1979.  That is the year I graduated from Holton High School with a class of a little more than 80 students, the same year as the release of the Sony Walkman.  Mobility — the idea that you could take music with us – was HUGE. The music channel, MTV, launched just a few years later — who remembers listening to the release of Video Killed the Radio Star? It was so cool.

We were all about the music as a class. We listened to My Sharona by The Knack, and Hot Stuff by Donna Summers. Songs by the Bee Gees, Blondie and the Village People’s enduring YMCA were hits in 1979.  We loved country music tunes like Eddie Rabbit’s hit,  Every Which Way but Loose and some of us were into hard rock by Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and AC/DC. We snuck into the local club, the Jolly Troll, to listen to local bands close up and personal. Many of us turned 18 so we were legal to drink beer in Kansas at the time.  Our favorite was Coors.  The music sounded better with a cold can of Coors in my hand.

We sang, danced and acted in school iconic musical productions of West Side Story and South Pacific.  We played music in our cars, many decked out with an 8-track, cruising around the square.  At lunch, jammed into the old gym for some free time, John Denver sang Rocky Mountain High from a delapidated jukebox.

We whistled along to KISS FM radio from Topeka while swimming at the city pool on lazy summer days.  Some of the last lazy days for most of us as we launched into adulthood.  We Are the Champions, by Queen, was released in 1977, and the pep band blasted that catchy anthem repeatedly during warmups and timeouts at boys basketball games.

Our class had a diverse set of interests outside of music and many of us played dual roles.  We marched in the band, sang in the choir and competed in sports.  We held leadership positions both at school, in our churches and other affiliations preparing us for our futures in science, engineering, business, logistics and a wide variety of fields.  We were multi-taskers.  We almost all worked outside of school either paid or unpaid helping on the family farm, checking groceries or filling up gas tanks.  No job seemed too small to us.

Next week, we celebrate our 40th reunion together as a graduating class.  I am unable to attend this year but from the social media chatter, it looks like there will be good attendance over Memorial Day with our class featured on a float in the local parade as well as a dinner and an after party.   Mostly, we just spend time catching up and sharing stories. We often laugh about embarrassing tales from those days that we would not share with anyone else except our high school friends.  Likely, because our current friends cannot relate or do not really care as much as our high school friends about our stories from back then.  Who would you talk to about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat after making it to the State Basketball Championship back in 1979? Alternatively, that time, some classmates snuck into the city pool and skinny-dipped?  Some of these stories certainly change and get better over time.  Hell, who can remember at our age?

We are on the cusp of 60, trying to hold off the inevitable aging process so that we can stay active, travel and enjoy life after so many years working 9 to 5 or dusk to dawn.  I like to see ourselves now after all these years as joyful people who are at peace with who we are and why we are.  Our foundation was first built in our childhood when the importance of purpose, interconnectivity, selflessness, and service were first taught and demonstrated to us by our families, our teachers and our community.  In retrospect, our lives speak for themselves well after we are gone.

So, this is what 40 years since graduating high school looks like for each of us. Who knew? So, raise your Coors cans high and celebrate, because my classmates from 1979, we are all champions of our own little neck of the woods.

Below is a card I found tucked inside the jacket holding my high school diploma. My main takeaway from this rather stuffy pronouncement, 40 years into the future is, yes, Principal Versch you are correct: ere life has flown.


Radium Girls

Radium Girls

A review of a true crime, period piece set during the industrial age, ironically just when women were first allowed to vote in the USA.

The book, Radium Girls, traces the women at two dial-making factories in the late 1920’s, just about a century ago, in New Jersey and in Illinois. The women were told by their male employers to paint the dials using radium laced paint, so rich in radium, it glowed in the dark and so did the girls.  And to point their paint brushes by licking them between each application with their lips.  These girls innocently ingested radium, daily, and internally and the results are agonizing to read.

Radium Girls spares us nothing of their suffering; intent on making the reader viscerally understand the pain in which these young women were living and dying.  As well as their courage and resiliency in how they had to fight dentists, doctors, attorneys, and their greedy and heartless employers in order to get their health concerns even recognized. The health professionals tried to shame the girls with allegations of syphilis to distract their community from the true causes of their symptoms and ultimately the reason for their early, retched demise.

The history of business is a history of violence but this case study is particularly horrifying as it caught young women in their prime, often impacting multiple family members, and for no reason other than greed. The worst descriptions of the effects of radium on the girls —  I had nightmares about my teeth falling out and my jaw often ached —  can’t match the callousness of the companies that knew the dangers of radium long before they ever admitted them. Radiant Dial tested these female employees and never gave them their results, even as internal correspondence was sorting them by radiation levels to see who’d be first to die.  And so many did.

The British author, Kate Moore, originally directed a play about these true events and became so intrigued with the content that she wanted to learn more about the history of the girls.  She tells the personal journey of many of the young women and you learn to appreciate their courage, strength, faith, love of their families and passion for living.  Below is a picture of six of the women who testified against their employer and ultimately won a very small but significant verdict after years of litigation.  Their boldness to step forward with the truth resulted in new regulations to protect workers and improve future work safety measures.

radium girls