Starla Pointer / News-Register##The Class of ’42 today, clockwise from lower left, Vic Banke, Janice (Crabtree) Jeffery, Marilyn (Holden) Smithrud, Don Reifenrath, Dorothy (Kendrick) Prater, Al Laurie and Maurice Prater, Pat (Gearin) Bates and Rita (Turner) Milton.
Starla Pointer / News-Register##The Class of ’42 today, clockwise from lower left, Vic Banke, Janice (Crabtree) Jeffery, Marilyn (Holden) Smithrud, Don Reifenrath, Dorothy (Kendrick) Prater, Al Laurie and Maurice Prater, Pat (Gearin) Bates and Rita (Turner) Milton.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: 'Those were interesting times to live in'

Although the world changed during their senior year, members of McMinnville High School’s Class of 1942 still remember high school as a wonderful time in their lives.

“I liked school, liked the teachers, liked work. I liked everything about life back then,” said Al Laurie Jr., who has spent most of his life in McMinnville.

Stopping By

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996.

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Marilyn (Holden) Smithrud, who now lives in Charbonneau, said she too enjoyed school. “I loved all of it,” she said. “Those were happy, happy years.”

And Rita (Turner) Milton added, “Life was just always good for me.”

The sentiment was echoed by most of the 1942 grads who attended a reunion at Milton’s McMinnville home last week.

Nine members of the class made it to the annual event, along with spouses and children who are considered “honorary members” because they’ve been to so many reunions. It was the 43rd time classmates have gathered over the past 73 years.

At first, they held reunions once every five years. Then they decided to meet more frequently at classmates’ homes, restaurants or other spots.

“Why not get together?” Milton said. “We knew everybody and spoke to everybody then, and we like to keep that up.”

Maurice Prater added, “We were a very close-knit class. We all liked each other and stuck together. And we’ve all done well, real well.”

 

Starla Pointer / News-Register##Maurice Prater and Vic Banke look back at their senior class photos in the 1942 Lincolnian, the McMinnville High School yearbook.

The Class of ‘42 graduated June 5 in ceremonies in the old high school gym. A few of the boys were missing — by early June, they had already left for the service.

For commencement, the remaining classmates learned all four verses of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The crowd rose as they started to sing, “Oh, say can you see ... .”

“As soon as we got through the first verse, the audience sat down. They all had to stand up again when we started the second verse,” Janice (Crabtree) Jeffrey recalled with a laugh.

“Then they sat down again, and had to stand up again when we started the third verse ...” she continued.

Seventy-three years later, most of the graduates have forgotten the less-frequently heard verses. But Milton can still belt them out — even the last stanza of verse number four.

“... Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’ And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!” she recited at the reunion, drawing applause from her classmates.

 

It was a fitting song for a very patriotic era.

Midway through the 1941-42 school year, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, leading the U.S. to officially join World War II. By the time they were mailing out graduation announcements, the U.S. was fighting in Europe as well as the Pacific.

Most of the young men would trade their mortarboards for military uniforms. Many of the young women would fill jobs in factories that supplied the military with planes and ships.

“Pearl Harbor changed everything,” said Dorothy (Kendrick) Prater, who remembers hearing of the attack on the radio.

“Those were very interesting times to live in,” she recalled. “No nylons, no sugar, we had to have the lights blacked out, the war was on...”

The new graduates all pitched in to do their part. They were used to hard work anyway; most had after school jobs while still in high school.

For instance, Patsy “Pat” (Gearin) Bates waitressed at the Paragon Room, the dining room at the Hotel Oregon, now McMenamins. It was a nice restaurant, she said, though maybe “a little too fancy for the time.”

After graduating, she went to night school to learn riveting. Then she spent time working in both the Columbia Aircraft factory and the shipyards. “I was Rosie the Riveter,” Bates said, laughing.

Milton was another “Rosie” at Columbia Aircraft. Early in the war, she said, crews worked 10 hour days, seven days a week. Later, the hours were shortened a bit and she had some free time to play basketball for a women’s league in Portland.

She and Bates had been good friends in high school. They remember riding their bikes from McMinnville to Newport the summer before their senior year.

Several other groups of girls pedalled to the coast, as well. “On that narrow highway!” Milton recalled, horrified now, although she wasn’t worried at the time.

Their bikes lacked gears, making hills strenuous, she and Bates said. They left McMinnville at 6 a.m. and reached their destination more than 12 hours later.

They stayed with Bates’ aunt. A $5 bill easily covered each girl’s food and activities for the week.

 

Back in McMinnville, the friends invested in a record player and some albums — Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and other Big Band-era favorites.

There were no dances at school, but they were able to use the Chamber of Commerce hall on Friday nights. After football games, students would jitterbug, swing and boogie-woogie the night away. Their mothers served as chaperones.

“We were bobby soxers,” said Bates, who still lives in McMinnville.

She loved the dances and the girls’ activities, but her favorite high school memories involve her future husband, John Bates. They met in junior high and started going together when they were seniors. “We were high school sweethearts for 63 years,” she said.

During high school, while Bates was a waitress, classmate Smithrud was teaching tap dancing after school with her older sister, Helen (Holden) Manning. As children, they had taken dance lessons from Dick Billings in Portland; as teens, they taught in order to make money for clothes, she said.

Like many other McMinnville teens, they also earned money by picking beans, hazelnuts, walnuts and strawberries. Later, when she was studying at the University of Oregon, Smithrud spent vacations working at the Telephone-Register, a forerunner of the News-Register.

As seniors at Mac High, Smithrud and Bates were cheerleaders. “Give me an ‘M,’ give me a ‘C,’ given me an ‘M-C-M-I-N-N-V-I-L-L-E,’” Bates demonstrated, recalling how they worked up the crowd at football and basketball games.

Between the cheerleaders and Collect-O-Peps, the pep squad that Milton, Jeffery and other girls joined, the Grizzlies had a lot of support. And it must have helped: During their senior year, McMinnville won the homecoming football game against rival Newberg, and the Grizzly basketball team went to state.

Jeffery, who now lives on Marrowstone Island off Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, combined cheering with working on the school paper, The Walnut. She was associate editor of the Lincolnian, as well. Smithrud was the yearbook’s editor.

On the opening page, they wrote: “To the self-sacrificing patriotism of the students and alumni of McMinnville High School, who will do their part in the stand for democracy, we the staff and Class of 1942 dedicate this issue of the Lincolnian.”

 

The dedication was especially meaningful for their classmates who would soon be leaving for the military.

Laurie joined the Army Air Corps and spent four years in the Aleutian Islands. Later, he used the G.I. Bill to study engineering at Oregon State University.

Vic Banke went into the Army and came home from Europe with a Purple Heart.

Maurice Prater went into the Navy. “It was something you did,” he said, explaining why so many people volunteered before they were drafted.

Don Reifenrath, another Navy veteran, agreed. “We were good guys, totally,” he said, talking about their years in high school as well as their service to the country.

At Mac High, Reifenrath played football and basketball. “I thought I was quite the athlete. Nobody else did,” he joked in his self-deprecating style.

He loved to dance. If he didn’t have a game, he’d hitchhike to dance halls in Sherwood or Gaston or Rickreall. “There was always a question of how we’d get home, because there was not much traffic when the dances got out,” he said, “but we always made it.”

He dated a cute sophomore during his senior year. He wrote her long letters after he left for training, he said, “but when I was overseas, she sent me a Dear John letter.”

Reifenrath served on a ship that acted as a target for subs training to shoot torpedoes near Hawaii. Later, while acting as an escort near Guam, his ship sank two enemy vessels. “Before they got us,” he said.

After leaving the service, Reifenrath had several jobs. Eventually he returned to Oregon, where he bought and built income property. He lives in Portland, but makes regular trips to McMinnville “to see if the duplexes I built are still standing” — and to attend reunions, of course.

 

He and his classmates are 90 or 91 now; about 20 of the original 100 in the class are still alive. Some live too far away to make it to reunions. But those nearby, in Portland or other parts of Northwest Oregon, wouldn’t miss it. 

After all, they didn’t just go to high school together; they grew up together.

“I walked to school with Rachel McGuire, my best friend, every day from first grade through high school,” Dorothy Prater recalled. After school and on weekends, the two girls spent hours on the phone as well.

She and other members of the Class of ‘42 still remember the friendly rivalry between the two public grade schools that existed back when McMinnville was a town of 3,000. Dorothy Prater, Banke and Jeffery went to Cook; Reifenrath and Maurice Prater, Dorothy’s future husband, went to Columbus.

Milton, who also married a classmate, Don Milton, spent most of one year at Cook. Her family had arrived in McMinnville in October, settling into a house at Fifth Street and the railroad tracks, and she walked the few blocks to the Lafayete Avenue school. The next year, she transferred to St. James.

The St. James, Cook and Columbus students didn’t intermingle until they entered junior high. They were a tight-knit unit by the time they reached high school.

The imposing brick structure that stood at 12th and Baker streets originally was called Lincoln High School. It was renamed McMinnville High School not long before the Class of ‘42 arrived.

Principal Billy Maxwell was respected by all the students.

Banke, who still lives in McMinnville, recalled getting called into Maxwell’s office a couple times for small offenses. “My own fault,” he said.

Several of the women remembered the principal as “an angel.” They also loved Miss Schowalter, the Latin instructor, and the rest of the staff.

But when the girls’ and boys’ P.E. teachers — both young and single — started dating, “we were all agog,” Jeffrey recalled. She and her friends were happy, though, when the couple married. Then they were saddened when their former girls’ P.E. teacher had to quit, since only unmarried women could be teachers at the time.

 

Like many students, Smithrud walked to school. In fact, she said. “we walked everywhere, to the Palm Cafe, to the Mack Theater, the Lark, everywhere.”

By their senior year, though, some of the students had cars.

Reifenrath’s first ride was a 1924 Star, which he bought for $15 from a neighbor. He recalled driving it to the Par-Vay cafe at Third and Baker streets, a real hangout for high school kids. The only place in town with soft-serve ice cream, it was THE place to go for burgers and shakes after school, he said.

Sometimes he hung out at the Palm Cafe, farther east on Third, instead. He played softball on the Palm’s city league team.

Banke, an FFA member, bought a 1935 Ford with money earned at after school jobs. “I was always working,” he said.

He didn’t have much time for hanging out — or for dating, which was OK by him.”I was scared of girls in high school,” he said. “They looked pretty good to me when I came back from the service, though.”

He and his wife, Ruth, met at church and married in 1950. She joins him at the Class of 42 reunions.

 

During this year’s get-together, Banke and Maurice Prater looked through Milton’s copy of their senior yearbook.

They laughed at the pictures of their teenage selves, but admired those of classmates, all of them fresh-faced, dark-haired and innocent looking. They gently touched the faces of friends now gone.

Prater flipped the page and spotted a very familiar photo — that of his wife. Young Dorothy caught his eye, just as she’d done nearly eight decades ago.

They went together in high school and exchanged letters after he went off to the Pacific. “I knew what I wanted,” he said, when he came home in March 1946. They married five months later, on Aug.18.

He put a finger beside her senior photo. “Ah, sweet Dorothy!” he said tenderly.

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or spointer@newsregister.com.

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