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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Growing up in Naperville – Class of ’57 Reunion


As many of us born in 1939 approach the 65th Naperville High School reunion, I found this recollection in my files that was written for our 55th!

Dateline: 2012 / It all began in 1939 when most of us came on the scene. We were Pre-war babies and the Great Depression was waning. Rumors of war in Europe were on our parents’ minds.

We entered kindergarten in 1944 and the war ended before we entered first grade. Some of us attended Ellsworth School, others attended Naper School and Ss. Peter and Paul. Several country schools still operated, too. Ellsworth and Naper were K-6 elementary schools. Ss. Peter and Paul was 1-8. The new Naperville High School opened in 1950. The “old” high school became Washington Jr. High as the 6th grades were moved to join the 7th and 8th graders.

We also remember 1946 for the great train wreck when the Exposition Flyer plowed into the rear of the Advanced Flyer at the Loomis Street crossing.

We all entered high school in 1953 while the additions of two wings were being added to the school. We spent most of those two years on buses going between North Central’s field house for P.E. and the old high school (Washington) for art, band, orchestra, chorus and shop classes.

Stores throughout downtown Naperville were mostly locally owned. We all knew Broeker’s, Oswald’s, Soukups, Sheres, Reiches, Haidus, Nelson’s, etc. Three bakeries and three drugstores on one bank also welcomed our business. We had more taverns than churches and the population when we graduated in 1957 was 7,000!

There were three small grocery stores downtown along with the National Tea and A&P Supermarkets.

There was Naper Theater and Spinner’s Liquor Store. Clark’s Corner became Bob’s Corner, then Fidlers’—and they had the best hamburgers in town.

The old Midway Café eventually became Washington Square and it was THE eating place in downtown for many years.

Today there are more than 40 restaurants in the downtown area.

Other downtown (or close to downtown) businesses were Grush Oil, Enck & Drendel, Moore Lumber, Dale’s Record Shop, Netzley’s and Brummel Motors. Then there was Kroehler’s Brown’s Toy Factory, Moser Lumber, Raymond Lumber, the Boilerworks, Boecker Coal & Grain, Zaininger Coal & Fuel, the Bag Factory (by the Cow Tunnel) and Reidy’s.

And who will ever forget two steakburgers, fries and a malt for 93 cents or the square dips of ice cream? A triple dip orange, grape and lime sherbet cone was just 10 cents at Prince Castle.

Hangouts included the Y after football and basketball games, and the Beach all summer long. Pioneer Park was “way out of town” and Naperville Cemetery was on the edge.
Edward Sanitarium became Edward Hospital, one of the best in the Midwest.

Farms owned by Keller, Modaff, Book, Meissinger, Bannister, Hageman, Castle, Weisbrook, Fry, Kocher, Shoger, Gregory and Clow, to name just a few, now all grow houses instead of corn.

Naperville is now 145,000 with two school districts boasting a total of five high schools, 13 middle schools and 26 grade schools. There are three Catholic schools and a Lutheran school in town.

We’ve had three different band shells in Central Park in our lifetime. And summer band concerts performed by the Naperville Municipal Band continue to be the Thursday evening tradition, attracting more than 2,500 every week.

Naperville Century Walk uses art to depict many of the historic successes of our rich history.

Many of us who took Driver’s Ed with Mr. Welzel learned on a stick shift when there were only two stoplights in town.

As much as there have been changes since our graduation, many things still make Naperville special.

Centennial Beach has had a complete make-over. We have a new bandshell with new benches in Central Park. Folks at Naper Settlement and other concerned citizens have made a real effort to preserve the past and our history.

We built a $6 million carillon tower for the millennium and created Rotary Hill which serves a multitude of special events.

We know how to party and have fun with Last Fling, Jazz Fest and Ribfest.

Our American Legion and VFW are very active in supporting our troops and remembering all who served, especially during observances on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

The Riverwalk was a tremendous undertaking and was built with volunteer labor and private donations in partnership with the City and Park District. It really beautified downtown.

Naperville really is a great place to live and grow up!

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Ron Keller
Ron Keller
Ron Keller is a lifelong Naperville resident, tuba enthusiast and has been conducting the Naperville Municipal Band for over 50 years.

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