Kunsmiller Junior High

Eric writes:

I went to Kunsmiller Junior High School. That was before they started calling them Middle Schools. I was there from seventh through ninth grades. My favorite teacher was Jeff Guilford. He was my science teacher. I really loved science. I was a lab assistant for him in eighth and ninth grades in addition to my science classes. I also really enjoyed playing in the band. I was in the orchestra and the jazz band. I played the baritone and trumpet.

My worst experience at that school was on Martin Luther King Day. Back then the Denver Public School system was trying to integrate races at the schools. Since all the schools in Northeast Denver were Black and all the Southwest schools were white, there was a lot of bussing of students to try to equalize the numbers. I always thought it was a bunch of shit. I was lucky I never had to be bussed.

But one of my better fiends in school was bussed from across town. Anyway on MLK day, right after school there was a gang of black kids wandering the halls.

I had stayed after to help out in the science lab for a bit after class. As I was walking down the hall, I heard someone yell at me. When I turned around to see who it was, I saw about a dozen black kids running at me. So I took off running. I got to the third floor stairwell and started down. I made it to the second landing when they caught up with me.

I don’t think I was really hurt, but mostly shook up. I went to the Principal’s office to report the incident. He asked if I could identify any of the kids. Since my glasses were knocked off and broken with almost the first punch, I didn’t see who it was that hit me. So the Principal said nothing could be done about it and I should just go home.

It made me angry that I was beaten up in my school like that. It took me many years to get over the prejudice I learned that day.

— Eric H

Moving to Denver

Eric writes:

My mother was a pretty woman and I remember a few men dating her.

The man that she wound up with was Norris Torkelson. I remember going out on his boat with Mom and my brother to pick chokecherries and go on picnics.

Eric, Norris, Chris, Grace, Linn on their wedding day 1966

Eric, Norris, Chris, Grace, Linn on their wedding day 1966

In December of the fourth grade, we moved to Denver, Colorado. Mom and Norrie were married the evening of December 30 so they could get the income tax deduction for the year with us kids.

My oldest brother, Guy, elected to finish out his last year of High School in Jamestown living with Grandma. Linn, Chris and I started a new life in Denver.

We moved into a three-bedroom apartment at 5104 West Kentucky Avenue in Denver. My Mom found a job working at the dry cleaners at the end of the alley. Chris and I started school at Belmont Elementary School. The neighborhood we lived in was pretty bad. Linn was going to Kepner Junior High and kept getting beat-up by Mexican gang kids. Eventually, he couldn’t take it any more and ran away from home. He wouldn’t come back unless he could go to a different school.

So we moved to 1699 South Winona Court in Denver. It was a nice four-bedroom house in a better neighborhood. I went to Force Elementary School at the other end of the block.

As we were moving into the house on S. Winona Ct, Bruce Scott came over. He lived in the house next door and was the some age as me. We were fast friends for many years. One year, he even went with us on a fishing trip to Canada. Bruce caught one of the biggest fish of the trip. Bruce’s Dad would take us fishing in the mountains for rainbow trout almost every weekend all summer long. This was when I became friends with Bruce’s younger brother Tom. I would stick up for him when Bruce and his friend, Jack, would pick on Tom. We don’t see each other often, but we still keep in touch to this day. In fact, as I am sitting here writing this I just got off the phone with Tom. He is a great friend.

— Eric H

Two punches in the “bucket list”

Eric writes:

My third taste of flying came when I was 14 years old in Junior High School. I listened to the radio a lot, as most early teens do, and would call in to the radio station trying to win prizes. Once when I called in, I was the lucky tenth caller and won a Rolling Stones album.

The DJ’s name was Lee “Windy’ Winslow. He asked my name and then asked where I was from. I told him that I was from Jamestown, North Dakota. He said that he was also from Jamestown and had started his career as a DJ there. He recognized my last name because he had dated my cousin Gail while living there. Lee and I slowly became friends.

The radio station he worked for contracted with Don Martin, a local pilot, to do the rush hour traffic reporting. Don was the first pilot in the Denver area to do this and his call sign was Sky Watch One. I kept asking Lee if he could get me a ride on the Sky Watch airplane. Eventually, my persistence paid off. Lee called me up and set the date.

Stapleton International Airport in 1966

Stapleton International Airport in 1966

He picked me up after school and we drove out to Stapleton Airport to meet my hero, Don Martin and go for a ride. We took off about 4:00 PM and flew around Denver for about two hours. I took lots of pictures. I wonder if I still have them or if they got lost? Anyway, it was a wonderful experience. I was literally floating on clouds. Continue reading

Get Me Home!

Last week I wrote about working for the dry cleaners in Denver until Mr. Fuller decided my time there was done. The rest of the family was on vacation in North Dakota, so I had to figure out how to get up there to join them.

In 1966 we didn’t have a lot of money, and calling anywhere outside of town was an expensive proposition. As I recall the price was in dollars per minute. Compared to today, that’s at least ten dollars a minute. So before making a phone call, decide what you’re going to say!

Airplane Ticket - Bismarck to Denver - June 1967

Airplane Ticket – Bismarck to Denver – June 1967 – $34

I called and arranged to get back to North Dakota, which wasn’t trivial for a sixteen year old without a car. The agreed upon solution was for me to fly standby on Frontier Airlines from Denver to Bismarck, 100 miles from Jamestown. You may ask why a phone call was expensive, but airline travel was affordable, and I can’t answer you. Standby fares were considerably cheaper, but still probably cost the equivalent of hundreds of dollars today. Plus, the destination airport wasn’t anywhere near my destination.

It was settled, I’d be flying standby the next afternoon. (Standby meant I’d be the last person onto the airplane, if there was an empty seat, significantly discounted from the regular fare.) My mother’s co-worker took me to the airport, to stay with me until the airplane left the gate. That was a good thing, because at the very end a paying passenger took what should have been my seat. I was bumped after being given a seat assignment, and after I called Jamestown to say it was OK to leave the house to pick me up at the Bismarck airport. Continue reading

Take Me to the Cleaners

Dry cleaning operation similar to the Spot Shop

Dry cleaning operation similar to the Spot Shop

Recently on my way to coffee I walked by the back of the neighborhood dry cleaner and laundry. They had the door propped open as it was hot in there, what with all the steam and hot presses going. As I walked past the open door someone gave a suit coat a big shot of steam and a rush of hot air greeted me warmly.

We’ve all heard that smells can instantly transport you back to childhood. That smell of that blast of hot air and steam took me back to Denver, 1967. My mother had recently remarried and moved there with my three brothers, while I stayed back in Jamestown, ND. The following summer I came out to stay with the family until school started again in the fall. It was my first experience living in a big city, Denver was huge compared to the little burg of Jamestown.

Grace worked for a dry cleaners in the strip mall next to the apartment complex. It was a little place, with only a handful of workers and equipment. As I recall, the name of the place was the Spot Shop. Besides dry cleaning, they did alterations and repairs. My mother was a skilled seamstress. The boss would take some measurements, order fabric, and Grace would custom sew men’s suits to fit, so the shop was a good match for her skills and it got her a job there for a while. Until things got weird and she left. You’ll understand shortly.

Their apartment was just east of Sheridan Blvd on Kentucky Avenue in west Denver. The apartment is still there, as is the strip mall. Looking at Google Maps, it looks like not much has changed except the signs on the strip mall. I recognize the neighborhood precisely.

Continue reading