A couple days ago I heard a morning host on WCCO Radio in Minneapolis discussing with his partner what decade was the best.
He began with the '60s and worked his way up, although he started out with a few things that happened in the crazy, crazy '60s. He mentioned Vietnam and a couple other things and finally realized, he said, that there had been an assassination of Martin Luther King. Then he threw in the assassination of President John Kennedy a little later. The radio guy is a younger guy — well, a lot younger than me — so I suppose we could give him a pass for initially forgetting about JFK. And then it was a few minutes later, probably after someone called in, that he mentioned that Robert Kennedy had also been assassinated the same year as King. Not mentioned were the musical decline, including acid rock, and the huge increase in drug use.
The '60s got a pretty good review from the two guys having the conversation and, yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion. They say that makes the world keep spinning. But I disagreed with them about their choice for best decade.
I nearly texted (yes, I can do it) a suggestion that they start their conversation with the '50s but I didn't. For me the '50s far surpass any decade we have had since, earthshaking inventions or not. Here are a few reasons, reasons that may or may not resonate with you if you weren't part of the '50s, or don't know what it was like then.
In Dwight Eisenhower we had a president who won by a landslide in both 1952 and 1956, and would likely have done so again if term limits hadn't been imposed when Franklin Roosevelt was in office. In fact, Eisenhower was courted by both major parties and it wasn't until a write-in vote of about 100,000 Republican voters in Minnesota's 1952 primary election that his campaign as a Republican candidate took off. He was very popular and the country was a different country than it is today. Ike, as he was nicknamed, was the Allied Supreme Commander in World War II and eventually became a five-star general, He was low key and the country was booming. I was just a kid in that decade and probably thought it was always going to be like that. The Interstate system of roads we have today began during the Eisenhower administration.
People didn't lock their houses and didn't lock their cars. The housing boom was in full swing. Kids didn't park in front of the TV sets (few people had televisions). There were no computers to take up time (calculators were soon the rage), the words Internet and Google did not exist, and kids, unbelievably, played outside. Yes, outside, devising all kinds of ways to pass the time. Playing outside until the street lights came on was common. Without television to get in the way, you listened to the radio and let your imagination run wild.
No cellphones. The solitary phone in a house might hang on the wall in the kitchen, or in another room, nobody worrying about privacy. There were party lines in the country where others could - and did - listen in on conversations of neighbors. On those party lines you would crank out the ring - perhaps two shorts and a long - of the house you were calling in the days before dial phones, and TouchTone phones that came out in the 1960s.
You might stop at a local gas station, a place where someone filled your gas tank and washed the windows of your car, and then step outside and use a phone booth to make a call you didn't want your parents to know about. Those rolls of quarters for long-distance calls were important.
Sure, there was crime. But not the rampant lawlessness we experience now on a regular basis. Politicians were criticized, as they always will be, but not to the extent they are today, people in this era storming state and national capitols and harassing elected officials at their houses. Maybe we didn't know about it but I don't think there were elected officials driving with a license from another state as was the case with an elected member of the Minnesota House of Representatives recently.
And the music — ah, the music. Elvis Presley burst upon the scene in the middle of the decade and that changed things forever. I was a freshman in high school in 1956 when his career took off and he made rock 'n' roll a national phenomenon. Others followed but he was The Man, his first appearance on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan show angering lots of mothers and fathers who didn't want to have their daughters see Elvis wiggling his hips. What a time it was and how our music changed, forever! It was great. If you were a kid you might spend a Saturday morning listening to the Top 40 on the radio, siblings arguing about the relative merits of Elvis or the more sedate Pat Boone.
If you liked sports as a kid you played those sports in their seasons. There was no running all over the state or country in the summer, for example, to play basketball. There were summer camps but they weren't there to try to better someone in a particular sport. And coaches didn't suggest that you take part in a sport when it wasn't in season.
Nearly everyone had a garden, it seemed, and raised vegetables that were a huge part of the daily offerings at the table, not for lunch or dinner as many call those meals now, but for dinner and supper. Items from the garden were frozen or canned for year-around use, and root cellars contained carrots, potatoes and onions that were used many months of the year. Lots of farms were 160 acres or smaller - corporate farms hadn't been invented.
Global warming wasn't a problem (some say it isn't today either) and terrorists weren't yet prevalent in the world. There weren't threats to our homeland.
It was far from a perfect existence. Every decade has its problems. But there was a calmness about our lives, albeit with less money to go around than there is today. There wasn't the almighty drive to outdo your neighbor. Yes, many things have improved since the '50s: We're living longer because of improved medical practices, our cars are better and the roads are better. And on and on.
I came from a family that wasn't well to do. We had to scrape for lots of things and there were a lot of hand-me-down clothes. But it was a wonderful time. Maybe it was just being young and naive and not knowing much about the world, or all the things that would come along since those simpler times. But I'll take the 1950s anytime.
Next week: Opinions on a few issues, and Down Memory Lane items from July of 1996, 1971, 1946, 1921 and 1896 in Princeton.
PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES
July 26, 1951 - After beating Cold Spring (non-league) and Milaca the Legion baseball team had a chance to win the North Division championship with a 5:15 game at home against Braham.
July 19, 1956 - After two weeks off because of high water at Riverside Park, softball was to resume with the Whiz Kids against the Gophers in the junior league, and the Knights of Columbus against Pease in the senior league.
July 27, 1961 - ThePrinceton peewee baseball team won the playoff title of the league of area towns, Mike Rajala beating Ogilvie 12-4, and the midgets, with an 8-2 record, won their league title as Steve Lindell pitched a no-hitter against Cambridge and struck out 12 of 15 batters.
July 21, 1966 - Clearwater beat Princeton 2-1 in town team baseball, despite the six-hit pitching of Chuck Skarohiid.
July 28, 1971 - Ron Deglmann gave up only six hits and struck out 13 but lost 2-1 to Nowthen in town team baseball . . . Dale Braun had three hits in an 11-1 win over Milaca in Legion baseball.
July 28, 1976 - The Princeton town team (16-5) was tied for first place in the Eastern Minny League, beating Forest Lake 10-0 as Dave Mingo drove in six runs, and Dan Kne (6-0,100 strikeouts in 64 innings) pitched a two-hitter and struck out 13. Mingo was credited with two wins in an earlier doubleheader sweep of Milaca . . . Rod Anderson (142) edged Art Skarohlid (146) for the men's title at Rum River Golf Club.
July 23, 1981 - The Legion baseball team, which had just won the North End League title, beat Minneapolis NorthSide 8-1 as Les Nelson (11-0) pitched a one-hitter, struck out 13 and hit a homer . . . Tim Vagle was the winning pitcher as the peewee baseball team beat Foley for the league title.
July 24, 1986 - Don Dainsberg was named the new boys hockey coach, replacing Ross Dahl . . . Mike Sternquist got the win as Princeton beat Pine City 5-2 in the opening round of the Legion team's playoffs.
July 25, 1991 - The Princeton Panthers (13-5) won their last six league games but could get only a tie with Pine City in their division of the Eastern Minny League. Troy Scheffel had a grand-slam homer in a win at Quamba.
July 25, 1996 - Nicole Koskey won the women's title and Steve Sanborn the men's title at Princeton Golf Club . . . Justin Priess upped his record to 10-1 as the Legion baseball team beat Fridley 3-2. Jesse Zimmer hit a two-run homer.
July 19, 2001 - Luke Bakken pitched a three-hitter in a 7-0 win for the Legion baseball team over Fridley in the opening round of the annual Princeton tournament. The team then lost 4-3 in eight innings to eventual champion Maple Grove and 5-2 to Grand Rapids in the third-place game. Karl Larsen had five hits in the three games . . . The Princeton Panthers (15-2) hung onto their lead in the North Division of the Eastern Minny with a 16-9 win over Chisago Lakes as Jesse Zimmer had four hits and drove in five runs, with brother Jon Zimmer hitting a solo homer and Brian Dorr hitting a three-run homer.
July 20, 2006 - Tri-City Red, ranked No. 4 in the state, won its fifth title in the 37th annual Princeton Legion Baseball Tournament. Princeton lost to Minneapolis Post Office and Fridley, and beat Alexandria 6-0 as Mitch Larsen gave up three hit in six innings. Earlier in the week Brandon Knoll pitched a 15-0 win over Milaca that clinched the North End regular-season title as Scott Roehl had four hits and Josh Ludwig three . . . Dick Peterson was honored at the Princeton Legion tournament for his 27 years of work with the American Legion baseball program and being responsible for maintenance at Solheim Veterans Field. He continued working at the field four more years.
July 21, 2011 - The Princeton Panthers beat Quamba 13-3 as Jake Maros homered and knocked in seven runs. Ben Johnson had a 4-for-4 game . . . The Legion baseball team lost 13-4 to Milaca and 8-3 to North Branch in league playoffs
July 21, 2016 - The Legion baseball team had a 1-2 record in its tournament, losing 11-0 to River Falls, 2-1 to Grand Rapids, and beating Rogers 5-1 as Tanner Kinney got the win. Jake Oakes had his second straight three-hit game, and Kinney and Jake Carlson each had two hits.
(Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has written about sports in the area for the past 54 years.)