Geneseo woman shares memories of Class of 41

Claudia Loucks
Lenora Pritchard, 96, shares memories of her years at Geneseo Township High School.

GENESEO - It’s the time of year for high school graduations and that brings back many memories for 96-year-old Lenora Pritchard of Geneseo, who graduated with the Geneseo Class of 1941.

Pritchard, the former Lenora Kemmis, daughter of the late Lyman and Wilma Kemmis, grew up on a farm in Loraine Township and attended a one-room school located in Loraine Twp., which has been converted into a house.

“We had from 20 to 25 kids in grades first through eighth in that one-room school,” Pritchard recalled.

After graduating form eighth grade in 1937, Pritchard moved on to Geneseo Township High School, which later became Geneseo Junior High School before it was demolished.

Pritchard shared her memory of going to high school, located across from City Park, and said, “It scared the daylights out of me to go from the one-room country school to that big building.”

She said she did meet people right away.

High school graduation ceremonies were held in the school gym and Pritchard said, “We had school proms like they do now, but we stayed around town mostly for the proms.”

“I wasn’t too serious about school, but I enjoyed it,” Pritchard said. “My grades were average.”

She graduated from GTHS in 1941 with 93 classmates.

“There are now eight of us still living,” she said. “We had graduation parties back then, but Pearl Harbor happened in December of 1941 so everyone’s plans for after high school were kind of messed up, kind of like it is now with the pandemic. Many people scattered because of the war that changed everything.”

The Class of 1941 met for class reunions until their 60th reunion and Pritchard said, “After our 60th reunion, we met for luncheons every year, sometimes at The Cellar and sometimes at Sweet Pea’s. For our 60th reunion, Jim and Wilma Tracy, (he is now deceased and she lives in Rockford) gave us green T-shirts and we wore those T-shirts to all of our luncheons. Our last luncheon was for our 75th reunion and we haven’t had one since because it’s just too hard for all of us to get together.”

Pritchard was involved with planning all of her class reunions and luncheons too, and would still be able to attend those luncheons because she still drives, but said “only around town and not at night.”

The living members of the Class of 1941 – Lenora (Kemmis) Pritchard, Geneseo; Wilma (Loenser) Tracy, Rockford; Berneita (Swiger) Hunter, Moline; Dale Wildemuth, Prophetstown; Don Strohman, Erie; Phyllis (Pearson) Haars, Geneseo; Roberta (Blackert) Scales, Granger, Ind.; and Audrey (Sand) Lundblad, Fargo, N.D.

“When we were in high school, everything revolved around the school. We had no school buses, no cafeterias and we all went to the old library and to the Book Store because they had everything we needed. We could rent books from the Book Store. They had school supplies and one of our classmates worked there.”

Other memories for Pritchard are when she and classmates would gather at the former “Blue and White, now home to John Puentes’’ In-A-Godda-Da-Vida music store, and at the “Quality Dairy, which was across form the Geneseo Post Office, and at Orsi’s in downtown Geneseo, which later became Orsi & Green.

“We would go into the Blue and White for their 7-cent sundaes,” Pritchard said. “We could even get hot fudge sundaes for 7 cents. Everywhere we went had to be from walking distance form the school, across from the park.”

One year she stayed in town with friends and went home only on weekends…”So few of us could car pool from the country and we did not have school buses,” she said.

“What we call the ‘old athletic field’ now was then the high school athletic field and we had a good size band with about 50 people in it,” she said. “We had a good music program, even had an orchestra and a chorus and glee club. We did have some clubs at school. Girls did not have athletics but we had GAA which was the Girls’ Athletic Association and we could play some sports between our classmates. Boys had football, basketball and track.”

“I think we were pretty lucky to have a good curriculum back then because we had a lot of business classes, she said. “We had a lot of class choices.”

“We girls wore dresses or skirts and blouses, no slacks,’ she said. “We didn’t have washers or dryers like now, no wash-and-wear fabrics. The boys wore dress slacks and shirts or sweaters. There was lots of dry cleaning for our clothes.”

After graduating from high school, Pritchard attended Iowa State University, Ames, where she studied home economics, but returned to Geneseo after one year of college to marry Henry Pritchard, who graduated from GTHS in 1940. He died in 2002.

Pritchard shared a class reunion booklet from the 70th year gathering which included “memories” from classmates. Her message:

“Do I have a memory of GTHS days? It’s obvious I didn’t go there for an education, but I had a wonderful time. It gave a farm girl who seldom even went to town a real education of growing up and learning to make new friends. Believe it or not, I was quite shy at that age and had no self-confidence. I only knew Phyllis Hillmer and Arlyn Edwards, both relatives of mine, on that first day of school in that big building called GTHS. Booster Club, Operettas, Glee Club, Chorus, Proms, our girls’ supper clubs, going to the Blue and White and Quality Dairy changed all that!

The teachers were very special; I remember every one of them with admiration! One memory that was a bit scary for me happened in a lab session of Mr. Calhoun’s chemistry class. I believe it was Bob Ford and Jack Little, though I’m not sure, put water in a test tube with acid and it sort of exploded. It flew all over my nicest dress. I can still see that beautiful blue dress with holes all over it that were surrounded by red; it must have been a chemical reaction. I didn’t get hurt or have to go home. It was as unexpected to them as it was to me.

Some highlights for me – I was once Night Relay Queen and in our junior year of high school, Jo Reschke and I got to lead the Senior Class in at their graduation ceremony. It was a real thrill for me. Jo and I both married members of that class –Howard and Hank – and both had wonderful lives with our high school sweethearts.”