school. I didn’t live in Fridley the entire fifth-grade school year.
Some time in the spring we moved about four miles north to 83rd and Monroe in Spring Lake Park.
Spring Lake Park Elementary (Twin Cities Arsenal)
Highway Expansion Joint
Photo Courtesy US Dept of Transportation
Spring Lake Park didn’t have enough schools in 1961, so we were bussed from Spring Lake Park across Mounds View to the Twin Cities Arsenal (TCA) in Arden Hills. It wasn’t a long bus ride, maybe about 15 minutes down US Highway 10. Sitting in the very back of the bus was the coolest thing. The “ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk” from the highway construction expansion joints almost sounded like we were riding on a train. The bus’s shocks were pretty worn so every cement expansion joint on Highway 10 got the bus to bounce. A bunch of us kids would jump up and down in unison with bus’s road bumps. By doing so, we could get the whole back of the bus bouncing and have a pretty fun ride.
The school classrooms were in an old building at the TCA. It is my recollection that the ground-floor windows still had bars on them from when the building was an armory. Years later, I worked at the (then) Honeywell facility on the TCA, called the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP). While working there, I had the opportunity to go to the old school building for training. The Army converted most of the schoolrooms to offices, but many of the old classrooms looked much as they had twenty years earlier.
If school officials had known then what we know now about ammunition-related heavy metals; copper, lead, and mercury, and depleted uranium contaminating the soil at the TCA, they would probably have sent us somewhere else. Anyway, the TCA site was cleaned up in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s using a lot of EPA Superfund money. The buildings of the old TCA are mostly gone today.
Interestingly enough, Spring Lake Park built Park Terrace Elementary School only two short blocks away from where I lived on Monroe. Had Spring Lake Park built the school ten years earlier, I may have never learned how to play poker. (See my earlier post: Memories – Kid Shows and Poker with Grandma.)
I continued with Spring Lake Park Elementary at the TCA for about half of the sixth grade. My mother married “Budgar” in December 1961, and we moved from the little one-bedroom house on Monroe in Spring Lake Park to a three-bedroom house on Fremont Avenue in North Minneapolis during the winter of 1961-1962. There, my mom and Budgar could have a room, grandma could have a room, and I could have a room of my own. It was the first bedroom that I remember having to myself. In Fridley, my bedroom was a closet and in Spring Lake Park, it was an unheated breezeway.
Today, Parkview Elementary is the Fridley Community Center and the building at the TCA that housed the classrooms for Spring Lake Park is gone.
My thanks to Randy Seaver and his blog, “Genea-Musings,” for the suggestion of writing about our fifth grade experiences. I found it fun to remember and reminisce. I haven’t thought Mrs. Peterson and Mrs. Anderson in decades, let alone Mark, Rodney, and Wally.
I was recently catching up on some videos I have long wanted
to watch. One of them was the Friday Keynote speech as
the 2014 Roots Tech conference. In the speech, Judy G. Russell, JD, CGSM , CGLSM ,
spoke about many of the day-to-day things that we don’t know about our
ancestors. She reminded us that unless our ancestors proactively left stories about their lives, any such information is lost in three
generations. She also reminded us that
our stories will be important for our great-grand children and later
generations and that those stories will be lost unless we pass them on, in an
intentional and accurate way, to future generations. A day or two later I was speaking with my
wife and told her a story of my youth that I hadn’t told her before and
probably haven’t thought of in decades.
I then realized it was the kind of story that future generations might
like to know about. It is a story that
I’m certain neither of my sons know about, let alone my grandchildren or my
Fridley House abt 1958
From personal photo archives.
When I was nine or ten years old, we lived in Fridley,
Minnesota, in a tiny little house on Northeast 2nd Street. The house
was a 480 square foot, one bedroom house that still stands today. It did have a
large closet in the bedroom. That closet acted as my bedroom. There was just enough space for a single bed and a small dresser. The actual bedroom is where my mom and
grandmother slept. I had to walk through
it to get to my “bedroom.”
My mom was a “single mom” and the sole support for
herself, my grandmother, and me. Needless to say, a woman working in 1959-60
America didn’t earn much. We certainly
had enough food, were warm in the winter, and the times were good, but there
just wasn’t much money. Certainly, not
enough for me to have an allowance or a way to buy Christmas presents or
birthday gifts for either of them.
Across the street from us was an empty lot, beyond that was
Main Street. As a developing suburb,
Fridley had a problem with gophers. Although Minnesota is nicknamed the “Gopher
State,” gophers are not particularly loved and are destructive
varmints. It is the mounds that pocket gophers create that are the biggest
problem. They are typically much larger
than molehills and destroy lawns. Also,
in fields where cutting machines try to manage growth, which was done in
Fridley to reduce fire threats, the cutters would hit mounds and be damaged or
at least dulled. As such, the City of
Fridley put a bounty on gophers. Bring
the right hind foot of a gopher to City Hall, about a mile away, and they would
pay 15 cents per foot.
In those days there was nothing build west of Main Street
all the way to the railroad tracks. The area was several blocks wide and many
blocks long of nothing but scrub grasses and sand burrs, which we called “Fridley Strawberries.” To earn money I took up trapping gophers. At first, I
trapped across the street and a few neighbor’s yards and just a few traps. Then I expanded to the
large field across Main Street and used my earnings to purchase more and more traps. To trap a pocket gopher, first you find a fresh mound. Then use a probe to find
the tunnel near that fresh mound and dig out the area to access those tunnels; there
are two tunnels at each mound. Then, you place
the traps into the tunnels one in each each direction so that when the gopher crosses
over the trap and presses the pressure plate when they come along that tunnel. Stake the
trap so it won’t move if you get a poor hit or if a dog or raccoon tries to take away your catch. Cover the mound back so it
is dark again. Come back the next day, or
two at the most, and pull out the dead critter. Sometimes, you’d even get two, one in each
trap in each of the tunnels.
At my peak of trapping I had about 35 traps and during the
summer I spent many hours tending my them, gathering the feet, and about once
a week going to City Hall to collect my bounty.
One summer the man who counted gopher feet and paid the
bounty went on vacation. While he was gone,
a woman was supposed to count the feet and pay the bounty. I don’t think she like being tasked with the
job and apparently she didn’t know the right hind foot from the left front foot.
One of the other kid trappers figured out that she didn’t know the difference
and would pay for each foot brought to her. So instead of getting 15 cents per
gopher, you could get 60 cent’s per gopher.
It didn’t take long for all the kids trapping to learn of it. Kids were
stealing other kids traps, raiding traps for the bounty and doing all kinds of
things to exploit the poor woman’s lack of knowledge. Today, I feel guilty about exploiting her and the
bounty system. I know it was wrong, but
at the time, I felt everyone was doing it so it was okay. I know better now.
In relating this story to my wife, I recognized that
trapping gophers was the first work I did where someone other than a family
member paid me. It dawned on me that is the definition of a job and
I then realized trapping was my first job.
The following year, I got my first (of many) paper route and
gave up trapping.
We lived in the Fridley house longer than anywhere else when
I was growing up – about 2-1/2 years.
All of third grade, all of fourth grade, and about half of fifth grade.
The next house we lived in was in Spring Lake Park. Another one bedroom. My
bedroom was an unheated “breezeway” but that is another story….