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Ottumwa Class of ’54 swings!

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Curt Swarm

“Seventeen, hot rod queen, cutest girl you’ve ever seen, tell the world I’m really keen on my hepcat doll of seventeen. Now, sloppy shirt, old blue jeans, dirty shoes, by all means, patch of blonde, peroxide hair, jukebox, baby, ain’t no square.” —Boyd Bennett & His Rockets.

The music lifted the spirits of the Class of ‘54 and they forgot about their lumbago and trick knees. They were toe tapping and goading each other to dance, because “Fame and honor we restore, we’re the class of ‘54!”

They met at the Hotel Ottumwa on Friday, September 17. Do the math and that comes out to be 67 years after graduation, and 85 years young. As a group, they look healthier and more lively than a room full of 65-year-olds. They’re fit and trim, for the most part, and have a refreshing attitude of, “Let’s have some fun!” And they did.

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Attendees of the Ottumwa Class of '54 Reunion — at least the ones who could be rounded up.

Out of an original class list of 371 students, about 35 attended the 67-year class reunion. But they’re hard to count. Get’em all together for a group picture is harder than herd’n cats. They all wanted to talk and tell stories.

One couple who now live in Denver: “You can take the man out of Iowa, but you can’t take Iowa out of the man. We’ve been to the Canteen twice. I graduated from high school, came back and the same lady is still there.”

Looking through the class year books, newspaper clippings and memorabilia, a lady pointed out: “This is Carol Morris; she was Miss Universe and Miss USA in 1956, and Miss Iowa and, I believe, Miss Ottumwa in 1954. She is the only Miss Iowa to win the Miss USA contest. She was a minister’s daughter and taught Sunday School right here in Ottumwa. The kids loved her. She played the violin and was a beautiful synchronized swimmer, like Esther Williams.”

Two former classmates meeting each other for the first time in many years: “George, your suspenders are getting longer.” George, “Your teeth are too.”

The mic was turned over for storytelling: “My girlfriend wanted to learn how to drive. I took her out. We got on a gravel road. It started to rain. The gravel turned to mud. The mud got thicker and thicker. We were in so deep the doors wouldn’t open. I had to crawl out a window to get help. I walked to a farmhouse and a farmer pulled us out. He said, ‘I know what you been doing. You were making out.’ I said, ‘I was teaching her to drive.’ He said, ‘You taught her awright.’ ”

A woman: “The whole chorus got on a bus and went to Davenport. We were going to stay overnight. As soon as we got there we all went to the bathroom. I put my purse down. When I came out my purse was gone. The others offered to lend me money. I said, ‘Nope. My grandma sewed twenty dollars into my bra. I’ve got plenty of money, honey.’ I still sew money into my hems.”

Another man: “Eddie and I were running track. I was running the 100-yard dash. I went to take off my sweatpants and didn’t have any shorts on. I said, ‘Eddie, gimmie your shorts.’ We went under the bleachers and he gave me his shorts. I won the 100-yard dash wearing Eddie’s shorts! Eddie said, ‘They should have given me that ribbon.’ Ha!”

The announcement was made for all who wanted another class reunion in five years (they would be 90) to stand up. Most everyone (who could stand up) stood up.

It was only fitting and proper that the 67-year Ottumwa Class Reunion of ‘54 was brought to a close with everyone singing, “God Bless America.”

“God bless America, land that I love, stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above. From the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”

Class of ‘54 and so much more!

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, find him on Facebook, email him at, or visit his website at

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